Do Alphas Have to be Assholes?

Once again, being a member of Romance Writers of America and my local chapter has brought a wonderful author in to talk to us and work with us. We authors, published or un, always are open to learning how to do our jobs better, smarter, quicker. Learning from the best is one perk of RWA membership.


070118 elizabeth at rwa sd
This photo was snapped at our very meeting.


Elizabeth Hoyt is a prolific author of historical romances that resonate with a large number of readers. She features Alpha heroes and smart heroines because modern Romance readers want that in their fiction. She shared both why Alphas can come off as assholes and writing emotions with depth. Good thing we have the room for 6 hours. Here are my notes from the session. (Note: Elizabeth is so awesome, the first thing she said is that we can share notes and handouts from her talk with her full permission. Yay!)

You don’t want to publish one book. Not even two books. You want a career. You expect all these ideas churning in your brain to get their day in print. Here is how to make sure you can do that.

Your Hero is your most important character. Romance readers are looking for their next Book Boyfriend. One author writes not so wonderful heroines but great heroes. That formula works and keeps people reading her books.

070118 wicked intentions

He’s got to be an Alpha male. But why does he have to be an asshole? Because!

The asshole hero has a great redemption arc. Betas usually don’t need to be saved or redeemed. The emotional redemption of that hero is what makes the book work. Alphas are wanted by everyone. But he chooses her. She is what makes him whole. He’s a prize she earns by the end of her arc. (Gammas, by the way, are balanced between Alpha and Beta.)

Billionaires. Dukes. Princes. Maestros. So good at what they do, they can dismiss everyone else. That’s the surface the Alpha shows to the world. He’s also a walking wounded. Trauma keeps him from everyday happiness. He knows but can’t seem to get over it. He might also be socially inept. A jerk in public because he never learned the proper way to behave. Maybe shy or on the Asperger’s Spectrum, insular.

070118 aspergers

If you have a story for a gamma hero, you can make him evil, a sociopath. Many are in historicals, maybe was a villain in all prior books but now he’s ready to be redeemed. Now, you need to know:

How to write an asshole.

1. He needs to be in a position of power.

2. He needs a good reason for being an asshole.

3. He makes himself vulnerable to her and only to her.

A Beta hero can be in a position of power, too. And he can go full Alpha if required by circumstances to keep the people he loves safe. A Beta hero who is secretly an Alpha? Think Clark Kent (Superman).

Remember, the bigger the asshole, the harder he falls. A Hero can fall down a long, long way when the heroine undermines him. Maybe all is lost for him, he stops eating, lets his appearance slide into disarray. Then he’s hit bottom. Nowhere to go but up.

We broke into groups and worked over the handouts that Elizabeth shared. She used several of her own heroes because she knows them so well. On the sheet titled Holding Out for a Hero, my group foundered. We hadn’t read Elizabeth’s books. I’d read the Kinsale book, Flowers from the Storm, but not for very many years. With another in my group, I think we sold everyone else on getting it and reading it. No one had read the next two on the list. Only one person was a BBC Sherlock addict. So we spent most of our session looking at Beauty and the Beast from Disney. Although we did share some of the great versions of the story that exist.

070118 beauty and the beast

The handout on What an Asshole! was easier, even if we couldn’t agree on the best Mr. Darcy. Loki was dubbed a sociopath who loved his mother and his brother and in the end, saves Jane and Thor. Iron Man is the Alpha Maestro whose saving attribute is his love for Pepper and desire for her well-being. He has a saving scene where he risks his life and the suit to wipe out the villains who killed his only friend. Oh, Spoiler Alert! Sorry.

070118 tony stark

Another hero that didn’t make it on the handout is Kenneth Brannaugh’s Henry V. In the movie, the scene where he first appears on screen, his shadow proceeds him and makes us ask, “Who is this guy?” Then he walks into the light and we say, “O, yeah. Him. I want to do him.”

Be sure to show the good side of your hero, perhaps when he helps the heroine’s friends or family. Gets ducklings out of the sewer, finds her lost dog, maybe helps her no-account brother get a job.

070118 stacks of greenbacks

We moved on to the second half of Elizabeth’s talk. It’s Just Emotions. Often I will cut the blog in two and wait a week to write up the rest, but I feel like I can power through this.

Each genre in fiction has a Core Value. We want Justice in mysteries, World Building in fantasy, and Emotion in romances. You’re okay to mess up history, characters, etc. As long as the emotions are on track and key to your readers’ needs.

To write a Romance, you need three things:

1. Characterization

2. Emotional intensity

3. Tropes.

082017 candles in heart shape

Characterization: Make sure your characters care about something, preferably something big. Here are some Big Things to care about: Children. Elderly parents. Pets sometimes. (Yes, I know. Just spent a week in and out of the vets trying to figure out what’s up with my little terrier mix, Tilda. As of this writing, she’s much better)


These have to be real people, so they need opinions on everything. Religion, Marriage. Right vs wrong. Politics. Ecology. Conservation. Police. Sex between two people attracted to each other but not with any idea of a long-term relationship. Especially that.

Emotional Intensity: Elizabeth had a handout. You might not use all of these all the time or in any one story. Keep away from the extreme intensities until the right moment, toward the end. Go high then fall fast.

She included a bibliography of books that demonstrate each of the handout emotions. Get reading, folks!

122117 reading in the park

Tropes: They belong in our stories. The Secret Baby, the Fake Fiance, the Second Chance couple, the Meet Cute. I love them, and so do many readers out there.

In closing, Elizabeth Hoyt left us with these words of wisdom:

Don’t read reviews. Out of a zillion good ones, the only bad one is all that you will remember. Writing is like believing you can fly. If someone tells you that you can’t fly, you’ll crash and burn. Keep believing. And go write an asshole we like.

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