The Beta Guy
"Wait a minute. Nice boys don't kiss like that."
Bridget to Mark Darcy in the film Bridget Jones's Diary
Nice boys--the typical beta heroes in romance novels--are capable of some wonderfully unexpected moments. They're the men who are overlooked until they're needed, the men who avoid confrontation and are content to stay in the background until it's their moment to shine. And when they do shine, they can do it brilliantly.
A beta guy is responsible, dependable, practical, adaptable. He may not get all the attention, but he gets the job done. He'll offer the heroine a shoulder to cry on, and he'll entertain her kids at a birthday party. Superromance author Karina Bliss calls the beta hero "an alpha who has evolved."
Betas exhibit their leadership skills in subtle ways. They set excellent examples rather than enforcing their will; they prefer to negotiate rather then fight. They choose their battles carefully and then try to win them with reason. They can be just as stubborn and protective as alphas--they simply choose different ways of dealing with circumstances.
A few years ago I listened to an editor tell an audience of aspiring authors that she preferred stories with alpha heroes. And then a few minutes later she listed film examples of the types of stories she was looking for: romances like While You Were Sleeping and French Kiss, with nary an alpha in the bunch.
If a writer is crafting romantic comedy, a beta hero is the guy she can count on to roll with the punches and deliver the quips. According to Michelle Bardsley, "the beta hero will laugh at himself and the situation and the alpha hero won't...the reader laughs WITH the beta hero and AT the alpha hero." On the other hand, a beta hero may use his humor like a shield to deflect discussion, distancing himself from the heroine, tossing off a joke instead of revealing his feelings. He can be hard to pin down, since he's adept at wiggling out of an unpleasant situation.
I love betas, in spite of their flaws. I love living with them, and I love writing them. I prefer nice men in real life, and I appreciate nice men in the books I read, too. I love their subtle layers and their surprising strengths--they're seldom the typical open book.
Who are some of your favorite film or fiction beta heroes? Have you ever tried writing one? What do you think are some of the rewards or drawbacks of creating a convincing beta hero?