Beta Heroes: Why You Should Write One (…and How)

by Katie Gowrie

It would be an understatement to say alpha heroes are popular in romance novels. Something about a guy who’s tall, dark and in control is just so appealing. But the romance genre encompasses all kinds of heroes, like gamma heroes (a hybrid of beta and alpha), and theta heroes (the dark and wounded lone wolf). A longtime brother of the alpha hero in romance is the beta hero.

So, what’s the difference? This is tough—beta heroes are arguably more complex than alphas. Like my home and native land, Canada, the definition for a beta might lie in what he’s not. He’s not an alpha—perhaps less prone to unexpected fits of jealousy, making commands, and doing things for the heroine’s own good (often without her knowledge) :). The beta hero is often gentler, kinder, more laid back. He’s the charming guy next door, the patient single dad, the nerdy younger brother. *heart eyes emoji*

If you’re thinking of writing a beta hero for your next romance novel but you’re not sure where to start, here are our top tips:

  1. Write with the right mindset.

Beta heroes aren’t passive-aggressive, boring, wet-blanket heroes, as some would suggest. Betas and alphas showcase their masculinity in their own way, and they’re both oh-so-swoonworthy. But don’t write it if you don’t love it. You’ll know, and your readers will know. Write what fits with your story, and your heroine. How will your hero’s personality help dictate the action of the plot, or vice versa? Embrace the beta —but don’t try to fit the square beta peg into the proverbial round hole.

  1. The sky’s the limit.

Remember when I said beta heroes can be complex? Take that and run with it! Writing a beta hero allows for lots of diversity. Don’t feel you need to write within boxes labelled Demanding Billionaire CEO, Rakish Viscount or The Literal Alpha: Leader of a Werewolf Pack (that’s true even of alphas!). You love those guys—I love those guys. But there’s room to cast a wide net: is your next hero a dedicated violin teacher, a hilarious blogger, or a genius white-water rafting guide?

  1. Even out the playing field.

Romances with beta heroes often show the hero as a partner, rather than a leader. That’s not to say he can’t lead—he’s simply open to sharing that role. While there’s something to be said about a gorgeous guy who takes charge, how can you resist a hero who wants to do things with his partner rather than for her? Write scenes that explore friendship between the H&H, and make room for humour! A hero who can make the heroine laugh, one whose partner will inevitably become their best friend, is often the most memorable kind.

 4. Actions speak as loud as words?

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty: the words on the page. This romance writer suggests we consider everything from dialogue to gestures to inner monologue. Does your beta hero make a statement, or is he more likely to ask a question? Does he stride or does he step? Is his inner monologue closed off, or is it a bit more open?

  1. And finally, strike a balance.

If nothing in life is black-and-white, should it be in books? It’s tough to write a post about heroes without categorizing these guys and folding them neatly into their respective drawers. Perhaps this is okay: we romance bookworms love our tropes and the men we’re sure to find there—the story we’re looking for, when we need it. But your characters should be complex and multi-dimensional, like people. In a 50, 000-word manuscript, consistency needs to be considered, but if your hero walks the line between archetypes, that’s okay!


17 replies on “Beta Heroes: Why You Should Write One (…and How)”

Thanks Katie. Beta and Omega archetypes are my favourite. I think living with an alpha would have me writing murder mysteries (with a great deal of insightful motivation) and not romances. Equal, complementary partnership, with a great deal of humour – that’s the perfect blend in my books.

Perhaps living in close proximity to Lady Catherine de Burgh does not appeal? You must weigh this against advantages of being able to move, in due course, into Longbourn. Marriage with Mr. Collins would bring many advantages, to be sure. Do not, I pray, be too hasty in your decision, my dear Cassandra.
(Oh, awesome – you have the same name as Jane’s sister!)

Thanks Katie.
(I just responded to yesterday’s Hooks/Tropes homework assignment. Having a Beta Hero is one of my tropes/hooks)

What a timely post, Katie! Last night I was plugging away at my Love Inspired mss, and my hero, Ben, was going in directions I hadn’t planned. (Sometimes my characters have minds of their own; I just have to give them room!) Ben is taking a step back, taking cues from the heroine.

It turns out writers can be hybrids, too. I’m both a pantser and a plotter!

My characters are naughty too and take off on their own, series to places I never considered. It’s fun to go for a ride.

@Melanie: Your characters, too, huh? 🙂 It is fun to sit in the passenger seat sometimes, and let the characters drive.

Good luck with the ms’s Cassandra and Melanie – enjoy letting your characters take the wheel 🙂

I am so sick of Alpha Heroes. The one I have waiting in the wings is starting to fume and pace because I keep putting off writing his story. He actually played the Beta role in my last story, which was a lot of fun for me to write.
As a reader, I must say PLEASE bring on more Betas. Thank you.

Yes, there’s room for them, Kimber Li! (Room for both — sounds like your alpha character is ready for his story to be told! :))

Perhaps Betas have a branding problem because of the name. It’s the second letter of the Greek alphabet, implying second place and second best, and it also implies passivity in pop psychology and other realms.

Maybe if we thought of them as “new alpha”–embodying classic alpha traits softened by genuine partnership and empathy–and discarded the malignant personality traits of certain brands of the alpha-hole, they would fare better. What do you think?

The Alpha-hole? *giggle* Sorry but you made me laugh. I like real men, men who aren’t afraid to cry, aren’t afraid to take that challenge and go with it. Men who love deeply and fight fairly. I think you can have all those traits in both the alpha and the beta men, but it depends on your story and what you are trying to get across to your reader. I’ve never been a lover of the underdog, but that’s just me. I like men who know what they want and aren’t too weak to achieve it. I like honest and maybe even outspoken men. I want to know where I stand with a man. I think my heroines do too. Deceit is something I find difficult to tolerate. So my perfect male is honest and loving and giving, but strong and determined to be successful. A doer not a waiter. One who can work with his hands and not just his brain. I guess I like the Jack of all trades kind of guy for my heroes. Maybe that’s my problem??? 🙂

These are all really interesting points! Definite food for thought (I also had a laugh at alpha-hole!)

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