#WritingChallenge! The Alpha Hero

by Deirdre

WritingChallenge imageThis week some of our editors got into the Halloween spirit and participated in the Toronto Harlequin office’s annual Halloween costume contest. Taking a cue from Harlequin’s “Romance When You Need It” ad campaign, several of the editors dressed as Harlequin Heartthrobs. You can spot some of our favourite heroes (and maybe your favourite editor) here:


At Harlequin, we love our cowboys, firefighters, surgeons and small-town cops. And nothing says Romance with a capital “R” like an Alpha Hero!

But how do you create a successful Alpha Hero? What’s acceptable “alpha” behavior today? How do you create a character who’s in control, supremely confident, sexy, accomplished and assertive, but not, well, a jerk?

Your challenge this week? Give us your take on the contemporary Alpha Hero! In a few sentences (no more than one short paragraph) tell us about your hero and what makes him Alpha and Irresistible!

Tip: as our editors noted in this So You Think You Can Write post, the key to making an Alpha attractive is making him fully realized – and flawed.

“Know his weaknesses and have the heroine, and the storyline, challenge them – force him to change. Giving him recognizable human flaws will ensure your hero is emotionally convincing, not a 2-D caricature of a wannabe Alpha male poser!”

Post your Alpha Hero character description in the comments below any time between now and Sunday night, and we’ll check in with you on Monday!

88 replies on “#WritingChallenge! The Alpha Hero”

She was licking the spot behind his ear that usually made him quiver. But this time, he felt numb. His body ignoring her touch and instead focusing his stare on the woman leaning against the wall behind the pool table. The one whispering into the ear of his brother. He knew he shouldn’t want her, shouldn’t wake up with his chest dripping from sweat in the middle of the night at the thought of her. But he couldn’t help it. Nothing had changed in his feelings all these years. He wanted to protect her at all costs. Even if the person he had to protect her from was his own brother.

I always worry when the hero is with someone else at the start. But I love how you describe the effect the heroine has on him.

Wow, this is an intriguing setup Danielle, but I want to know much more about your hero! What does he do for a living? Was he always an “alpha”? I know he wants to protect the heroine, but why does he think she needs protection? And can he intervene in her life without threatening her independence? Or maybe she reacts badly to his protective actions and he has to reverse course – that could be interesting! Thanks so much for writing!

Luke has just gotten the call to be the last minute replacement captain on a Volvo World Cup ocean racing sailboat. He was one of the best in the sport – maybe the best – and then there was an accident, and a crew member died. He knew it was equipment failure, but he was blamed. He’s now got his chance back, but he’s bitter and cynical. He needs this race to go well, both in results and in safety. That means his crew has to do exactly what he says, when he says it. Since he doesn’t have the time to build up trust with his crew, he’s going to have to force them, which he knows will make him unpopular. It doesn’t help that the woman who picked him up in the bar last night is one of his crew members. And they’re stuck together for 9 months, 40,000 miles….

Interesting idea! I’m glad she’s not his only crewmember…I’m not a fan of the books/movies with only one or two people in them, and given the genre I’m glad she will be able to see past the bitter, cynical, boss persona!

Hi Anne,

I love how you’ve taken “ship’s captain” and made it very contemporary! Your setup provides lots of opportunity for your hero to demonstrate his “alpha” personality, and you’ve made it clear that he has good reasons to take charge. There’s a loveable hero under the façade, but we’ll have to wait for the heroine to discover him, and before that, there’ll be some sparks flying! Good job!

Sighing, Nadir crossed the sitting room, one of their subdued rooms, towards the large, arched windows and stared across the desert, closing his eyes, swallowing hard. The walls were closing in, and sometimes he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Then he saw a glimpse of soft coppery hair. Her dazzling smile. Bright soft pale green eyes. He could smell her, her soft lingering rose scent that wrapped around one with warmth and enticed the senses awake at an alarming rate. She took his breath away, even now, just by thinking about her, envisioning her.
His eyes shot open, closed his mind, and turned to leave. That was another lifetime. Gone forever. Princess Asilah was his future, and would make him the perfect wife. She was obedient and of their ways, which would be good for his country. And so damn boring. He had known passion, real passion, and now he had this. His duty.

Lovely descriptive piece of writing, Jan. Love how you make the reader feel for your hero. Great job, Jan. 🙂

Having a believable reason for your hero being a contemporary alpha, such as, well, he’s royalty, still works for Harlequin in 2016! (Depending on the line.) What I would want to know here is, how has growing up a prince given Nadir a sense of entitlement, and how does that play out in his relationships with independent women? You’ve given us Nadir’s tender side – what’s the side he shows to the world? I’m intrigued, Jan! Thanks!

In my opinion, a contemporary, appealing alpha hero would need to be intelligent and capable of making decisions quickly – preferably with wit and charm. Rugged yet sophisticated, and confident without being (too) arrogant. Also, tall dark and handsome probably wouldn’t kill the book, either! Just my opinion!

The new name fit the new hot temper, added bonus that it rolled off his tongue as smooth as aged, oak barrel whiskey. Not that Ree noticed. Chase watched her stack plates from the dishwasher, sure that at any moment the colorful melamine was going to crack under sheer pressure.
“Opinionated, arrogant jerk!”
Resting a jean-clad hip against the counter, Chase half considered interupting her, then decided against it. She’d been the one to leave the garage door open, after all, practically inviting in trouble. Now here he was, and with a paticularly enviable view directly behind her as she continued her tirade.
Who does he think he is? Back from the dead and showing up out of nowhere thinking he can give orders? Patronizing, overprotective behemoth!
Chase watched Ree jerk the cabinet door open and slam the plates onto a shelf.
“Just waltzes in here thinking he’s a regular Avenger…Superman, Batman, Captain America, and what…Sparky?”
“Whoa, now.” He was a patient guy, but c’mon… no man’s man could stand silently by while the woman he intended to sweep off her feet called him Sparky. Chase had the pleasure of watching her jump, and could tell that her fight or flight response was geared toward the former rather than the latter by the way she held a butter knife she’d managed to grab from the silverware basket as she whipped around to face him. For a brief moment he considered making his move right here in the kitchen while Ree’d adrenaline pumped and her heart was racing, then decided he’d rather wait for her blood to pump for him rather than because of him.
As recognition dawned, Ree’s eyes narrowed to glittering green glass, attempting to skewer him to the counter he still leaned against. Chase pinned her with a level gaze of his own.
“I don’t think you’re being entirely fair. First off, the explosion was a calculated risk – planned well before you were in the picture that night. Secondly, what the hell kind of name is Sparky? Sounds like a damn fire dog. How about Detonation Man? The Destructonator? Flashover?
“And by the way” – Chase matched the ice in her eyes with some of his own – “I’ve decided to stay here with you and (insert secret unwritten baby from writing one prompt)since basic security measures like closing the garage door are clearly not your strong suit.

Great scene, Moonshine Writer! You’ve given the reader some well-considered reasons that Ree might think Chase was a jerk, as well as insight into why she might be wrong. You’ve used humour effectively to show us both the hero and heroine’s strengths and weaknesses. And the language is fresh, fun and contemporary. Well done!

I don’t understand the singular fascination with the Alpha Male. No man is born Alpha. What about the journey of a man becoming an Alpha, rising to the challenge for the sake of his love? And, you know, there are plenty of other letters in the Greek alphabet and I like them all just as much.

Even when dating I personally went for alpha males…I honestly can’t imagine being interested in any other type. That being said…I hate the term, too!

Kimber Li – I think that is what Harlequin wants is the male’s journey from being ‘just a man’ to being an ‘incredible man’, one who fights for goodness and what is right, one who recognizes his woman and gets her no matter what the cost, a man who people look up to and respect and it isn’t just his good looks, it’s the entire package, the aura that emanates from him. I accidentally married an alpha male the second time around, and I tell you it is awe-inspiring to be sought after by such a man. I remember thinking: this has to be a dream. I don’t deserve someone like him, and he can’t be real. this is just too good to be true. But he is real and life is very good with him. Oh, we still have our ups and downs, but the ups far surpass the downs. Just being with him makes my day. I never thought of him as an alpha male, but he is all those things alpha ideals and more. I found my HEA, now I want others to find it even if it is in a romance book. Just my two cents… BTW: I never went for the over-confident men. In fact, I enjoyed putting them in their place, but an alpha male is different. I don’t think they are born that way, nor do I think they can make themselves that way, but the life they lead and the women they love make the man.

Well said Chrissie. I too, married an Alpha. They are not arrogant, they trust their judgment. They know what the right thing is, people seek him out for his advice and help. He always makes sure he’s between me and any risk. He has a medal for bravery. That being said he depends on me for somethings he knows are not his forte. He trusts my advice and we are a team.

Exactly, Yvonne! I read several pages on “what is an alpha male.” The whole time I was thinking, “OMG, this is my hubby.” Lol. Now I just have to make all my heroes shine like he does in my heart and I’ll have a winner. Right?

A world where smoke danced in the shadows, through the bars and at the end of guns. Where a life was cheap and never belonged to you. You were always someone else’s property, a tool that could be used for monetary gain or violent revenge. That is unless you were like him and sat at the top, moving everything around like pawns on chess board. A place where blood stained hands could never be cleaned and the stench of death was a cologne worn by many with pride and to serve as a warning.

This has such a delicious noir feel to it, Amanda. Noir heroes especially bring their own brand of grit to the alpha hero image, and you definitely started to capture that here. This set-up promises lots of darkness and glamour. It makes you wonder – does this hero have blood on his hands? Maybe he’s a bit of an anti-hero?
– SYTYCW Editor Kayla

Reid St. Clair had been knocked around as a kid. He never knew his parents, he was raised along with a couple of cousins by his mother’s sister and her husband. Trudy and Guy were good working-class people, they instilled integrity, honesty and hard work in all the kids and they’d loved him as much as anyone could love a nephew. It started to severely go sideways when he was sixteen and thought Hanna Windthorst was the love of his life. Her wealthy parents had disagreed and so had Uncle Guy. Sadly, that wasn’t the first time nor the last time they butted head. It had made him focus on getting out of the Trembly household and out of the small coastal town of Crofton. Looking back, now that he was in his thirties, maybe he wanted his own family too much. Could he have been in love, real love, that young, or was it just hormones?

Reid looked over at the woman with the shiny waterfall of chestnut brown hair and sparkling brown eyes, laughing with another couple at a table across the restaurant. As owner, she moved on to next table, smiling and chatting. No, it had definitely been more than hormones, now he had to convince Hanna and that he was back to stay.

You’ve got the all the makings of the underdog here, Yvonne, which is great! Who doesn’t love a hero who refuses to stay down when he’s kicked down? In addition to his determination, you’ve touched on a certain protective streak here, which is a key ingredient to any alpha hero. Maybe he’s been through a lot, and there’s a chance he still carries some of that darkness with him, but having survived a rough past just makes him a hero who won’t run when danger appears – he protects his heroine at all costs. Reid St. Clair has a lot to offer!
– SYTYCW Editor Kayla

Thank you, Kayla, thank you authors!
Reid and Hanna have much to sort through, including some major adversity with her reataurant and his contracting business. This is my next WIP.

Logan Channing, media mogul, stood at the floor-to-ceiling window and stared out at the bleak winter sky. Ten years ago he had been a nonentity. A nobody with a dream of becoming successful. The desire to make something of himself sprung from a deep craving for self-worth. Something his mother had shorn away during his childhood with constant reminders of him being the cause of his father deserting her. Now living the life of luxury Logan provided her with, she didn’t seem to blame him as much.
Ten years ago when he was starting out in the media industry, he had thought he’d found someone who genuinely loved him. Francesca Beaumont, an heiress. He had been wrong. She had crushed him. Now, years later, she was wanting to enter into his well-ordered life by offering her services as a showrunner for his television series that was in desperate need of a ratings boost.
If anyone could turn around his series, she could. He was older, wiser and no longer believed in love. He was sure he could employ her without the complications of emotions getting in the way.

You’ve touched on a great self-made man here, Calida, who has become convinced that he doesn’t need anyone. It’s always such a thrill to see this kind of alpha hero shown how life is so much better with love in it! And we already have to wonder if Francesca offers a second-chance romance, or if she’s going to leave him even more broken and someone else will need to come in and pick up the pieces. This introduction grants a lot of launching points, especially regarding Logan’s tortured past (my favorite kind). There’s so much to work with here!
– SYTYCW Editor Kayla

You don’t get to the top without treading on a few toes and making a few enemies. Fraser Williams had done plenty of both on the way up. He’d started at the bottom with only his smarts and the money he’d saved working for Daisy Gaven’s father as a golf caddy through high school and college. Now the Fraser William’s sporting goods empire was poised to go international. The last piece in the puzzle awaited his decision. Gaven Manufacturing. The old man was holding out. It had been ten years and Troy Gaven hardly seemed to remember the boy who had followed him around the private golf course. The rest of the shareholders were prepared to fall into line. Tonight would be the deal breaker or maker. Dinner with Troy and Daisy at the Gaven’s luxury home on the river was the lure. Daisy. Once upon a time he’d thought the sun shone out of Daisy Gaven. Until he learned better.

LOVE this so much, Fiona! A brilliantly written scene. Very intrigued about relationship between hero and heroine. Would love to read more! 🙂

This is so intriguing, Fiona! I love how deep the past runs between Fraser Williams and the Gavens – and the type of relationship that he’s had with them over the years. How much does the tension with Daisy’s father influence Fraser’s behavior around her? The risk of him hurting her in the process of sealing the deal of taking his company international also sets up a potential moment of sacrifice: can Fraser have it all or will he ruin his relationship with Daisy in trying to make his company succeed?
– SYTYCW Editor Kayla

Mason’s knuckles whitened over the phone until the plastic threatened to crack. The lean, muscular chest rose and fell in a deep sigh as he returned the phone to his pocket. He had to go back. And he would see her. Mason closed his eyes briefly. He’d made the right decision ten years ago. For both of them. She’d been pissed. Mason’s well-cut lips twisted in a sardonic smile. Pissed, hell, she probably still hated his guts. If there had been hollow spot in him since, one that had been filled during their time together, that was just too damn bad. He’d been right. He was still right, Mason assured himself as he flicked open the dark brown eyes, palmed his badge and surged up from the desk. His disciplined mind was already shifting to the missing informant as he headed out the door. He’d be right about this too. He was headed to a murder.

Dear Jocelyn,
Nicely done! You really capture a moment here, and I can see this hero very clearly. He’s in charge, intelligent, and aware of his world. This may be just me but he seemed a smidge beta when his knuckles whiten (to me that says fear) and he sighs. We editors are a little picky! But I like that he feels deeply because as much as we want to convey alphas as ruthless, they do feel deeply—otherwise they’d be sociopaths.  I like the hook at the end of the paragraph. I would read on for sure!

Thanks for the specific feedback, Patience. I like picky. Picky is good! Thanks again for these wonderful opportunities.

“Well?” he snapped. Because he didn’t feel friendly. He wasn’t going to play the amiable aristocrat. He wanted solitude. He wanted the peace and sanity he craved every morning before he forced himself to open his eyes onto the reality of his days.
She didn’t answer. But he could feel her, looking him over, silently assessing him from head to toe. Which was wrong. Women responded to him in a different way. They did not look him over. Something very male and primal uncurled within him. A reaction to the challenge. A sharp, insistent urge he knew of old—and which he damned well didn’t need now.

Dear Maggie,
What I like about this description is that you go deep into the hero’s thoughts and set him up as a true alpha who doesn’t want to be led into any situation, but somehow can’t help how he feels. And you imply here that he’s met his match because the heroine is examining him in a way that most women don’t. Overall, an intimate look into the hero’s psyche—very enjoyable.

Hey, thanks so much for commenting, everyone! Means a lot. Wow, it’s ages since I’ve done one of these and I’d forgotten what fun they are! Really enjoyed reading through them.
Patience, thanks for your kind words. I’m so glad this hero works for you! Am loving writing his book right now. Mx

“You let that witch get away with what is probably your property.” Raven spoke as he strode angrily past him.
“Perhaps.” Corbin, took one last look at woods she’d slipped into, turned, and followed his brother.
“You’ve changed.” Raven stopped and waited for him to catch up. They stood looking at each other, Raven furious and Corbin determined. “You were always the first to get in there and deal out the punishment, lately though. . . . wait, I get it, you’re thinking that wrinkled old crone we ran into last year was right?”
“I am.” Corbin, feeling a little uncomfortable under his brother’s intense gaze, started walking again.
“Oh, man! That old woman would have said anything to save herself.” Raven laughed as he followed him.
“She didn’t talk to you though, if that old crone only wanted to save herself, why didn’t she say anything to you?”
Raven kept silent as he remembered the knowing look the old woman had given him. He’d stepped forward and dealt with her before she was able to say anything.
“You’ve protected every single dark-haired woman we’ve run into for a year! Good or bad, and nothing has come of it. We haven’t been able to do our job very well because of it. You’re a fool, Corbin, your work, and mine, is suffering.”
“I can’t ignore it” The unease he had been feeling for the last few years had been intensifying, he knew trouble, big trouble, was coming and he felt that witch, with the flashing brown eyes, might just be the one to help him. And help him she would, whether she wanted to or not.

Dear Amy,
Wow! It seems we have two alpha men here. They both appear stubborn and, dare I say, a little out of sorts. I’d say they could both be worthy heroes. I was a little confused by which one might be the central hero. That might be something to clarify in this section of the manuscript. I like the dialogue, too, and how you move the characters around each other in the scene. A nice description overall!

Thank you!
Corbin is my alpha, Raven has animosity towards his older brother and can sometimes act like an alpha, but he believes Corbin must be destroyed, and he take his place, before he can actually be an alpha. Poor, sad, mixed up Raven.

Of all the ways things could go wrong, this was the worst. Haydn Smith would be late for his meeting and the deal would collapse. The cop impounded his Lamborghini, left him standing on the sidewalk with a summons in his hand. Someone had called in the license plate as stolen and he was betting it was the same woman. She went to powder her nose at the gas station and never returned. At the airport, the heel came off her shoe and she fell into him. He missed her hands in his pockets listening to her beating heart, amused by her situation enough to offer her a lift to her hotel. Most people were cautious around him. The scar on his face made them wonder, but his slow smile and the fear retreated. Women moved towards him because of his size. Only this woman had moved into the protection of his arms in order to grift him. All he had to do was to find a woman with golden hair and one shoe on, and take his cell phone out of her pretty, little hands.

Absolutely love this, Kathryn! LOVE the way you’ve written your heroine! Can already feel the chemistry between the hero and heroine. 🙂

Dear Kathryn,
Ha! This was a lot of fun to read. What an amusing twist that the heroine outsmarted him but I can tell Haydn is about to get his revenge and sparks will fly. Well done! You can feel his anger but also his gearing up for the fight, which means he’s about to unleash his inner alpha. My one criticism is that this paragraph lists a whole lot of action and maybe you could draw out this information a bit more. That said, I realize I’m reading this out of context. In context, though, this paragraph is very entertaining!

Thank you Patience for the helpful comments and to the group for the encouragement. It was fun to write and read the submissions and responses on all the work.
P.S The photo of the spirit of Harlequin Heros arising from the handbags of women everywhere was brilliant! I especially liked the single dad with a youngster – it’s amazing what you can get in your purse. Maybe that’s mine always weighs a ton. By the way, nice touch for the single dad with youngster waiting for the right woman to complete him, dressing the child only in black and white. What woman alive wouldn’t put red socks on a child with such cute blond hair?
(Just my opinion, of course.)

Brent loves blondes and fast Italian sports cars. He never wants for anything, rather it be sex or money. He knows how to work a woman and how to ensure his future is stable. The only he can’t control is finding that special someone to spend the rest of his life with, then brunette Danielle walks into his office and everything changes. His life will never be the same.

It had been raining and he didn’t see the car coming and it was too late to react. He hit the windshield and landed on the ground. The car sped away. Someone screamed for help in the background for an ambulance and the police.
Hold on! Help is on the way! he heard and all went black. Jonah awoke to find himself in the hospital and faded into a medical induced bliss. The pain medication is making him sleepy. He heard a woman’s voice say. Another asked if he has any ID on his person.
The police have been notified of the incident and are their way over. said a male’s voice. Looks like we’re harboring a criminal.
The ER doctor Bella examines the patient and recognized him immediately. She had half a mind to finish him right then and there but with all the doctors and nurses around it would be hard to do. We’re losing him!
No, we’re not ! Bella cried taking over. Finally he was stable and later placed into a room on the fourth floor. The police are standing outside his room making sure no one enters unless its hospital personnel with ID of course. Bella felt something wasn’t right with them or maybe it was just her nerves because this man had to have something to do with the disappearance of her brother Markcus and she wasn’t going to let him die without knowing what happened to him.
“I hope you can hear me, she said, where is my brother? What have you done to him? Tell me now or I’ll stick this needle in your neck.
Jonah stirs a little trying to speak but his words are slurred from the medication he received in the emergency room. He opens his eyes slowly. The light of the room made him feel even worse but he was determined to say something to her. The door opens and one of the officers peeks in.
“Is he coming to?”
No, he’s still out of it. Bella replied. She didn’t want the police involved right now until she found out the truth for herself. The officer entered the room looking down at Jonah.
He was involved in some heavy crime. He had never killed anybody but there were always bodies around some how and from what we were told he tried to get out and this is what happened. Bella just nodded her head and kept quiet. Her doctor instincts kicked in and she told him that she would do everything she could to make sure he would stand trial for all the wrongs he had done and the officer left the room.
D-don’t trust him. Whispered Jonah. He’s crooked. I don’t know what happened to your brother but if you don’t get me out of here, something might happen to you.
Bella leans over him. Jonah stares into her eyes and he could see the family resemblance. If he remembered correctly, her brother is her twin and his best friend. Her brother never spoke of his family for fear of their safety and now he’s missing and its all his fault. He didn’t really intend to get to the hospital this way but he remembered where she worked and ended up in the ER due to someone trying to take him out. Now her life may be in danger because of him. Because she saved his life and now he must return the favor some how. Jonah reached out to touch her but she moved away from him.
Nodding his head in understanding he pointed to the door. Get me out of here alive and I’ll take you to your brother. Tonight.
You’re in no condition to travel, Bella whispered but I may be able to get you out of here but it may require me losing my job.
I have nothing left to lose anyway, Jonah said, get me out of here.

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