You know, it’s difficult to see myself as a Romance Writer but I guess that’s what I am now. Erotic Romance, admittedly, but Romance nevertheless. Yes, I still write short ‘stroke’ stories such as the Ladz “Local Lovelies” series , and they go down quite well, but there’s no denying that Lost&Found, Charlotte’s Secret and (when it’s finished) Chloe’s Education are anything but romantic in tone.
When I wrote my first sex story back in ’98—a story about a threesome at a housewarming party—I never envisaged being classed as a romance writer. Back then, for me at least, romance novels were still very much the “Mills&Boon” type. You know, heart & flowers, purple prose etc.
But Romance has changed. Readers now want ‘heat’. They want to know just what the heroines are feeling and what’s being done to them to make them feel it (if you know what I mean). Graphic yet sensual descriptions and thorough exploration of sexual needs and desires are the order of the day. And it’s not restricted to heterosexual relationships either – it’s my understanding that gay romances sell as well (if not better) than straight ones. Hell, there are even some BritWriters who write gay romance, isn’t that so?
But Erotic Romance still has its ‘rules’. Rules updated from ‘old style’ Romance. There must be a hero and a heroine (for straight romances at least – I’ll let more knowledgeable people talk about GLBT romances). The heroine should be a strong modern woman, but at the same time vulnerable. And the heroes need to be strong alpha-males. That’s what the girls want (or so I’m told) – the alpha-male. And since women are the predominant readers of Erotic Romance – alpha-males is pretty much what they get. And since it’s mostly women who write Erotic Romance, they are happy to serve up them up.
But I think I’m a little different from most of the erotic romance authors out there. For one, I’m a bloke – so hopefully I offer something a little different to your average female author. A different perspective, if you like. A male perspective.
And, possibly, a British perspective too. Does being British matter? Of course it does. Look at Hugh Grant – he’s made a career out of playing decidedly British men in romantic comedies. The likes of Colin Firth and Alan Rickman haven’t done bad out of being very, very British either. And let’s face it, could any other nation on earth have spawned probably the greatest romantic hero ever, Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Darcy?
I suppose at this point I really should make clear what I see as an Alpha-male in romantic writing. Well, Wikipedia (my usual Internet standby) just comes up with a definition in terms of wolves and chimps so that’s not much use. The closest I got was this
Alpha Male: a term used to describe a macho male character within a romance.
from fiction forum.
Not the best definition in the world, but when you look deeper it seems that everyone likes to argue argue about it. Look here, for example, where it seems that Alphas are both good things and bad, depending on who’s answering. Still, it’s suits my argument to use the definition above. So let’s stick with that. Are my male leads alpha-males? Or are they bumbling upper-middle-class Hugh Grant’s or stiff-upper-lipped, oh-so-proper Mr Darcy’s?
Actually, they’re neither. My male leads aren’t alpha-males, mainly because I’m not what you’d call an alpha-male. And hey, I’m a working class boy from the Black Country – I couldn’t sound like Hugh Grant even if I did have a plum in my mouth (I’d sound like Ozzy Osbourne on a bad day – “Sharrooonnn!”)
No, I was the nerdy, booky type at school, the one who was bullied for wearing glasses, the one everyone came to so they could copy their homework instead of doing it themselves. And I think that reflects in my male leads. They, like me, are modern (some even say, slightly cool) young Britons. Typically they are intelligent, in well-paid professional jobs. They are stronger than I ever was – they’re not going to be bullied and they will stand up for the woman they love, but they are ‘new men’ (if that term is still used – personally, I hate it). They are sensitive, they get hurt. They have their flaws. Hell, you could even go as far as to say that, at times, they wear their heart on their sleeves.
In fact, I don’t really like referring to my male leads as “heroes”. I prefer to call them (like I just did) Male Leads or the Central Male Character. I guess I’m just more comfortable with that.
Let me try and show you what I mean by reference to the Central Male Character in Charlotte’s Secret.
David is, in some respects, the antithesis of an alpha-male. He’s an accountant—intelligent and respected in the local business community and far from what most people would think of as an alpha. He’s also trapped in a loveless marriage. Why? Because he did what he thought was right and married a woman he didn’t love just because she was carrying his baby (at least, he thought she was). Now, you know and I know that in modern Britain, marrying someone just because you’ve knocked them up isn’t the done thing anymore – but David is different. He’s from a broken home. He knows what it’s like growing up without a dad – and he’s going to make damn sure he doesn’t inflict that on any child of his.
And it’s David’s relationship with the little boy he believes to be his son that is central to this whole story. It’s that relationship that makes David behave the way he does.
Does that sound like an alpha to you?
In my e-books, far from painting my Male Leads as alpha-males, actually, it’s my antagonists (or villains if you prefer) who are the “traditional” alpha-males.
So, let’s focus on my two Phaze releases, Charlotte’s Secret and Lost & Found.
There is, unquestionably, a character fitting the description above in Charlotte’s Secret. His name is Mike Liggins and he is David’s wife’s bit on the side. He’s not the sharpest tool in the box – in stark contrast to David who is so smart it’s scary – but he is built like the proverbial brick-shit-house and has an unfathomable attraction to the ladies. As Charlotte thinks to herself when she’s hidden in the bushes watching Susie give Mike a blow-job
…he might be rough and ready, and not that bright, but he did have one thing going for him…
Later in the story, even Charlotte succumbs to Mike’s animal magnetism when she finds herself day-dreaming about him.
“You want it, then? After all you’ve said about me? What was it you called me? Moron, wasn’t it? I’ll show you who’s a moron.” He slammed into her hard and kept on slamming as Charlotte’s orgasm built again.
“Oh, yes. Harder! Faster! Give it to me, you bastard!” She screamed as her orgasm hit. How long it lasted, she didn’t know. She didn’t even know if Mike came or not.
He’s big, strong and assertive. I imagine him down the pub with his mates bragging about his conquests, going to watch the football, leading the chanting and then getting into some agro with the opposition supporters afterwards. He’s a beat-your-chest, almost stereotype of an alpha-male. And he’s my villain.
Moving on to Lost & Found, we find a different type of alpha-male. Unlike Charlotte’s Secret, which is told mostly from David’s point of view but switches to Charlotte’s for the few scenes where David isn’t around, Lost & Found sticks firmly to my Male Lead’s point of view throughout. Chris is an Economics PhD, and although his job is never specified, Beth does refer to him as a ‘financial whiz’. But Chris isn’t an alpha-male in the traditional sense. Yes, he’s a bread winner, and yes, he earns a lot of bread but his most significant relationship in recent years has been with a woman on the other side of a computer screen on different continent. Not exactly alpha material.
Whereas Beth’s father, Colonel Robert Burnett, is alpha-male all over. Retired Colonel, he’s used to being in charge, used to having his orders followed. He’s proud his championship winning, quarterback jock son joined the army. You couldn’t get much more ‘alpha’. But here’s were he differs from Mike in Charlotte’s Secret. The most important thing in The Colonel’s life, is his daughter. He just doesn’t express it very well. He expresses it like an ‘alpha’. He tells her what to do, shouts and gets mad and frustrated. But he’ll do what he needs to protect her. Look at the scene on my own blog here.
Can you see the difference between what I consider my two Male Leads in this piece? Yes, The Colonel is as important to this story as Chris is. This is a story about two men vying for the affections of one woman – her father and her lover. Chris stands up to The Colonel, but it shakes him – he’s not used to it. He does it because he loves Beth and wants to protect her. The Colonel wants to protect her too, it’s just a shame he’s too pig headed to see he and Chris want the same thing. The Colonel handles the situation like an alpha, Chris handles it the way I like to think I’d handle it.
I guess that to some extent my Male Leads are an idealised version of me. The way I’d like to see myself almost. Not exactly, just a little bit, because like all characters, as the story develops they take on a life of their own and become personalities in their own right.
So there we have it. My take on the traditional male lead in romantic fiction. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And here’s a challenge to my fellow BritWriters – tell me about your male leads, especially if you write gay romance, it’d be interesting to compare, don’t you think?
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