The Character Debate: Strong and Vulnerable?

by Jami Gold on August 14, 2014

in For Readers, Writing Stuff

Movie promo image of Gamora with text: Can a Character Be Strong and Vulnerable?

Writing is often about finding a balance. Too much left in subtext can lead to confusion. Too much explanation can feel like an info dump or be too “on the nose.” Etc., etc.

With our characters, if we want our protagonists to seem heroic, they need to have strong traits. Yet at the same time, if we want our protagonists to be relatable, they need to have vulnerabilities. This is never an easy balance, especially when clichés fill our heads about what a “strong character” means.

Stereotypes of Strong Characters Don’t Allow for Diversity

On the heroine side, Ripley from Alien is often brought up as a “strong female character.” The stereotype, which I’ve written about before, refers mostly to physically violent, butt-kicking women. Furthermore, it assumes women who need rescuing—ever—can’t possibly be strong.

On the hero side, the stereotype is all-alpha-male-all-the-time. And not just a normal level of alpha male, oh no… In some genres, the expectation is for an amount of alpha-ness that reaches *sshole level—leading to the label “alpha-hole.” Again, the assumption is that heroes who are caring or sensitive—ever—couldn’t possibly be strong.

With all those clichés and stereotypes swirling about, it’s no wonder that we might struggle with making likable characters. There’s no room in those clichés for vulnerabilities that will make them relatable to the reader.

Whatever happened to “strong” meaning the ability to handle that which the character thinks they can’t? Whether they’re handling a situation, an emotion, a conflict, a weapon, a threat, or a relationship, there should be multiple ways of showing strength, or else we’ve lost a different kind of diversity among our characters.

Stereotypes Don’t Allow for Three-Dimensional Characters

Those expectations also prevent us from making three-dimensional characters. How can a character who has to conform to such narrow expectations ever seem unique and real? How can they ever make decisions that follow who they are rather than who the clichés expect them to be?

I prefer writing organic characters, those who become fully realized through drafting, as I let them make choices and statements that follow what they believe—even if I don’t have a clue what they believe until later in the process. (Yes, I write by the seat of my pants. *smile*)

If I had to tell my characters what they were allowed to say or how they were allowed to react to prevent them from “breaking the rules,” my muse would go on strike. (And my muse is an alpha male just this side of jerk.)

A Disclaimer—Characters Who Conform Aren’t “Bad”

All that said, I don’t think it’s bad if some of the characters we write follow the stereotypes. As with other kinds of diversity, the problem is when that’s the only depiction or considered the norm.

Many readers like heroines who literally kick butts, and many readers don’t. Many readers adore alpha-hole heroes who are jerks to the nth degree, and many readers don’t. As authors, some of us naturally write those types of characters, and some of us don’t.

None of that is wrong. If we tried to eliminate those characters, we’d once again be limiting the options for our characters, which is the opposite of my point.

Rather, my concern is with the preponderance of these characters, to the point that they’ve become the expectation. And worse, that any characteristics that deviate from the narrow expectation result in the character losing the “strong” label regardless of their other qualifications.

A Closer Look at Strong Heroines

I originally started thinking about this topic after Sara Letourneau discussed how we can make strong-yet-believable heroines. At the bottom of her post, Sara shared five tips for making strong heroines believable. In my own words, my favorites were:

  • Give her an opportunity to evolve—hello, character arc! This should be a “duh.”
  • Balance any literal butt-kicking ability with other admirable qualities (not just weaknesses). Don’t allow the butt-kicking alone to define who she is on the positive side of the equation.
  • Make her afraid of something that nearly paralyzes her. The key I’ve found for making my heroines at least somewhat likable has been allowing them to show their vulnerability.

Case Study: Gamora of the Guardians of the Galaxy Movie

Sara’s post brought to my mind the character of Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana) in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I consider Gamora a strong character despite the fact that she “breaks the rules” of those stereotypes. (And I’m going to try to avoid spoilers here.)

She’s an assassin (and possibly the best fighter among the Guardians), but that aspect doesn’t define her, in part because she’s not single-minded about that identity. There are hints of a love interest between her and Peter Quill, but it never interferes with her goals. And those goals—her goals—drive the movie, as she’s the one who insists to the rest of the team what they need to do and why.

Yet she also shows vulnerability. She reveals her secret to Peter in their second scene together because she does want to be seen as more than just an assassin and because she’s not above accepting help. She understands the stakes, the consequences of failure, better than anyone, so her voice breaks and she shows real fear at the thought of that failure. She does need rescuing—twice.

But make no mistake, she’d cut your heart out if you called her “weak.” And that’s my point.

Is Gamora a “Strong” Character?

Despite her many strong, admirable traits, some have focused on the love interest aspect, or the damsel in distress aspect, or whatever, and opined that those make her ineligible for being a strong character. That’s narrow-minded. Again, she’s the driver of the whole plot, has the most personally at stake, and is the moral center of the team’s choices.

In many ways, victory means more to her, is more important to her, and centers more on her, than on any of the other characters. Now that’s overcoming a situation, and that’s why characters like her deserve to be considered strong no matter the “rules” they break.

A Closer Look a Strong Heroes

I write paranormal romance, and for better or worse, the norm for that subgenre is extreme alpha male/alpha-hole heroes. But I’ve mentioned before that I don’t write alpha-holes, and some of my heroes have some downright beta traits (along with their alpha traits). In fact, some of my stories feature a paranormal heroine and a “mere human” hero.

I don’t want to write jerks. I don’t want to read jerks. I want romances where the characters grow in a partnership based on respect that I can believe will last for the “ever after” part of the happy ending. That’s just my preference.

Alpha Males vs. Alpha-Holes

To me, a hero can be dominant without being domineering. They can be protective without being controlling. And they can be confident without being overly arrogant.

To me, those positive traits, along with others like leadership, focus, decision making, and problem solving, are an alpha male. The term came from wolf packs, where the alpha male was simply the leader, not a jerk.

On the other hand, when I look at a domineering, controlling, arrogant male, I don’t see a leader. I don’t see an alpha male. I don’t see a hero.

I see a poseur, a male who’s so insecure that they put on an act to hide who they really are and who’s so afraid that they need to control everything. Their jerky behavior is all about posturing and overcompensating for their weaknesses.

To me, the real strong heroes are the ones so confident they’re not afraid of revealing their vulnerabilities. The ones so confident they can be nice and not fear that will erase their assertiveness or power. In other words, the ones we might actually like if we met them in real life.

Expectations of Alpha Males in Fiction

But the stereotype of the alpha male in many genres doesn’t recognize that nuance. One of the workshops I went to at the RWA Annual Conference was Deconstructing the Alpha Male.

At first I was heartened by the discussion because the panel made fun of the stereotype of the alpha-hole, But then they listed the characteristics they felt embodied alpha heroes, such as:

  • ruthless with everyone (i.e. not nice or kind to anyone)
  • “bro” culture (only bond to other males)
  • expressionless and implacable (no showing of emotions)

Uh oh, that’s getting close to a jerk in my book. In the business world, a guy like that wouldn’t make a very good leader. Leaders have to respect others enough to listen so they can govern well, not just conquer.

Then the panel gave opinions about the kind of heroes who couldn’t be alpha males:

  • rejected by a woman during the story
  • a virgin
  • physically damaged (beyond just a “cool” scar)

Hmm, their description was getting narrower, and essentially marked as off-limits many potential vulnerabilities. Why, it’s almost as though they thought alpha males weren’t allowed to be vulnerable in any way.

Case Study: A Hypothetical Workshop Hero

Then an attendee asked the question:

“What if you have a military hero, firefighter, or police officer who is not an *sshole—ever? They love their mother, they’re a hero, and they dominate their world. To be an alpha, do they have to be a jerk?”

The answer from the editor on the panel:

“I think that’s just a hero.”

Gah! In other words, yes, their view was that alphas have to be jerks. Not being an *sshole (and horror of horrors, having a healthy relationship with his mother) was important enough to disqualify a dominant military hero (i.e., the prototypical alpha male) from being considered an alpha male hero. Only the alpha-holes counted as alpha heroes. *head desk*

Again, I’m not saying that no heroes should ever be arrogant, controlling, domineering playboys. But for them to state, in answer to my follow-up question, that paranormal romance heroes are required to be these jerky alpha-hole style of alpha males doesn’t match with the goal of diverse three-dimensional characters.

I reject the idea that characters must conform to narrow stereotypes to be considered “strong.” I want to read stories with more diverse characters than that. That’s why I’m not going to change the kinds of characters I write. I’ll continue writing both heroes and heroines who are strong and vulnerable. And I’ll just hope that others are looking for the same. *smile*

Do you struggle with writing characters who are strong yet likable? Have you ever experienced pushback for making your characters vulnerable? Do you think characters can be strong and vulnerable? How do you think genre affects that possibility? How would you define a strong character? What heroes or heroines have you liked that follow or break the stereotypes?

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61 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Serena Yung August 14, 2014 at 7:22 am

Hi Jami!

Wow, I’m shocked especially at the strong hero stereotype, because I was never aware of that. What???? A sensitive and caring hero is considered WEAK???? In my books, a guy who dares to show sensitivity, to show his sadness, fear, a guy who is brave enough to CRY, is a STRONG male. 😀 I REALLY love emotionally sensitive and vulnerable males, both in friends and in partners, haha.

Oh yes, I totally agree with you that alpha hole males are insecure. ALPHA HOLE males are the ones who are WEAK.

Yes! Just because a girl needs help or needs to be saved by a male SOMETIMES, doesn’t make her “weak”. She’s strong in other ways, e.g. saving the male some other times, or saving innocent citizens, defending the city, etc. And yes, being strong in relationships is strong, too. Maybe some will say it’s a female stereotype to be strong at relationships, but these commentators might not realize that it’s HARD to be strong at relationships. So for example, if a female manages to develop a strong bond with her son or daughter, and manages to take great care of them and protect them, that is strength to me. A male who manages to do the same with his children, is also strong to me.

Ha, you know how I’m so against “making” or “creating” characters in my own writing. I’m like you in how I pants everything and let them reveal themselves, and I also have NO idea what their beliefs are and how they would choose until later on when I get to know them better. So instead of “creating” characters, I get to know them like getting to know real people (characters are all real people to me anyway, haha).

You know, my biased mind thinks that the reason why some people have so many problems with their characters being unrealistic or completely stereotyped, etc., is because they are “creating” their characters and “deciding” what traits they should have, rather than letting the character show them what traits they have organically. Not listening to your muse can be costly. 😀 Yes, I know that’s my extremely biased opinion as a pantser, lol, but I really find that it’s EASY to write realistic characters if you just let go and let the characters be what they want to be, rather than imposing personality traits on them. If you let your characters reveal who they really are, rather than deliberately prescribing what they are, then characters can be like “real” people in that some of their traits conform to stereotypes but many other traits don’t.

On this topic, a friend and I chatted about the stereotypical strong female character. We both think it’s unrealistic for a female character to be completely masculine and have no feminine traits at all. “Real” females have a combination of both “male” and “female” qualities. Real males also have a combo of both masculine and feminine personality traits. So forcing characters to completely follow or completely defy their gender stereotype, or any stereotype, is bound to lead to trouble and reader discontent. Anyway, that’s just my opinion.

Completely with you on the diversity point too. 😀 A genre where all the romance heroes are alpha holes is a genre I wouldn’t want to read, lol. I HATE alpha holes, and I would say that these alpha holes don’t deserve the heroine!

And yes, exactly! You can be strong in different ways, not just in fighting, dominating, or even leading. There’s the relationship and emotional expression type of strengths, as mentioned above. There are also other things like having superior social skills, being considerate and sensitive and kind, loving to help others, being unselfish, being insightful about other people’s or animals’ (or other species’) perspectives, good at executing plans down to the nitty-est gritty-est details, good at seeing the big picture, etc. etc.

Finally, I’m also very surprised that if a man is a virgin, he can’t be an alpha male…As I am a person who doesn’t agree with premarital sex, if this man has never been married and is a virgin, that, to me, is an alpha trait. 😀 (In the story I’m writing, premarital sex is very frowned upon in their society, so staying a virgin until marriage is a sign of an honorable and decent man, haha. Yay societal and cultural differences!) I think very differently from these people who made these “rules for being an alpha male”, lol. But really, EEEK that they think that a man must be promiscuous and a womanizer to be an “alpha”. O_O I hate womanizers so so so much.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 10:16 am

Hi Serena,

I know, right? 🙂 It takes a heck of a lot of courage to show vulnerability, and that courage, to me, is strong. And I’m with you–the vast majority of issues I’ve had with characters occurred when I let my preconceived ideas of who they were interfere with the direction my muse was taking me.

Again, I’m not against having these stereotypical characters in some stories, but that workshop with its attitude of “requirements” and “disqualifications” really upset me. From a story structure point of view, I can understand the reason for having extreme characters. That extreme-ness creates an easy (some might say lazy) character arc when the character suddenly breaks down in the final moments–when the masculine heroine finally allows herself to feel emotion or when the alpha-hole finally softens and admits their feelings for the heroine. I get that. When done well, those stories can be fun and emotionally satisfying.

But that’s not the only way to create a satisfying character arc with strong characters. That arc itself is a cliché. O.o

Agreed on the “virgin” disqualification too. Someone with strong convictions about their goals or motivations isn’t “strong” if those convictions refer to premarital sex? *sigh* Yes, I’ve written more than one virgin hero too. 😉 Thanks for supporting my rant! LOL!

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Serena Yung August 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

“Thanks for supporting my rant! LOL!”

Haha no problem!

“That extreme-ness creates an easy (some might say lazy) character arc when the character suddenly breaks down in the final moments–when the masculine heroine finally allows herself to feel emotion or when the alpha-hole finally softens and admits their feelings for the heroine.”

Good point that it is rather lazy, unless the character really is that kind of person. These arcs are indeed quite cliche, lol.

“the vast majority of issues I’ve had with characters occurred when I let my preconceived ideas of who they were interfere with the direction my muse was taking me.”

Yay you agree with me! 😀

Hurray for virgin heroes! ^^

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Hi Serena,

Yep, we share a special brand of craziness. 😉

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Juli Page Morgan August 14, 2014 at 8:05 am

My critique group has been discussing this recently, especially how alpha males are now expected to be alpha-holes. I find it disheartening that the panel leading the workshop you attended perpetuated the current trend of thinking a strong male in fiction has to be, for the most part, a jerk. One of the things we’ve talked about in my critique group is the disturbing way these alpha-holes usually seem to be involved with dubious-consensual sex, strong-arming the heroine into submitting after she’s shown or told him she’s reluctant. Oh, hell no! That is not the behavior of a strong, confident man – it’s the behavior of a man committing sexual assault. But it’s increasingly portrayed in romance as “hot.” It’s gotten to the point that I will not buy a book where the hero is described as an alpha male. The last few romances I read where the hero was supposed to be an alpha male included scenes where he smirked at the heroine (one of whom had just whimpered – whimpered! – “no”) and said something like, “Too late, Princess. You’ve made me wait long enough. Open that pretty mouth of yours.” Nope, nope and nope. So when the panel at the workshop put forth that alpha males must be “ruthless with everyone” and that he couldn’t ever be rejected by a woman in the story, did they realize just how such a man would behave if the heroine said “no?” That type of alpha-hole is becoming more and more prevalent these days, and that’s frightening.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 10:35 am

Hi Juli,

Agreed on all counts. I’ve had this rant building up since that workshop, but I didn’t want to write this post until I could confirm via the audio recording that I really heard what I thought I heard. Yep, I had. 🙁

I understand that “it’s just fiction,” and that just because some women like this behavior in a book doesn’t mean they’d like it in real life. (Although the numerous whines of “why can’t my husband/boyfriend be more like Christian” after Fifty Shades of Grey makes me question whether all agree with that distinction.) To be fair, the workshop panel did say that we wouldn’t want these kind of men in real life, and then they went on to explain that was part of challenge in writing alpha male stories–to make the unacceptable acceptable within the story world.

And again, I’m not trying to “bash” these characters. My most alpha hero can be an arrogant jerk, but he also lets his emotions show throughout the story–it doesn’t build up to him “breaking.” He’s also physically aggressive with the heroine, but she’s stronger than he is so he’s in no way able to control or hurt her. It would be ridiculous to say that he was disqualified from being an alpha male because of that balance of traits and circumstance. (If he doesn’t “count,” the rest of my heroes have no chance. :-/ )

Thanks for sharing your insights, as well as the thoughts from your critique group! As you stated about your own reading habits, I think we’re going to see more of a backlash against the norm. I’ll be over here writing for that audience. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Juli Page Morgan August 14, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Okay, I just yelled out loud at the panel’s comment about making the unacceptable acceptable in fiction. I shudder to think about dubious-consent becoming acceptable. Like you, I’ve heard the “why can’t my husband/boyfriend be like that?” and it makes my head explode. I wonder how many women are putting up with being forced into things they don’t want to do because they think their man is being “alpha” like the guys in the books they read? There are things that should never be acceptable, not in fiction, not in real life. Shame on that panel.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Hi Juli,

Exactly! The more I heard about FSoG, the more my biggest issue with those books was the abusive behavior. Abuse is not alpha. (Maybe that should be a motto or hashtag. 😀 )

Right–It’s not like there’s a call for authors to write murder (the unacceptable) to be acceptable. The only time writers take that approach is in the case of self-defense or for an anti-hero story. ANTI-hero. So why is abusive behavior treated differently? By saying the goal is to make the unacceptable acceptable, they’re confusing alpha males with the anti-hero alpha-holes. Those are different.

Alpha males aren’t anti-heroes. They’re the leaders of countries, businesses, churches, and families. They’re the people others respect, not fear. Thanks for making me feel I’m not alone in my jaw-dropped-ness of that panel! 🙂

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Christina Hawthorne August 14, 2014 at 11:32 am

That is scary in the extreme, Juli. Sexual assault is now cool? Who thought that up, some maladjusted, 16 year-old male? I agree with every word you said and you said it well. I’ve no use for such writing and fear it’s part of the trend where, in an effort to standout, writers are crossing lines for sales. Their readers aren’t in my audience.

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Juli Page Morgan August 14, 2014 at 12:19 pm

You’re so right that it’s scary in the extreme. I think about young women reading books with that type of male and believing it’s acceptable and/or sexy, and my skin crawls. What if it happens to them in real life? Will they report it? Or just think that’s the way a “strong” man behaves?

Fans of alpha-holes are not in my audience, either, Christina. While the heroes I write can, given their occupations, be a little cocky, arrogant and high-handed, they’re also thoughtful, kind, loving, and would never press the issue if the heroine said no. Thankfully, they’re loved by my readers. 🙂

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Christina Hawthorne August 14, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Couldn’t agree more. You’ve made your point beautifully and you’ve made my day! How we managed to stumble into the age of women having low expectations I have no idea, but I refuse to be a part of it. To me, low expectations equal low self-esteem.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Hi Christina,

Ha! Don’t get me started on the “low expectations” soapbox. 😉

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Christina Hawthorne August 14, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Ha ha ha…!

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Hi Juli,

Yes! This–yes! Once my books are out, maybe we should collect non-alpha-hole romances into a bundle. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Hi Christina,

Right, and how many teens and young adults will form a twisted version of healthy relationships because they’re not seeing this distinction between fiction and reality. It’s a sad day if young women think that’s what a “real” man is like and young men think that’s what they have to be like because that’s what women like. *sigh* Thanks for the comment!

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Elizabeth Corva August 14, 2014 at 11:44 am

Couldn’t agree with Juli more. Where the film industry and non-Romance book genre writers are starting to have full and open discussion about feminism, gender stereotyping, agency, and consent, the Romance industry appears to be in total denial that these things exist. The longer they not only ignore these concepts, but demand that authors ignore them too, the more disservice they do to readers.

So what IS an alpha hole to do when his love interest says “not tonight, Aunt Flo’s in town.”? According to canon, his only choice is to bang her anyway. Failing that, he’ll engage in some good old-fashioned victim blaming (“Why did you get within arms’ reach of me if you’re bleeding, sweetheart?”)

Let’s face it: Romance readers flock to alpha hole heroes because they have bought into the industry narrative that alpha holes are the ultimate partners – always strong, always in charge, and more than a little dangerous. In other words, they’ve been TOLD these guys are sexy, just like they’re TOLD to love the Boy Band o’ the Month and they’re TOLD to worship at the Altar of the Kardashians. People who are susceptible to marketing tactics will fall for it every time. And once they’re hooked, they’re so easy to keep on the line. Just keep feeding them derivative works.

Sounds like we need a revolution. The hell with these so-called experts – I’m writing my own narrative with strong and in-charge heroes who don’t turn into petulant, outraged babies if their girl ever goes against their wishes. And I will wholeheartedly support any author who rejects all things alpha hole. It will take a while as all sea changes do, but I think we can successfully redefine the alpha male in Romance and “sell” him to readers en masse.

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Juli Page Morgan August 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Hear, hear! Brilliantly put!

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Hi Elizabeth,

LOL! Hear, hear! Sign me up as one of those romance authors participating in the revolution. 😀 Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee August 14, 2014 at 5:14 pm

On the flip side of the coin are the “strong” female characters whose “loving” relationship with the guy hinges on the guy’s dreams and goals and perspective being ignored or dismissed entirely, often without being consulted, and he just rolls with it.

This is one reason I’m looking forward to whenever I can finish my WiP. The end result will actually involve their dreams being compatible, rather than mutually exclusive.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Hi Carradee,

Oh my gosh! Great point! Except I’ve seen this “giving up their dreams” go in both directions.

This is a big reason why I call the relationships in my stories “partnerships.” There has to be a solution that works for both of them to be fulfilled–not just one of them giving up their dreams entirely. They have to find a fair compromise. Thanks for bringing up that point!

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Carradee August 14, 2014 at 8:10 am

I actually can’t remember any pushback I’ve gotten between the strength and likability meter for my characters. I do, however, get pushback for the introversion. Some folks gripe that there’s no conflict, while others love the internal conflict. It’s quite possible that the style and introversion pushes away those who would pitch a fit, because they don’t finish reading.

In my current WiP, I even recently had a scene where all the commenters understood completely and agreed with what the narrator did, even though the narrator herself disagreed.

But that aside… I agree that alpha-hole isn’t really alpha. Jerks are that way out of insecurity—they can’t possibly let anyone disagree with them, because it damages their image. True alphas can be confident while letting others believe what they will.

Someone so imbecile and insecure that their self-worth depends on their image—how can someone like that truly be an alpha, male or female?

The closest-to-stereotype characters I can remember liking are Curran (Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews) and Adam (Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs). Both are control freaks who are concerned about appearances, but…they kinda have to be concerned about that, because they actually will lose respect and possibly be assassinated if their image takes a hit. And they’re well aware they’re paranoid and controlling, and they work at mitigating it as much as they can.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 10:46 am

Hi Carradee,

Interesting! And LOL! at readers unanimously agreeing in defiance of the character’s self-assessment. That’s great writing. 🙂

As far as your examples, I haven’t read those series (I don’t think…), but the threats hanging over them (driving their controlling aspects) sound like a vulnerability–a vulnerability that’s part of their balance throughout the story (not just building to them “breaking” at the end). The fact that you liked them despite their stereotypical aspects backs up my point about balancing strength and vulnerability. 😉 Thanks for sharing and for the comment!

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Christina Hawthorne August 14, 2014 at 11:22 am

Oh, great post, Jami. I’m sick to death, or at least “un-death,” of the stereotypes, but I’m equally sick of the anti-stereotypes that have become stereotypes. For instance, the woeful damsel-in-distress has given way to the kick-ass woman who out-fights, out-cusses, and out-machos every man she comes in contact with. Given how common these women have become I’m wondering why the NFL doesn’t consist entirely of kick-ass women?

Kick-ass, unfeeling heroes and heroines are an easy “out,” I suppose, since they provide a way to avoid internal conflict. Too bad that too many readers aren’t demanding more. Whatever happened to protagonists who must overcome real issues and so, at least a little, utilize intelligence and insight? I guess I view characters differently than most because I value diversity and cooperation.

In my first book the heroine, Shayleen, is the epitome of the weak female. She’s shy, unassuming, slight, and obedient, but when she consciously taps into her compassion she finds strength there. Her compassion, coupled with an insight learned via abuse, enables her to commit a heroic act. She doesn’t utilize some absurd display of great physical strength, but instead pieces together a puzzle no one else understood because their mindset placed value in great strength and fearlessness.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Hi Christina,

Exactly! The anti-stereotype of female characters has become the new stereotype. And LOL! at your NFL remark. 😉

I’m with you that I’d rather see more intelligence and insight from characters. Those are both great strong, admirable traits. And I’ve discovered that my romances are far more partnership and cooperation oriented than most, as I don’t do the angsty “they hate each other until they admit they love each other” thing.

I love how you describe your character finding strength through compassion! That was a big part of my impression of Gamora as well–her strong convictions came not from revenge but from compassion. And other events of the movie showed how revenge alone doesn’t work. I thought it was brilliant. 🙂

That sounds like a great turning point for your story. 🙂 Good luck with your story and thanks for the comment!

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Juli Page Morgan August 14, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Shayleen sounds like the type of character I want to read about. (And I’ve bookmarked “Last Word Before Dying” so I can settle in tonight and start reading!) Like you, I want to read about protagonists who have layers, who overcome real issues and discover their strengths.

My latest heroine is a 42-year-old widow who’s never thought of herself as tough. But throughout the book she comes to realize that she’s tough when it counts, and learns to stand up for herself, even if it means she might lose what she thought she wanted. And the hero, while self-assured, sexy and confident, finds out he has a major blind spot when it comes to his teenaged children, and realizes he’s not as tough as he thought. Layers, I tell you; layers. These people are freakin’ onions. 😉

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Hi Juli,

Yes, and aren’t those layers awesome for avoiding clichés? 😀

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Christina Hawthorne August 14, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Yes, and then the characters write themselves! 🙂

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Carradee August 15, 2014 at 7:01 am

My current WiP, the narrator thinks outright that nobody’s a pure stereotype unless they’re hiding something. And that’s pretty much my attitude in writing, too. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 15, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Hi Carradee,

Ha! In the real world, that might very well be true. 🙂

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Christina Hawthorne August 14, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Yes, Juli, onions, and what wonderful opportunities writers are sacrificing by ignoring layers. Layers are mystery. Instead, too many are turning to depthless characters performing actions. Characters who are willing to risk their dreams and hearts, as you mention, are what constitute a great story. I take it you’re a musician given your musical book themes…wonderful way to integrate what you know. I’ll certainly investigate more closely.

I’m glad you’ve taken an interest in Shayleen. I’m presently editing that story before I release it as a free ebook and the first that takes in my fictional world. I’m in the midst of replacing the “parts” online with entire “chapters” to make reading easier. 🙂

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Stacy Jerger August 14, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Amen, Jami! Amen. <3

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Hi Stacy,

I’m glad I’m not the only one. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Janet Walden-West August 14, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Thank you!
There are a few words that need eliminated from our vocabulary for a while. “Snarky” for everyone. “Spunky” for female characters, and the whole “alpha/beta” construct for male characters.
Even biologists and animal behaviorists veer away from the alpha word now and consider it outdated.
*Stepping off my soapbox now*

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Hi Janet,

Exactly! Such narrow definitions will lead to flat, cliché characters. Real characters have (as Juli says above) layers–and in some of those layers, they’ll be strong, and in others, they’ll be vulnerable. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Sara L. August 14, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Absolutely awesome article, Jami. I wish I had something more to add other than I agree with everything you said, but you made one excellent point after another. And I think you may have just convinced me to see GotG. 😉

I’ve never heard of the term “alpha-hole” before (and I had to throw my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud at the name), but it makes perfect sense with the kind of character you’re talking about. I can think of a few literary characters who are alpha-holes – and I didn’t like them very much because I could barely relate to them. It’s easy to make a male antagonist an alpha-hole, too, I think. That section of the article made me think about a particular character in my WIP and how I need to be careful as I develop him so he doesn’t come off like a complete jerk, but a man with a honest goal (and select off-putting characteristics) who’s competing against the main character.

I’m also in the camp that believes sensitivity in a male character doesn’t make him weak. Have you read “Poison Study” by Maria V. Snyder? It features Valek, a male character who’s one of the country’s top assassins and spies. Analytical, focused, quick-thinking, resourceful, a little cold and impenetrable at times (usually in more political situations). But as he grows closer to the protagonist Yelena, he makes small gestures that show he cares about her. The scene where Valek reveals why he became a spy / assassin is an emotional one – he doesn’t break down and cry, but the physical and vocal cues and his choice of words reveal his emotional pain.

Thanks for linking back to my article, by the way! 🙂

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Hi Sara,

LOL! As I mentioned to you yesterday, I loved the movie. 😉

Good point about how it might be even easier for our antagonists to fall into these stereotypes. Our antagonists need to work against our protagonists, so it would be easy for them to fall into “jerk for the sake of being a jerk” territory. But there are many different styles of conflict, and working against doesn’t have to equal jerk.

Ooo, thanks for the book recommendation! The premise sounds fantastic too. And thank you for the inspiration and for the comment!

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Sara L. August 14, 2014 at 2:19 pm

You’re welcome! I’m honored that the article inspired yours. 🙂 Hope you like “Poison Study.”

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Carradee August 14, 2014 at 5:52 pm

You haven’t read Poison Study? I recommend it all the time, as an example of how a “close” 1st person PoV can say one thing that tells the reader something completely different.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Hi Carradee,

Ooo, excellent! Good to know. Thanks! I have it on order. 🙂

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Anne R. Allen August 14, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Brilliant post, Jami! Great comments, too. I hate it that heroes have to be apha-holes and I hate it just as much that heroines have to be the same. A jerk is a jerk. Why would I want to read about jerks in love? Their poor kids. 🙂

But a lot of readers have bought into this jerk-on-jerk romance thing and now even in chick lit, some of my reviewers think a heroine has to be perfect on page one and never have any room for improvement. Where’s the story? (And where’s the humor?) If these people really got everything they wanted, they’d be getting 50 shades of paint drying.

The ultimate romance hero is Mr. Darcy. He *seems* arrogant, but he’s vulnerable underneath. Without that vulnerability, Elizabeth would never have loved him. And neither would the reader.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Hi Anne,

LOL! at the “poor kids” remark. Yeah, no kidding. The only way I’d root for two jerks getting together was if they were sterilized, and I knew they’d never again prey on the rest of us. 😉

Ooo, thanks for sharing an example on the hero side. In this workshop, they mentioned that Darcy was the progenitor of alpha males in fiction, but that they think they need to go “bigger” now. Methinks they’ve watched too many Michael Bay movies (“If this explosion is great, 50 explosions would be even better!”). 🙂 They even admitted that things are going to a cartoonishly extreme level (millionaires aren’t good enough anymore–he needs to be a billionaire). *sigh*

But that’s a superficial understanding of what makes characters like Darcy great. They’re missing the balance. Thanks for sharing your insights and for the comment!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) August 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Jami, if you guessed I’d be stating my own take on this, you’d be right so here goes-

First, I’m both shocked and outraged this narrow view of men in fiction (romance or not) is still so narrow.

I realize not everyone there believes this extremest standard, but the fact an editor said this really worries me. We’re supposed to trust and respect their judgement, and if my editor said similar things regarding my work based on this narrow mindset, I wouldn’t feel they’re looking out for me or any other author they may rep who don’t have this view of what “Alpha men” or “Strong Women” look like.

This kind of attitude could stand in the way of more men writing romance or even read/respect the best of it.

I’m particularly sensitive to this, not just because I’m a man, but as an author myself who hates to see how gender discrimination and stereotyping does just as much harm to boys and men as girls and women, especially because boys and men don’t have the resources and emotional support outlets girls and women do.

Since when did losing your virginity in and of itself become required to be a man? (Alpha or otherwise…) And we wonder why we demonize men in the culture, if we only read about the narrow-minded stereotypes, it’s no wonder I’m not saying it’s an excuse to be rude and jerky, but it still speaks to how pathetic stereotypes can be debilitate boys and men just like girls and women.

How can we empower boys and men in a positive way if all they see are the negative.

That also further intensifies why I’m so glad when I read about boys and men who are not jerks, or spineless wimps, and yet you believe in them because they’re real and complex.

But I also wonder, if more men were at these RWA events, would they have agreed with that You’re stronger than I in this respect, I might’ve either gone “Ravenous Rat” on that person or just got up and left.

Even outside romance, this narrow view of gender identity can be even worse in the Children’s/YA market, especially where boys are concerned.

I think part of why I couldn’t relate to YA was I rarely saw boys like me represented or if we were we’re either the one-dimensional comic relief or we’re unrealistically “wimpy” just because we can’t knock someone’s head in, or we’re gay, and I’m for LGTBQ rights, but when the only non-traditional boys and men are gay, that’s a DANGEROUS perception problem as you elude to above, Jami!

Not all girls and women who like and play (American) football are necessarily tomboyish anymore than girls and women in fashion can’t also be aggressive and seriously powerful in business.

While we’re seeing more books face this, it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to all the various books and authors empowering more than one view of what girls and women can be, and I understand there’s still tension among various cultures in and outside the U.S. and Canada that adds to this, but it’s still far and away more noticeable overall than boys and men, and the long-held stereotypes still persists, ESPECIALLY outside the U.S. where patriarchy persists to deadly extremes.

One of my missions with T.A.A. is to ALWAYS profile books and authors who represent the varied portrayal of boys and men, particularly who take interest in things too often deemed “Just for Girls” or only weakling boys and men do it.

I wrote my debut “Gabriel” with this in mind. I hope readers will see the male characters portrayed here are varied and how my antagonist in particular has more dimension and layers to him than what the surface might suggest.

Some people who beta-read for me felt the story was too “Touchy Feely” and sophisticated for boys, yet they had no qualms of seeing girls read the book, and the cast is mostly male, and I tried very hard to ensure what female characters were in the book were just as fleshed out and nuanced, and what’s funny about that to me now (in retrospect, it was PAINFUL at the time) is that it was mothers of sons who said this, but none of the few male beta-readers felt this way about the male characters in the story.

The cast is “Gabriel” mostly male (that just happened organically) and I really wanted to bring respect and voice to a too often silent sector of the culture, and hope I did justice to it without being preachy, of course.

You always hear authors saying to write what you want to read, and this is the book I wished I could’ve read, and I can’t think i’m alone in that, but it would be nice to know more men on the writer side to share this with.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Hi Taurean,

As you and I have had many conversations along these lines before, I was hoping you’d weigh in. 🙂

I’m with you at the shock over this. I think my jaw literally dropped during this workshop. And this was obviously a big rant for me–one of my longer posts (even longer than my usual long, I mean). 😉

I also agree that this attitude would make men feel even less welcome within the romance community. I don’t write my stories with male readers in mind (or female readers for that matter, my characters write the story–LOL!), but my worldview makes me want readers (male or female) to be able to find some truth or insight about relationships or love or family that could carry over to their real lives. These unrealistic and/or unhealthy depictions of the “heroes” and the relationships they form would prevent that within my writing. So my heroes might allow male readers to identify with them more than these alpha-holes simply because I need my heroes to be realistic enough to have elements that apply to real life.

I understand that not everyone shares that worldview though. Some go for strict escapism and don’t worry as much about real-world believability, and that’s okay. I’m just sharing where I’m coming from and why this is so important to me too. I want my readers (male or female) to be able to find pieces of themselves and their lives and relationships and goals within my stories’ pages.

And fantastic point about how losing virginity shouldn’t be depicted as necessary to “becoming a man.” What kind of message is that sending? And as you said, what kind of message is it sending to men that women seem to like this kind of behavior? Then we wonder why men don’t understand women. Sheesh! Some days I’m half tempted to agree and say, you guys are right–women are crazy. LOL!

As far as your question about men in that workshop, I don’t know if any were in there or not (it was a crowded room). At least one guy I mentioned this rant to this week said he’d have been tempted to stand up and act like a jerky alpha male just to demonstrate how “bad” that image is. 🙂

Great point too about how not all female football fans are tomboys. One of the other things Gamora’s character has been picked on for is wearing a skirt in the final scene. O.o Like, just because she can kick butt, she’s not allowed to like dressing up sometimes too? Kicking butt doesn’t automatically mean she’s a tomboy. Layers, people, learn to recognize them! *sigh*

And that’s so sad about the reaction of the mothers of sons to your book. That only perpetuates the idea that male value is only in physicality and the absence of emotions. What about the value of compassion, intelligence, wisdom, etc.? We need men to feel valued for a healthy society, and such a narrow view of what is worthy of value is terribly destructive to us all.

I hope you’re able to continue writing the stories and characters you like, and I hope they find their audience. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for the comment!

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Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins) August 15, 2014 at 9:32 am

I can understand the escapism, Jami, but that doesn’t mean you want to face this narrow view of gender identity, especially when you WANT to escape. But that’s me. As you said, others may have different threshold for what they consider escapism.

Besides, if I want escapist reading, I couldn’t get it from a book or film if the story’s worldview puts all men in a narrow box of expectations, but I do understand what you mean generally, though.

I wasn’t at the RWA workshop so I wasn’t making a statement about who was in attendance, I was speaking hypothetically that IF more men were at that conference and heard this at that workshop, that narrow view of masculinity would be no less insulting than when men project the same narrow attitudes toward women, and the core of feminism is simply the demand for equality, not exclusion.

But I do feel some women (in and out of publishing) let their difficult dealings with some men make them (if only subconsciously) view all men with a filter that can be damaging to those who simply aren’t of that ilk.

Sometimes I do feel that some (NOT ALL) women use the movement as a subtle form of payback, but I wish they’d get that it’s not fair to put all men in a box just because a few did you wrong.

That may have been fairly true 50+ years ago, but (In the U.S. and Canada, in particular) it’s not the case now, and if women want more respect from men, they also have to give it, not let the jerks taint the rest of us who don’t wish to perpetuate that horrid cycle of intolerance.

But even in more women oppressed nations, there are ALWAYS men and women who fight these narrow views, and aren’t afraid to (sadly) die for it.

I had a similar issue to work through with relating to parents. I often had beta-readers early in my writer journey that were parents, mothers in particular, and I did have narrow views, not out of prejudice, but because I had issues with my own mother and felt some of them had really narrow views of how all kids (especially boys) are based heavily on how the kids they serve may react, especially if they are/were also teachers.

Well, just because your grade school class wasn’t giving the “Academics above all/College, College, College!” mantras doesn’t mean other students weren’t getting that message, you know?

I didn’t have a particularly joyous school experience, that doesn’t mean I was an inherently bad student or I look down on those who had a great K-12 experience overall, if anything I’m jealous more than judgmental!

Now I know who don’t treat me like their wayward son and get where I come from,

At times I fear we’ve let the necessary empowerment and momentum for girls and women blind us to what boys and men need.

How can we as a nation expect boys and men to if we push them off to the side in similar ways girls and women have been and still are?

It’s like were creating a reverse gender scarcity and that scares me and saddens me at the same time. Just like how if we want girls and women to be respected for being assertive and career-oriented, we won’t instill more boys and men to be open to their capacity to nurture and lead through compassion rather than (ONLY) aggression.

We can’t say “We need fathers around” and then nitpick EVERY LITTLE THING they do (abuse issues excluded) like their hopelessly incompetent!?

No one, male or female, can be both aloof, assertive, and nurturing ALL AT THE SAME TIME!

Just because there are still gender divides in many areas of business and commerce (as well as entertainment), that doesn’t mean all the men at the top share those narrow views of women that their fathers and grandfathers had, and whose to say that they weren’t in some respect simply victims of cultural brainwashing and wouldn’t have those deep rooted beliefs of what women can do given the chance.

That’s why I worry when the mothers of sons especially say things like “if the book has girls on the cover, they can’t have that” and I really wonder, is that what your sons are saying, or is that that’s what MOM perceives? Why would you want your son to further perpetuate what you as a women wouldn’t stand for?

Now of course kids have their own minds and opinions that can and do differ from the people who raised them, but for the early part of their life we do influence some of that, and if we’re already acknowledging that in how we act and live, few kids couldn’t help but be influenced by it.

Sometimes I think parents obsess more about gender norms than the actual kids do, but I do think it can exist even without parental or outside adult prodding. But if it’s in the home in some form, it can’t help but influence however slightly.

I might’ve been different in that it drove me to think the opposite, especially because my interests did lean in a different nontraditional direction.

Obviously, some of this is on the kids and teens themselves, but as the parent, teacher and/or caregiver, we’re not helping the case if we create the expectation of perceiving what “real men” are, be it spoken (especially culturally) or unspoken (our actions that project this to kids and teens)

The more I hear about things like this, the more I want to create a boys and men equivalent of the Dove and #AlwaysLikeAGirl empowerment movement, because if all women in general want is equality, they need to remember that it can’t come at the cost of what boys and men need, which is not that far apart of what girls and women the world over are fighting for.

But as long as we see men (regardless of race or socioeconomic status) as privileged and tyrannically entitled, we’re leaving a big part of our civil unrest behind.

It simply isn’t right to put today’s boys and men in the same camp as the boys and men from 50+ years ago, just because there are more men than women in congress or CEOs of major companies, doesn’t inherently mean the men didn’t earn the right to be there.

The majority of highly educated career seekers are women, but that doesn’t mean men want it any less, you know?

Also, we can’t blame that all on the lack of a college degree, when thousands of college graduates (men or women) are either unable to get a job (especially in the career they spend most of their life training for), or work jobs that barely keep them fed and housed, never mind pay off their student loans.

Oy, sorry for rambling, Jami, but this is a sore spot for me as you know, and I hope I don’t come off rude.

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Jami Gold August 15, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Hi Taurean,

No rudeness at all! We’re in agreement on this issue, so I know you weren’t directing that to me–you’re just joining me in my rant. 🙂

Yes, as I mentioned, while I understand the escapist nature (for some) of implausible characters and stories, I want a much broader range of stories so those of us who find our escapism in different worldviews will have a variety to choose from as well. As you said, you don’t want to face this narrow view of gender identity everywhere you turn. And for that, we need broader, more diverse offerings so this category is just one of many options.

Good point about what the hypothetical message to any men in attendance of that workshop would be. I can imagine that some who defined themselves as alphas throughout their lives would be quite taken aback to be told they didn’t qualify according to their description. It would be hard for them to not feel “less” about themselves at that point, and that would be disrespectful to those attendees.

I also agree that’s there’s a tricky line of trying to help one group without it resulting in pushing another group down or disadvantaging them in a way. And as you said, while women’s options have increased over time (career-wise, allowed strengths, etc.), we haven’t had a matching acceptance of increasing men’s options (as this post points out), with kindness or compassion being labelled as taking away from “what’s required to be a man.”

In the real world, I see a slight improvement in recognizing men’s ability to nurture (maybe because I’m looking for it), but the fiction world isn’t following and might even be heading in the opposite direction. Just to let you know though, one of my heroes is a father of a young girl and he does very well. 🙂 (He thinks he’s not very good at the job, but everyone else–including the reader–sees that he’s good at it.) So I’m doing my small part to show a different path. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Diana Beebe August 14, 2014 at 5:33 pm

I love this post, Jami! I struggle with this, too. In one of my books, my main character is physically unbeatable, but hates the job that uses her skills that way. I’ve had to work very hard to make her likeable even though that drive to get out of her dead-end assignment is what changes her.

Her love interest, on the other hand, is well-liked because he is kind. His strength is not about kicking someone’s butt to prove he can. So that doesn’t make him alpha?

I heard lots of disappointing discussion at RWA14 about what the alpha should be–my character doesn’t fit that narrow description either. But that doesn’t make him less of a man or not a leader. On the contrary, he is both.

Sometimes the alpha in a wolf pack is the one leading with quiet patience, and with such strength that the rest of the pack respects him and doesn’t challenge.

Then there’s the term “alpha” that gets to me. It doesn’t imply partnership with the heroine.

So, here’s to more strong (yet vulnerable) women who fall for kind (yet strong) men in lovely partnerships. It happens in real life. 😀

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 9:33 pm

Hi Diana,

I’d love to know what else you heard about alpha discussions at RWA14. 😉 I know there was at least one other workshop on alpha heroes, and I wonder what was said there.

Yes, I read something about a true alpha commanding respect, while others go around demanding respect. One is freely given to someone worthy, the other is not.

Good point too about the term “alpha” leaving the heroine out of the equation. I’ve heard some things about how alpha males should have alpha females to “keep them in line” (and I’ve heard virtually nothing on alpha/alpha partnerships), but there wasn’t a workshop about that. Maybe there should be. 😉

As you said, layered people with many traits form lovely, healthy partnerships in real life all the time. Unhealthy relationships? Not so much. Maybe that’s why I never quite believe in the HEAs of these alpha-hole stories. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Brian McKinley August 14, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Thanks for this article! There’s lots of discussion about strong female characters and disagreement about what that means. I’m glad to see someone tackle both gender stereotypes! I don’t like reading about stereotypes, either, and it’s one of the main things that will make me stop reading a book.

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Jami Gold August 14, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Hi Brian,

Yes, there should be many ways of defining “strong,” and the presence of various traits outside the stereotype shouldn’t disqualify characters from the label. I’d rather we celebrated them as a unique character. 🙂

As you said, I don’t want to read about stereotypes either. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Angela Ackerman August 15, 2014 at 7:37 am

Excellent post, Jami! You raise some very interesting questions. I think we should not be narrow-minded when it comes to strong heroes, because as you say, stereotypes devolve into the cliche or are missing a vital element that allows them to feel three dimensional.

Much of the confusion comes from what “strength” means. Is knowing one’s limitations and asking for help a strength? Is a strong moral code and the unwillingness to cross it despite pressure to do so strength? I think so, yet many would disagree, especially when discussing an alpha male. But, in my humblest of opinions, true strength isn’t about proving it to others, but not needing to. Strength is simply the willingness to act.

Margaret Thatcher said something when in an interview a reporter suggested she was the most powerful woman in the world:

“Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

To me, that’s strength. 🙂

As to showing vulnerability, that post I sent you probably covers it best. No one likes to fail or make mistakes. No one likes to be shown an uncomfortable truth, see their flaws for what they are or have their privacy invaded. All good ways to make a character feel vulnerable yet not damage that “image of strength.”

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Jami Gold August 15, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Hi Angela,

Great questions about how to describe “strength,” and I love your definition: “the willingness to act.” (And ha! at the Margaret Thatcher quote. 🙂 True!)

For anyone interested, here’s the link Angela sent me about exploring the vulnerable side of our characters. Great link and thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Julie Musil August 15, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Some of my favorite characters are strong AND vulnerable. Indiana Jones comes to mine. And heck, isn’t a strong outward attitude sometimes attributed to true vulnerability? There will be critics of all types of characters. I think you’re smart to write the characters who inspire YOU!

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Jami Gold August 15, 2014 at 8:11 pm

Hi Julie,

Ooo, love the Indiana Jones example. Yes, we saw him fail (and flail 😉 ) and struggle and fear–along with all his arrogance, intelligence, determination, etc. Thanks for sharing!

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Deborah Makarios August 16, 2014 at 2:27 am

Jane Eyre is my idea of a strong woman. She won’t let anyone – even herself! – push or pull her into what she believes is wrong or isn’t comfortable with. She isn’t a butt-kicker, but she is indomitable (love that word!)
And it doesn’t hurt that Rochester is strong without being an a$$hole – although I note he is disqualified from the “alpha” stereotype mentioned above by being both maimed and dumped (twice, if my memory serves me correctly).
A jerk is a jerk and there’s nothing romantic about being trampled on. Let’s hear it for the men (real and fictional) who are actually worthy of respect, not mere petty, self-centred tyrants!

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Jami Gold August 16, 2014 at 10:30 am

Hi Deborah,

Ooo, “indomitable” is a great word! And a great example of non-butt-kicking strength. 🙂

Hear, hear! Well-stated. Thanks for sharing your insights!

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Kirsten August 17, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Blake Snyder demonstrated the concept of making a protagonist likable so well in Save the Cat. Remember how he talked about Tomb Raider being unsuccessful because Lara Croft was too invulnerable?
This is why I’m surprised that paranormal stories are supposed to feature such arrogant ‘heroes.’ In my opinion, arrogance is a negative trait just begging for a character arc that lands on compassion at the story’s end!
Great rant, Jami. 🙂

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Jami Gold August 17, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Hi Kirsten,

LOL! Yes, not all rants are bad. 😀

And I agree–what works, character-wise, in one medium isn’t the same as what works in another. Video game players don’t want their avatars to be vulnerable. Not so for movie-goers. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

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Sheogorath March 8, 2015 at 10:45 pm

On the heroine side, Ripley from Alien is often brought up as a “strong female character”. The stereotype, which I’ve written about before, refers mostly to physically violent, butt-kicking women. Furthermore, it assumes women who need rescuing—ever—can’t possibly be strong.
Okay, time for stupid suggestion of the week (maybe)! Perhaps flip that stereotype on it’s head by having a female protagonist who gets one over on men by ‘needing to be rescued’ by them. Score bonus points by basing it on one or more of the Grimm fairytales. 😉

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Jami Gold March 8, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Hi Sheogorath,

LOL! Ah, like “playing” the guys by needing rescue? Fiona in Shrek sort of did that, and yes, that was a great twist. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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