What Is an Alpha Heroine?

by Jami Gold on May 12, 2015

in For Readers, Writing Stuff

Woman with a sword and text: How Strong Does an Alpha Heroine Have to Be?

Yesterday, I guest posted at the Writers in the Storm blog about making our characters strong yet vulnerable. I blogged about the topic here last year, but my post over at WITS includes details of how I tackled the issue with my characters in my releasing-next-week (Ack!) novel, Treasured Claim.

I shared how I balanced my hero’s strengths and vulnerabilities to keep him relatable so he’s not an alpha-hole jerk. *smile* And I also talked about how I balanced my heroine’s many strengths with her vulnerabilities to keep her likable.

I struggle constantly with keeping my heroines likable. So I have a lot of experience in trying to find that balance between showing their strengths and their vulnerabilities. One reason I struggle so much is because I want my heroines to be strong characters in many ways.

Matching the Heroine to the Hero

As I mentioned in the post at WITS, in many paranormal romances, the hero is a paranormal being and the heroine is a “mere” human. Between her gender and her human frailty, the heroine is usually at a big disadvantage.

No offense to many of my favorite books, but I didn’t want to write that kind of paranormal romance. When writing romance, I love exploring the power struggles and negotiations between the couple.

To me, a romance where the couple figuratively battles each other for the upper hand and gradually learns to function as a partnership and team feels true-to-life. So to write those kinds of stories, I needed heroines who were on equal footing—power-wise—with the hero.

In other words, I needed alpha heroines to go with my alpha heroes. *smile*

18 Traits of an Alpha Heroine

On some level, an alpha heroine is simply a character who knows what they want and is willing to stand up for themselves to get it. Depending on the story, that might mean they stand up to the antagonist, or it might mean that they stand up to the hero, or maybe they stand up to protect someone else.

I thought it would be interesting to go through the traits of an alpha male and see how they would translate to an alpha heroine. Following that same list of alpha male traits, let’s take a look at how heroines might be alpha characters.

An alpha heroine…:

  1. Won’t Fight just to Fight:
    Being an alpha doesn’t mean being b*tchy and argumentative all the time. Rather it’s about using the right tools for the situation—whether that’s tact, stubbornness, humor, logic, etc.—to stand up for herself and those who matter to her.
  2. Doesn’t Wait to Be Led:
    An alpha heroine knows what she wants and won’t wait for someone else to hand it to her. She might also lead in other ways, such as listening to, guiding, or helping others.
  3. Has Strong Communication Skills:
    She’s able to express herself in ways that get others to understand her point. She’s not afraid to have opinions.
  4. Has a Strong Presence:
    People take note of her (for good or bad). This again comes down to leadership and a willingness to fight for what she believes.
  5. Makes Decisions:
    My heroines often struggle with making (or sticking to) decisions when it comes to trying to stay away from the hero. *grin* But other types of decisions, such as standing up for others, even when not convenient, are easier for them. They believe in themselves, so they’re confident enough to follow through and take responsibility.
  6. Is Less Emotional:
    Eh, I’m not sure this is a requirement for alpha heroines. (Although it is often true of my heroines, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. This is where exposing their vulnerabilities might come in handy. *smile*) In the comments below, Serena points out that this might mean they’re able to set aside their emotions when necessary to deal with situations. They can choose to be calm, even when upset, to be able to think clearly.
  7. Looks Out for Others and Solves Problems:
    Just like how she doesn’t wait to be led, an alpha heroine doesn’t wait for others to solve issues. She’s often fiercely protective of someone and doesn’t run away when the problems get worse.
  8. Commands Respect:
    She doesn’t demand respect; she commands it simply by being the kind of person she is. Maybe she’s very competent at her job, exceptionally kind, or extremely competitive, but something causes others to look up to her in some way.
  9. Doesn’t Panic:
    She might not have all the answers, but she doesn’t panic about that (at least, not much *smile*). The decisions she makes are usually carefully considered and not just the result of random choices driven by chaos.
  10. Is Focused:
    Their focus is often directed at trying to get what they know they want. She doesn’t go into things halfhearted.
  11. Isn’t a Doormat:
    Just because she’s nice or kind or whatever doesn’t mean that she’ll let others take advantage of her (at least not long term). This goes back to standing up for herself and others.
  12. Might Struggle with Asking for Help:
    She’s more comfortable solving her own problems. She’ll often ask for help only when absolutely necessary.
  13. Is Less Inhibited in Her Sexuality:
    She might start out inhibited, but once she decides that she wants the hero, nothing will stop her. Her partner will know just how much she wants him because she’ll make it obvious (even if that’s only during their private time).
  14. Doesn’t Need the Approval of Others:
    She’s confident enough in herself that she doesn’t feel the need to reach out to others for assurance all the time. She’s okay with her opinions, even if others aren’t.
  15. Isn’t a Slave to Fashion:
    Alpha heroines won’t suffer with wearing uncomfortable heels on a regular basis unless they want to. They won’t dress with trying to impress others (other than maybe the hero) in mind.
  16. Isn’t a Social Butterfly:
    They can be plenty social with their friends, but alpha heroines aren’t looking to be super popular. So they don’t seek out others for approval or other types of reassurance.
  17. Has a Good Sense of Humor:
    While they won’t use jokes to be the center of attention, they do use humor for a purpose. They’re more likely to use humor when they want to make someone else feel better, defuse a tense situation, or put someone in their place, etc.
  18. Takes Care of Herself:
    Alpha heroines aren’t expected to have the body of a model, but they believe in themselves enough to take care of themselves in some way. They might try to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and/or emotionally.

By no means should any alpha heroine have all these characteristics down pat—ever—and especially not at the beginning of a story. But as characters grow and mature, an alpha heroine would align closer with these ideals.

That might mean she starts off opinionated and fiercely protective of someone. But maybe she’s not good at communicating and getting what she wants. Then as she grows in maturity over the course of the story, she might learn how to control her anger and command more respect.

No alpha heroes would have all these characteristics either. But maybe by seeing all the ways we can show a character to be strong, we’ll realize that “strong” characters aren’t just about being dominant, physically or otherwise.

In fact, there are many ways to create strong female characters. We don’t have to rely on the butt-kicking stereotype to create a heroine that other characters—and our readers—will respect. *smile*

P.S. Don’t forget to check out my guest post at Writers in the Storm with details of what makes my shapeshifting-dragon heroine strong. *grin*

P.P.S. If you need more suggestions, I also shared how typically beta traits can show strength in my follow-up post here.

Do you write heroines who could be labeled “alpha heroines”? What traits do your heroines have that could be seen as alpha? Do you disagree with anything on the list? Do you have other suggestions for the list? Are you an alpha female, or do you know one?

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43 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee May 12, 2015 at 7:15 am

When you boil it down, it seems to me that true “alpha” personalities—male or female—are comfortable in their own skin…or at least comfortable enough that they view discomfort as a challenge rather than a threat.

Whereas the jerk pseudo-alpha feels personally threatened by threats and responds with the level of immaturity inherent in that.

How a person responds with disagreement says a lot about a person—including for those people who love to argue for the sake of argument. (How do they respond if asked to stop?)

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 9:21 am

Hi Carradee,

Great point! And I think that “comfortable in their own skin” aspect could come from a natural confidence or instinct, or it could come from a level of self-awareness that allows them to make choices and take actions that match with who they know they want to be.

I like your question of asking how they respond when challenged on their behavior. I think it’s human nature to get defensive in those situations, but I wonder if those with internal strength might be able to own up to their failings and externally react without as much of that defensiveness. Or if it’s a behavior they want, they wouldn’t back down because they’ve consciously decided that the behavior fits their goals.

Interesting! Thanks for sharing those insights! 🙂

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Kim May 12, 2015 at 9:03 am

This post is so great! I needed it right now.

I love how you didn’t rely on the ‘butt-kicking’ heroine as the only way she can be strong. I get so tired of that. Strength does not necessarily mean physical strength.

My heroine is definitely alpha, but it’s hard for her because she lives in the 10th century! Part of my reason for writing is to show strong women in that time period. Their strength is different from that of men, but it is still strength. I think I’ll go through your list more carefully and take some notes about my heroine. I think it will help to flesh her out.

I’m not alpha, not at all, but I admire women who are and that’s why I write about them.

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 9:24 am

Hi Kim,

Yes! There are definitely more ways to be “strong” than just physically.

As you said, their strength is different from that of men, but it’s still strength. It might be strength of conviction, passion, or protectiveness of others–but that’s all strength.

I greatly admire alpha women as well. I probably have some traits, but definitely have a LOT of non-alpha weaknesses too. But like you, that admiration is probably why I want them in my stories. 🙂 Thanks for the comment, and good luck with your heroine!

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Serena Yung May 12, 2015 at 11:54 am

Yeah I would be considered an alpha female in that I have most of the things on the list. Haha I don’t like the being less inhibited in her sexuality part, though, since I’m not fond of premarital sex, lol, but if the two are married to each other already, then okay. That’s just me, of course. Many people would think I’m such a moral prude in disliking premarital sex, lol, but whatever.

Yikes for the less emotional one. D: Aw I like emotionality in both my heroes and heroines, lol. But my heroes do tend to be more emotional than their partner and my heroines calmer. Yet being calmer doesn’t mean being indifferent emotionally, just more able to turn off the emotions to think clearly for a time.

Oh struggling to ask for help? Hmm I don’t really see that as something that would make a heroine (or hero) “strong” or alpha. Even leaders rely on their teammates or “subordinates”, and wise leaders know they can’t do things alone and have to trust their team. But maybe this is only about the stereotype of an alpha person in stories, not about an alpha per se.

(My hero is actually one of those people who would unashamedly ask for help and rely on his friends, lol! He has a lot of confidence in his abilities but he thinks that it’s foolish to be rash and try to go solo when having a team with him would make chances of success so much higher. One girl thinks he’s being cowardly to rely on friends’ help, but he thinks he’s being SMART that he’s willing to rely on friends and ask for help and backup. XD)

Okay so I just debated away the necessity of pretty much every item on the list that I didn’t tick off for myself. XDD Heehee. (Others may disagree with my arguments, and that’s okay.) I have a female protagonist from another story who is undoubtedly an alpha female; she also has most elements on the list except for the elements I don’t like or think are unnecessary, lol. She does have a few differences from me, though, but we are rather similar in our distribution of ticks and crosses on this list!

Oh for having a good sense of humor, what if they joke just for fun? So not to make someone feel better, to defuse tension in the atmosphere, NOR to be at the center of attention? I.e. joking just because it’s incredibly fun and enjoyable to joke? (I’m describing myself again, haha. My jokes don’t always work on people, but I do joke for fun, and many times jokes, whether good or bad ones, come out of my head unbidden, lol, because I’ve gotten so used to the mindset of seeing the absurdity or amusement in things and not taking things too seriously. :D)

You know what? When I think of any heroine, my mind does not automatically come up with an image of a girl in high heels, lol. Once I was reading a book about writing fight scenes, and the author mentioned the heroine possibly attacking with the spikes of her high heels, and I was taken aback, because I never expected a “heroine” to ever wear heels!

And so I realize that I don’t ever expect heroines to be “girlish”, girlish as in caring lots about fashion, wearing high heels, makeup, loving to shop for clothes, those kinds of stereotypical girlish interests. Hmmm yeah somehow I got used to the idea that heroines are not stereotypical girls (in those ways, concerning fashion and “beauty”). I have no idea why I have this assumption in my head that “heroines” are incompatible with high heels, etc., even though I have read stories and watched movies with heroines who have high heels and stuff!

Well I don’t exactly expect heroines to be all gung-ho fighters or even tomboys either, lol. So I’m not sure what I expect. D:

P.S. After reading the above comments, I’m glad this list didn’t include kicking butt or physical strength either, because I myself am rather physically weak, haha! (As well as being VERY short. -_- So maybe I try to compensate by being strong on most other dimensions. Some say that extraordinarily short people tend to work extra hard to make up for their “physical inferiority” in height. D: This might be partly true, as some of the extraordinarily short people I know are also extraordinarily high achievers in something or many things. Not saying that taller people can’t be very amazing too, just that super short people like poor moi might have extra motivation to work hard and excel. 😀 )

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Hi Serena,

Yep, that’s why I qualified the “less inhibited” bullet. Just like other things, I think an alpha heroine would have reasons for what she does, so she’d be less inhibited when she had reason to be (whatever those reasons are for the individual). She wouldn’t necessarily be less inhibited in general, especially of the type of looking for attention or getting reassurance of her desirability.

I like your take on the less emotional bullet! Yes, it’s about being able to set aside emotions when needed. 🙂

As far as asking for help, I think it comes down to the reasons. She’ll feel very capable of doing things herself, so she won’t ask for help with many things, just because of that confidence. However, if she has reasons to ask for help–it’s part of her job, or part of working with a team, etc.–then I agree that she wouldn’t NOT ask for help. Asking for help when appropriate wouldn’t make her feel weak, so I don’t think she’d avoid it in those cases (if that makes sense 🙂 ).

Good point about the sense of humor! Yes, someone can joke just because it feels natural to them, and that doesn’t have anything to do with “wanting to be the center of attention.”

I think alpha heroines can be girlish or not girlish, because it’s really all about being who they want to be. So while they wouldn’t wear high heels because of society or whatever, they certainly could wear them because they like them. 🙂

LOL! Love your insight into how those of us who might not feel physically strong (or are a klutz *raises hand* 😉 ) might work to make other aspects of our character stronger. I’ll go with that! Thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung May 13, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Haha glad you like the emotionality part! I was actually just copying what my heroine said to my hero, in explaining that it’s not that she DOESN’T feel emotional over this crisis issue; she is, but she just automatically sets that emotion aside to think calmly. (She said this in Chinese, of course.) LOL plagiarizing my own character! XD Though at least I’m sort of giving her credit for that now…Okay if I’m giving her credit, I should at least mention her name: Dong Tongli (東彤灕).

For the asking for help point: Ah, that makes a lot more sense. Yeah I wouldn’t ask for help on things I think I can deal with myself either. (Same for my hero.)

Yes, for the sense of humor thing, it is very natural for me to joke (whether the joke actually makes others laugh or not). In fact, it’s like with punning where you automatically pun even if you don’t want to pun; so I joke and pun like “compulsively”, as one friend put it, haha. This same friend has the same compulsion to joke and pun. XDD

Good point that it’s about how the alpha heroine herself wants to be. Haha intellectually and consciously I know I’m just stereotyping by saying girls who wear heels, makeup, etc. can’t be “alpha” or strong, but I guess my subconscious is still clinging onto that stereotype, lol. (Sorry… 🙁 ) But yes, I agree with you that the alpha heroine can be “girlish” too if she wants to, girlish as in liking fashion, makeup, heels, etc. I have a female friend who is very “girlish” (heels, makeup, clothes, and whatnot), yet she has a rather masculine personality–I have a feeling I told you about her already–and she definitely has some alpha female traits.

LOL I’m a bit of a klutz as well, though I’ve gotten considerably better as I gained more experience in doing things.

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Jami Gold May 13, 2015 at 8:17 pm

Hi Serena,

I even added the emotion note above in the post, I liked it so much. 😀

LOL! I sometimes make jokes without thinking about it as well, so I think that counts as not “doing it for attention.” So yes, there are many different ways these traits can manifest. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Beabe Thompson June 21, 2016 at 8:31 am

Another incredibly helpful post, Jami. Thank you so much.

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terry gene May 12, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Author Terry Gene
you got a point. I took another route. My MMC, Alex, is likeable, depressed, and overly honor bound. The FMC, Sarah, is carefree, naive, and irrepressible. Hmm, did I say his best friend is ex-MP, cares a SOG knife between her shoulder blades and a 10 mm S&W in her over-sized purse? Yep, Katie is my alpha…

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 1:08 pm

Hi Terry,

And by no means should all female characters be alphas. There’s nothing wrong with any type of character. The important point is recognizing all the ways we can make our characters strong. For example, “irrepressible” could be along similar lines to opinionated, passionate about their beliefs, etc. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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dolorah May 12, 2015 at 1:36 pm

I rarely read today’s version of paranourmals – in urban fantasy, fantasy, or sci fi- because they are all so sarcastic/bitchy and slaves to a good looking alpha male. I like romance in a story, just not the cloying ROMANCE to be the story.

I like your heroines Jami. I could read them. Reminds me of Katherine Kurz, Anne McCaffrey, and David Eddings heroines. Lessa (Dragon Riders of Pern Series) has always been my favorite heroine – my alter ego. More recently is Khalan (Sword of Truth series) created by Terry Goodkind. Feminine yet completely capable; doesn’t need the hero to “save her” from her duties.

The Walking Dead (tv series, never read the comics) pays homage to awesome heroines also. Rick is no doing well in captivity without Lori to balance him, but Maggie is sure a force to be wary of, and certainly is the reason Glen maintains his moral sanity.

I have yet to complete anything in fantasy writing, my only completed books are women’s fiction. My female MC is experiencing lots of character growth from being a doormat type to self sufficient. She does need to exhibit a lot of these characteristics, even though she has no super-powers. I believe contemporary women who rise above their disadvantages in a male-oriented society is a superwoman though 🙂

I will bookmark this for future reference if I am ever brave enough to write a paranormal heroine though. I love your list of character traits.

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 2:12 pm

Hi Dolorah,

I think this list applies to female characters in any genre. My hope for a list like this is to give us ideas for how we can make any female character (or ourselves!) strong in various ways. 🙂

Thanks for sharing suggestions of your favorite strong heroines! I need to add some of those to my to-be-read pile. I agree that anyone who has these types of strengths are “super” in their own way. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Lee Summerall May 12, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Hi Jami, love this subject, right down my alley!
I’m just polishing a romantic suspense with an alpha female ex-Marine with PTSD (it’s a KOD duMaurier finalist this year!), and my FH has a lot of weak spots but most are because she’s kind of butt-headed, plus she has major trust issues, and she also knows if she wants it done a certain way she has to do it herself. The alpha female can come in any genre, and any age (just think of Flavia deLuce or Katniss). Wouldn’t you say most female cops are alphas? Have to be. I also wonder how much alpha: 50%, 75%, 99%? Even total alphas have to have beta moments… somebody’s got to agree to be on the bottom. 🙂
But to say a non-alpha is a weak person…hmm, not too sure that’s right. With few exceptions until the mid-20th century, women have been forced into the beta position, and even today in the enlightened West an alpha female is often regarded negatively.
Is alpha an exterior manifestation or is it all the way through? Can we have alpha moments and still be beta? Or vv?
Is there anything but alpha and beta? How about those who sit on the fence and watch the furor?
Lee

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Hi Lee,

Congrats on your final! And I agree that we can find alpha heroines in many genres (or many professions in real life), and by no means was me sharing my experience with my genre meant to be the total of where we’ll find them. LOL!

Those are great questions! I agree that betas are not weak people. As you said, we all probably have beta traits, and conversely, I’d bet that most betas have at least an alpha trait or two. 🙂

Calling an alpha a “strong” character shouldn’t imply the opposite for a beta. (I certainly never used those words here.) There are many definitions of strong–which was kind of the point of my list. 😉 By pointing out all the ways that someone can show strength–whether that’s strength of conviction or strength of loyalty–I hope to show that there’s strength inherent in many traits, even those we might initially think of as “beta.”

In writing, we usually want to write characters who aren’t passive. They’re usually proactive in some way and not just reactive. Outside of literary fiction, our characters would do something to actively interact, cause, and create the plot. This list can also give us different ideas about how to show that active side of our characters, even if they’re more beta than alpha. For example, a character could be beta in every way except for their determination to protect a child, etc.

So this is by no means an either/or situation. 🙂 Thanks for the great questions!

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Mary Curtis May 12, 2015 at 2:18 pm

A good checklist, Jami. Various points I will keep in mind for later on. Right now my main female character is a blank slate, having been literally drained of her past. So I’m tiptoeing around trying give her a personality that will work before the truth of her past sends her into the chasm.
As for a preferred type of heroine, I guess my mind is a trash receptacle that can accept varied personalities–but it has to be well written trash. Can trash be well written? It depends on the garbage bin you retrieve it from.

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Hi Mary,

Interesting! I’m always fascinated by stories of amnesia (or amnesia-type effects) and how personalities change when we lose our sense of self. Good luck with your story, and thanks for the comment!

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Vivian May 12, 2015 at 2:38 pm

Excellent!

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Thanks, Vivian! I hope it’s helpful. 🙂

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Crystal Cox May 12, 2015 at 2:48 pm

Thank you , I really love this blog post ! I think #1 is the one that can aggravate me the most . Make her strong but she still has to be likable ! If she has constant attitude and does nothing but argue , who is going to like her ?

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Jami Gold May 12, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Hi Crystal,

LOL! Yes, a constantly belligerent attitude can get old very quickly. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Dave Withe (Newburydave) May 13, 2015 at 5:33 am

Hey Jami;

Love your email updates, even though I don’t always have time to read them.

I’m a guy who writes romances. 😉

After reading this post I realized that not only do I know an Alpha female, I married her 44 years ago and counting. The battle for “leadership” still goes on, some areas are settled others not so much. Personally, I think the wolf pack alpha couple is one of the best analogies for human alpha couples. One thing I can attest to is that the dynamic is always changing, some due to basic biology (yeah boys and girls are different) and others due to increasing maturity. (If it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger. Unhunh, that kind of relationship.)

My most recently published space opera, novella has my male POV (1st person deep pov) in love with and pursing an alpha female (heavy battle cruiser captain). It starts at the romance 3rd plot point (I hate the full romance formula plot dance), desperate action to recover from irreconcilable differences (total committment).

I realized early on that my female leads were all modeled on my wife minus the extreme diffidence (I know, dominant and diffident; go figure. None of us make total sense). But hey, she likes my romances and she’s my most discerning critiquer.

Your list is very timely. I’m currently ghosting a biography of a friend’s late mother. I’m casting it as an recent historical adventure / romance. The woman involved is a definite alpha. Thanks for the character “checklist”, it’s going to help, a lot.

Got to go, they’re calling my plane.

Write on sis

dave. 😉

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Jami Gold May 13, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Hi Dave,

That’s awesome! And I agree with you on the wolf pack alpha couple analogy. A strong alpha heroine can make a strong alpha hero even better (and vice versa). Thanks for the comment!

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Evolet Yvaine May 13, 2015 at 11:45 am

Funny. When I saw this post, I immediately thought of Buffy Sommers and Sidney Bristow. LOL. I definitely like the list and feel that my soon-to-be heroine, Shao, inhabits some of these qualities. I like where you said, “By no means should any alpha heroine have all these characteristics down pat—ever—and especially not at the beginning of a story. But as characters grow and mature, an alpha heroine would align closer with these ideals.” Shao is a definite #12 and #13 and I’d like to think that during the course of her story, she’ll grow into those characteristics. Like others have been saying, this is very timely post. Much obliged.

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Jami Gold May 13, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Hi Evolet,

Two of my favorite characters! 🙂

Yes, I saw one comment on Facebook of someone saying, “Oh, my character doesn’t qualify because of #whatever,” and that kind of misses the point. As I said, even uber alpha heroes can’t check off every item on the list. That might be kind of boring, in fact. LOL! Thanks for the comment!

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Sharla Rae May 13, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Another fantastic blog, Jami. So many times writers try to make the heroine alpha by making her into a bitch. She complains and and rants and nit pics at everything until the reader hates her! I’ve tried to explain this a couple times but some don’t understand that strength doesn’t equate with a person no can get along with, especially “any” hero. You have a gift for explaining these things. 🙂

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Jami Gold May 13, 2015 at 8:20 pm

Hi Sharla,

Yes, at the very least, we’d have to balance that behavior with some vulnerabilities, like why does she behave that way? What motivates her? How is she broken? That can help gain reader sympathy. Without that, readers have no reason to root for her. Thanks for stopping by!

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Davonne Burns May 13, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Okay, I’m going to be up front and honest about my take on this and please understand I am coming from a very different viewpoint from most people.

I love the idea of a strong woman. I do not love the idea that to be a strong woman she must take on masculine traits. Simply flipping the traits means that you have a woman attempting to be masculine or have what society perceives as masculine traits. Reading through the list of traits an ‘alpha male’ should display I was very put off. It’s confining, condescending and further enforces the strict gender binary with little room for self expression.

“Carry a calm and serene expression on your face and don’t be overtly bubbly or expressive while talking to someone.” In other words, don’t show what society assigns as a feminine trait.

“Groom yourself well and avoid donning fashion at the cost of comfort. Pick outfits that highlight the bulk of your shoulders and torso. Stay away from extremes – too many pastel shades and weird fashion choices are best avoided.” Don’t look gay.

“To adopt this alpha male behavior, don’t let yourself become overly chatty and giggly in a social situation. ” Again … don’t be girly.

Overall, the whole article reads a like a list of how to be manipulative and passive aggressive. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any one trait and as you said no one would have all of them, I find the need to strip a woman of her femininity in order to make her seem kick-ass kind of sad.

I’m sorry to be blunt about this, but I think it simply reinforces the gender stereotypes.

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Jami Gold May 13, 2015 at 8:30 pm

Hi Davonne,

I agree with you about many of the specifics in the alpha male post. There’s a reason I reworded all of their points–beyond just gender flipping. 🙂

So by no means would I say that alpha heroines should emulate the descriptions on that other post. I took the reason for that behavior–why does X inspire respect and Y embody leadership, etc.–and rewrote everything to view it from the perspective of how to get that respect/leadership/etc. result.

I purposely included many examples of how “traditional” feminine behaviors, such as caring for others, could be seen through an alpha lens. Alpha heroine does not mean masculine traits. That’s kind of the opposite of my point, in fact. 😉

I also agree with you that the writing of that other post is very condescending. I was focused on the traits themselves–and not on their descriptions of the traits. I hope that makes sense. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Rinelle Grey May 14, 2015 at 4:33 am

Sounds like just the sort of characters I write. And love to read too. I haven’t been checking blogs lately, and didn’t realise your books were out. I’ve grabbed a copy of the first one now though, and I’m looking forward to reading it!

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Jami Gold May 14, 2015 at 9:58 am

Hi Rinelle,

Aww, thanks! And I definitely enjoy reading these types of characters. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Luca Thrace May 14, 2015 at 6:09 am

Hi, Jami, my editor sent me your article because she “would certainly classify Serafina as an alpha heroine”, and becasue you’re one of her favorite paranormal romance authors. [Hi, Jennifer!]

I can’t imagine writing a story where the female protagonist is anything less than kick-ass. My favorite authors and screenwriters all have strong female protagonists: Claire in Gabaldon’s Outlander series; Daenerys and Cersei in Martin’s Game of Thrones; Zoe and Inara in Whedon’s Firefly, and so many others!

The heroine in my soon-to-be-released-on-Kindle medieval romantic suspense is all of the things in your Alpha Heroine list. My male protagonist is both strong and vulnerable, but Sera equals his strength as she learns to trust in her own inner resources.

Am I an alpha heroine? Absolutely! Know it and own it, ladies.

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Jami Gold May 14, 2015 at 10:04 am

Hi Luca,

Aww, thanks! (Now I’m wracking my brain for whether I know your editor–LOL!)

Great examples! And Inara in particular is an interesting character because of what she does. She’s not a physical butt-kicking character, but she definitely stands up for herself and her interests as appropriate. So she’s a great example of the different kinds of strength–and how a female character doesn’t have to be strong in EVERY way to qualify as a “strong female character.” (TM) 😉

Good luck with your release and thanks for the comment!

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Glynis Jolly May 15, 2015 at 5:07 pm

My leading man, who is barely a major character in the story, is a beta character. He’s the voice of reasoning for my protagonist female. He’s the one who stops her from tripping over her own feet.

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Jami Gold May 15, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Hi Glynis,

Yes, many supporting characters are betas, yet if they get their own book later, readers often get to see their alpha traits as well. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Carissa May 16, 2015 at 5:11 am

This is a great list! And I particularly love your opening point: that the butt-kicking heroine can be overdone and excelling this isn’t necessary for writing a strong heroine.

I think it’s really important to write non-wimpy female characters, but I think that sometimes we run into a problem when we equate “strength” and “alphaness” with what are traditionally considered masculine/testosterone-driven characteristics. My favorite female characters aren’t afraid to embrace the strengths of their feminine side. I think it’s great when they are a mix of these “alpha” characteristics (which in our society is all too often really just a synonym for masculine characteristics) and undervalued characteristics such as interpersonal skills and empathy.

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Jami Gold May 16, 2015 at 8:04 am

Hi Carissa,

Exactly! There are many kinds of strength–and as my post about beta traits demonstrates, there are ways those traits are “strong” too. We shouldn’t feel limited by the butt-kicking type, and hopefully these posts will give us different ideas. 🙂

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