Monday, January 24, 2011

My Soapbox Weekend

I love engaging in discussions about writing. Those of you familiar with me already know that. LOL This weekend I was on the Sweet ΄N΄ Sexy Divas group owned by two oh-so-talented authors, Tina Donahue and Sarah McNeal and a few of us went back and forth on some really great topics of interest to me. Yep, I got on my soapbox. By the way, the Sweet ‘n’ Sexy Divas group is wonderful and you might just want to join.

One of the things we talked about was when can it ever be appropriate for an Alpha to cry? Now I’ve studied the romance genre for years. And when I say study, I don’t mean I read a few articles. I mean I’ve put in sixteen-hour days of CAREFUL study. My philosophy is this: In order to break the rules, you’ve got to know what the rules are first. Why? Because only then do you have a real understanding of the craft, and please note that I’m talking about the romance genre only with respect to this blog post.

The romance genre is unique. There’s nothing else like it out there. As I said on the Sweet ‘n’ Sexy Divas’ group, it’s often accused of being formulaic and unrealistic. That sounds really bad, doesn’t it? But actually, it’s not. Know your target audience. I can’t emphasize that enough. And in romance writing, your target audience is women who are looking to escape the daily grind of life. They want to be entertained and swept away. They want to step into the heroine’s shoes for the span of that read and experience everything she does. AND…they want to know what to expect.

They pick up that book because they KNOW there will be a happily ever after or happy for now. They KNOW the hero is going to be a hard dude to wrangle into a relationship. They KNOW there will be external conflicts pulling them apart. But they KNOW, in the end, that all will be right with the world. In this case, familiarity does not breed contempt, but rather sales.

As I said, there are rules in writing romance. Some written, some unwritten. Those rules are there for a reason. There is nothing at all wrong with bending the rules, thinking outside the box. Sometimes that can lead to major success. But you have to be careful how you go about it.

So, when is it appropriate for an Alpha to cry? Can he feel remorse? Specifically we were talking about the Alpha killing someone in order to protect the heroine and whether it was okay for him to feel remorse and eventually that led to the discussion of letting him cry.

Personally, I’d never let one of my Alphas cry. I might let his eyes moisten if something pretty tragic is going on. For instance: Someone he loves dies. He is losing the heroine. A memory of something horrible that happened in his past crops up. But outright cry? NEVER. So if you do let your Alpha cry, make sure you have a damn good reason for it…and…

It’s all about this: How you execute the scene and consistent characterization throughout.

The great Alpha is misunderstood. He’s stubborn, doesn’t bend too well. He’s forceful and wants what he wants when he wants it. But he’s not good at expressing his emotions—like most men. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings, and it doesn’t mean he hides his feelings either. It simply means he shows them differently than a woman or say a Beta hero.

Let’s look at it this way. Your heroine and hero disagree about their next step in foiling the plans of the bad guy. Your Beta hero would probably sit down at the nearest kitchen table and discuss it with her. He’d be sensitive to her thoughts on the subject. He wouldn’t let anger get the best of him. He would talk out everything he is feeling. But your Alpha? Hells bells. He’d storm out of the room and go chop a cord of wood. Yep, he would. And that’s how he expresses his emotions. More action and a whole lot less words. You can, of course, reveal in narrative from his POV and in internal thoughts the truth of what he’s feeling. But he is not going to be good at all with expressing this to the heroine verbally. At that point in time, only the reader knows just how sweet and kind and caring he really is—only the reader knows his true self and loves him all the more for it. And the heroine? Well, she sits and fumes over how stubborn he is. And it creates more tension between the two of them. Which is exactly what you want. Can’t make it too easy on these two, now can we? LOL

More about remorse and the Alpha. So he kills someone in order to protect the heroine. The Alpha IS human. You don’t just take another person’s life and not have it affect you. In paranormal romance, it’s much easier to get away with killing and not worry about the fallout of feelings. He killed a monster—a cruel vampire—a rogue werewolf—something not quite human, after all. The lines are a bit more forgiving there. But if he kills another human—even one who is evil to the bone—you might elect to show his remorse. And that all goes to author voice, of course, and depends on how you execute the scene.

But the point is, if you do want to show remorse, how would you show it for an Alpha? He doesn’t express his feelings well, remember? On the Sweet ‘n’ Sexy Divas group I posted an example of that very thing. Now, it’s rough—so don’t laugh and throw rocks. And it’s just a snippet too. But I think I show enough distinction between how a Beta would handle it versus an Alpha that you can get the general idea. Also, there is some not-so-pretty language in this example. I hope you’re not offended.

Beta Hero feels remorse:

The anguish he felt over taking Parker's life tore him apart. It would stay with him the rest of his life. If only she hadn't been there. If only he'd had more time.

Alpha Hero feels remorse:

Goddamn it. Why the hell couldn't he have found another way? But taking Parker out had been the only way, hadn't it? It was her or him. Fuck it. Parker asked for it.

In example 1, there is a more Beta hero feel. Example 2, to me at least, has a more Alpha feel. The Alpha might question his actions, but he'll easily justify them, too, decide he was right all along, and move on. And he’ll do it quickly—won’t dwell on it. Which is why I write Alphas. I love a stone-cold confident man. LOL Oh God, and before I insult Beta lovers out there, I don’t mean that Betas aren’t confident. They are and that translates into being confident enough in themselves that they CAN question their actions and still come out on top. They just do it differently than an Alpha with the tendency to look inward more so.

With anything you write, you need to be consistent with characterization. So please, don’t start out with an Alpha then switch him over to Beta to satisfy something you want to use as part of the story or vice versa. I’ve seen that. Actually, I’ve seen a lot of it. Oftentimes an author writes a scene that is inconsistent with character behavior. Good editors will catch that. Staying consistent with characterization is what makes your characters believable. They must be true to their nature. So when you write, decide who your characters are. Throughout the story your characters will grow based on the conflicts they face and the LOVE that blooms. But that growth must be believable and not so varied or different that it is completely contrary to their nature and the characters become unrecognizable.

You can’t let your Alpha learn things and change along the way if the change makes no sense. So if he kills someone and you have him feel remorse, let tears moisten his eyes, then have him fall in love with the heroine which opens up his heart completely—please don’t let him all of a sudden become Mr. Sensitive and start giving in to the heroine at the drop of a hat. At least not in that book. If it’s a series, and in the next book you have another hero and you mention the first hero in there—well, let him change diapers and prepare a soufflé if need be. LOL Just don’t let him do that in the first book. You don’t have enough time in that first one to completely overhaul the great Alpha’s personality. The changes must be enough so that the reader recognizes the changes, but at the same time, not so huge that they aren’t believable.

As I said at the start of this post, there are rules for romance writing. Some of those rules apply to other genres but a lot of them are strictly for writing romance. And as you break down the romance genre into sub genres there are even more rules in place to guide you. What you need to remember is that the “formula” is tried and true. It’s there for a reason. It works. Yes, you can bend or break the rules but know what the rules are before you do.

Photobucket Now for a little news from me. I was very flattered and thrilled to find out that Latin Rhythm, my contemporary older woman/younger man novella published with Pink Petal Books was nominated for Love Romances Cafe's Best Contemporary Book of 2010. No, I don't expect to win. I'm in some really amazing company over there. lol But I do enjoy the fact that someone read my story and thought enough of it to believe it deserved a nod. So thank you to whoever that individual is. AND...if you've read Latin Rhythm, enjoyed it and would like to vote for it, just stop by Dawn's Reading Nook and comment on Latin Rhythm. If you haven't read Latin Rhythm you can purchase it here:

Photobucket And now it’s shameless promo time! Yes, yes yes…I only have to sleep through tonight and tomorrow night before I can wake up to the release of Black Cougar Curse! I’m excited. Can you tell? LOL Wednesday, January 26 is the day, my friends. It’s a steamy shifter story co-authored with Natalie Dae We had a great time writing this one and eventually gave up trying to figure out who had written which part because we could no longer recognize each other’s writing. Yep, our writing just magically blended. So we’re looking forward to what everyone thinks of Black Cougar Curse and truly hoping you like it. For a sneak peek, you can read an excerpt here:

And on February 1, the new, once-a-month newsletter--Risqué--from Natalie
, Regina Carlysle and little ol' me will make its debut. So if you'd like to receive our newsletter, you can subscribe here by joining our newsletter group--this is a no chatting group--newsletter only.

Till next Monday!


Natalie Dae said...

I can't get a handle on writing true alphas, as you know. I wrote an article about it this morning actually, and mentioned you being the one who knows her alphas. LOL! Spooky!

Yay on the nomination!


Tess MacKall said...

hahahahahahaha our brain is on the same wavelength then.

I know you like your Betas and that's fine. I just love my Alphas as you well know.

And thank you for the kudos. The countdown is on, isn't it girlie? lol

Debbie Gould said...

Hmmmm. I still think it's okay to have your Alpha cry. Not snotty nosed blubering, but a tear or two on his cheek, and only if he thinks he's lost the heroine.
That is the only time I think it's okay for an Alpha to cry. Remorse for taking a life, of course, but he wouldn't cry.
And, it depends on the Alpha and the situation whether he would let the heroine see his tears or they would be in private.
I KNOW you don't believe in it, lol, but there are times when it works. Not every Alpha can pull it off, but a few can.

Fiona McGier said...

I think it can be a cultural thing also. In my Reyes Romances, the alpha heroes are Hispanic, and that allows for fiery emotional responses. It also allows for the alpha dude, once he's been tamed and his wife has his first baby, to tear up occasionally. After all, she has connected him to his own humanity and he shows her over and over, just HOW grateful he is! ;-D

Brindle Chase said...

You didn't think you could sneak a post about Alpha males without me chiming in did ya? Hehehe

I think you hit the nail on the head, especially comparing the Beta to the Alpha dealing with remorse. A couple nuances. An Alpha, in moments of peaking emotion, can certainly cry... BUT ONLY FOR THE HEROINE. There is no way he'd blubber in front of everyone. Even a beta would be hesitant to do that!

Nextly (<-- I love that non-word) The beauty of an Alpha, is they can be Alpha in so many ways, but when he's in private with his love, he can let down those facades and be a beta for her. I think Zsadist from BDB is a great example of this... in fact, most of the heroes in BDB are good examples. Vulnerability can be sexy!

Laura G. said...

Love your blog, Tess! And I really liked your examples of Alpha vs. Beta. I found myself also thinking that it was all how they each justified what they did. Very interesting. Enjoyed it! :-)

Tess MacKall said...

You're right, Debbie. I don't believe in it. Keeping the Alpha true to himself is one of the major elements to writing romance. There is a reason we distinguish between Alpha and Beta heroes. You can't have it both ways. If you try, then characterization just isn't believable.

Tess MacKall said...

Hi Fiona,

I've written a Latin hero and yes, I like the fire in their belly, so to speak. But Alpha is an Alpha regardless of culture. I have to keep writing my Alphas without tears, lol, regardless of where he was born.

Tess MacKall said...

Well, Brindle, we sort of agree. Alpha heroes in romance writing should not cry. Their eyes can mist over, moisten, they can avert their gaze, you can show how heartbroken they are with action and internal thought and narrative, but he can't cry.

Tess MacKall said...

Thanks, Laura. You're good, girlie and have a real understanding of that great big ole Alpha yourself.

Regina Carlysle said...

Great insight as always, Tess. I agree with you. Women read romance for the fantasy and an 'alpha' hero wouldn't run around blubbering all over the place. Don't see it. I DON'T have a problem however with the alpha hero feeling things deeply. It just works when an author lets the reader in on his bone deep goodness as a person but keeps the heroine guessing. Must say though I don't mind seeing the hero 'tear up' over tragedy. If he did anything less, he would seem cold. Can't have that.

Regina Carlysle said...

Loooove Zsadist, Brindle. To me just a perfect alpha.

Hales said...

Great insight! Yeah Alphas are def a tough bunch to write, but then again so are demons :)

It was an interesting ride writing Orobus and defining demonic characteristics and the Sadistic Leader who did have a soft spot so to speak.

I love your posts because they can relate to so many diff situations and I have that lesson you did on character traits and flaws and development saved dang near memorized to remind me to keep it real :)

Tess MacKall said...

Hiya Hales,

Sorry I missed your comment on blogging day. I've been up to my eyeballs in promotion for BCC and just now taking a breather.

Glad the lesson on characterization is working for you. And yep, keep it true to your Alpha persona for sure.