I’ve been giving it a lot of thought since finally watching North & South, the BBC mini-series based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s book of the same name. If I look back at my preferences over the years, I definitely lean more towards beta heroes in my fiction over big, badass alpha heroes.
What’s a beta hero? There’s a great explanation here, but when I try to define it myself, I think of characters with a strong emotional core, that are kind and often a little introspective and introverted, and inherently loyal. These are the guys who will always have your back, but not necessarily in a puff-chested Manly Man way. They’re the ones you bring home to the the family, and the ones you raise a family with. They lead by example, not by force, and aren’t afraid to showcase their emotions…even if it means risking rejection.
Who would I characterize as a beta hero? Off the top of my head, here’s ten possibilities. Obviously they’re not carbon copies of each other and some are a little more badass than others, but I think the key factors are how they handle conflict and how they handle loving someone.
1. John Thornton, North & South
2. Marshall Mann, In Plain Sight
3. Julian Baker, One Tree Hill
4. Arjun Singh Malhotra, Namastey London (movie)
5. Sasha Belov, Make it or Break It
6. Derek Morgan, Criminal Minds
7. Jasper Jacks, General Hospital
8. Will Munson, As the World Turns
9. Lucky Spencer, General Hospital
10. Peter Burke, White Collar
It’s funny, because I wouldn’t have put Sasha Belov on the list for the first season of Make it or Break It. It’s mostly in the second that he’s become a beta hero, and dangerously skated on the line of being out of character as a result. And I know people think of Derek as the “muscle” of Criminal Minds and while he may kick down a lot of doors, I don’t think that inherently makes him an alpha hero. Derek’s not comfortable giving orders; he didn’t really take to being BAU chief in Hotch’s absence. And growing up in a house full of women has given him sensitivity and empathy. In fact, I don’t know that any of the guys on CM fit the alpha profile, except maybe Rossi.
Then you’ve got your Julians and Luckys and Jaxes, who pretty much qualify as the Best Boyfriend Ever (barring soapy drug addictions and wives who come back from the dead), and Marshall, who is the Best Partner Ever. They don’t have to run the show, but they’re the reason the show goes off without a hitch.
I love this archetype. I mean, in recent memory, I think the only alpha male who makes me sit up and take notice is B&B’s Bill Spencer. He’s such a well-written and well-portrayed character. He commands attention without even raising his voice. But, generally, it’s the characters who don’t command your focus but garner it nonetheless that really appeal to me…