Monday, September 15, 2014

Can You Have a Sweet Alpha Male?

How real do you need your characters to be?

I am the first one to say that fiction is fiction, it isn't always entirely believable and I think most readers will forgive some unrealistic characteristics if they like the story and relate with the characters.

I try to make my characters relatable, I want them to seem real, to seem like people you might meet in your day to day life. But I also want them to be nice and likable.

How do you do that when you are writing about a dominant alpha male who spanks?

It is very possible he is going to do or say something that makes you hold your e-reader away from your face and go "Oh, no he didn't!" Possibly with a head swivel and all. 

I think it's also hard to write a modern day, contemporary piece with a woman who gets spanked. Now you have the dual problem of your main man seeming like a dick and the heroine seeming like a simpering fool because she won't stand up for herself.

It's a delicate balance, and you can't make everyone happy. If it is true to life at least a little bit, then some of the characters are going to be a little unlikable once in a while.

Etta Stark actually cracked me up with her review (you can read it here at Spanking Romance Reviews) for my newest book Call Me Yours, she talks about how she really didn't like my hero, Simon, right from the start.

In the book my heroine, Caitlin, needs some cash and she decides to become a phone sex operator. When she first brings the idea up to Simon he tells her in no uncertain terms that she will never do that.

Etta's reaction to this- "What gives, Simon? You give a girl oral sex one time and now you think you get to dictate how she lives her life? Well, that’s not how things work in the real world, matey."

But really, how else would Simon, this dominating alpha male react? Is he going to give her a long drawn out response about how charging per minute for a simulated sexual experience over the phone is setting back the work her feminist sisters have been doing toward women's equality since before she was born?


What dude would say that?

So I gave him a real life answer. He just simply tells her "No."

Don't worry, Caitlin is equally as put off with Simon's answer as Etta was (and I think I was too when writing it).

But my point is- I inadvertently made him a dick, and then when I realized this, I left him that way because it seemed more real to me.

Don't worry, he does redeem himself (at least Etta seemed to think so), we get to see his sweet softer side.

My question is though, how real do we want our romances? I'd like to think I pushed myself this time around in trying to make my characters seem less like characters and more like people. Caitlin is kind of a spoiled princess and she's not exactly the sweetest person to Simon in the beginning. Simon is an alpha male, used to people heeding his advice, he can come off as kind of prickly.

I didn't sugar coat them. I wrote their back and forth arguments as if they were sitting here with me. And then after I got down their words I didn't tone them down, I let them be jerks. Because, in real life, sometimes we're all jerks.

Do you prefer the characters in your romances to be real? Or would you rather have some synthetic sugar coated sweetness?

There is no right answer. I am just curious what readers think.


  1. This is the delicate balance that all authors in all genres face: how to make a book compelling while not straying into implausible. Romance readers,I think, are looking for fantasy and escapism. Real life tends to be mundane, it's about who's going to stop and buy milk after work. Who has to answer the phone when it rings. Not exciting stuff. Yet when characters do something way out of "character," it can ruin the story.

    In spanking romance, it's particularly challenging. How do you create a dominant hero who spanks who isn't a jerk? How do you create a heroine who needs to be spanked but who isn't a brat? I think the answer is skillfully and with nuance. An author has to take the time to develop the characters' characte, and motivation.

    One thing that pushes my buttons as a reader is the spoiled, bratty heroine. Why would a strong, dominant man be attracted to someone so immature?

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Cara! I too hate the bratty heroine, it doesn't get you to like the man who falls in love with her.

  2. Oh, I like this post!

    The long and short that I have learned in my *cough-cough* years as a spanking author is: Readers don't want their dominant alpha males to be completely unrelate-able, but they don't want them TOO real, either. After all, some of them already live with a man. They cook his suppers, pick his socks up off the coffee table, baby him when he's sick and know all the ins and outs of his particular vulnerabilities. What they want when they pick up a good spanking romance, is a man who echoes realism but without all the annoying character flaws they see on a daily basis with the men they already know and love.

    So really, while making a "realistic" dom is every author's goal, or at least should be, just don't make them so real that the reader is left thinking, "Why am I reading a book about my husband?" Give them the swagger, the authority, the willingness to follow through every single flippin' time and that mythical ability to seemingly always know what the heroine wants and needs without needing to be told. No real man comes with all that, and those that come close have practiced for years to get that way.

    This is kind of a long answer to say simply: As an author, you walk a fine line between making them "real" and making them the fantasy Dom/Top/Alpha Male that keeps your readers picking up your books.

    1. Yes, I completely get not making it too real. I have found myself sometimes writing something that may have paralleled my real life- but then I fix it, just a little, to make it the way I would have wanted it to be!

      I think the theme here is balance, but they also need some flaws to be interesting. Thanks for giving your two cents :)

  3. I agree with Maren and Cara that it's a fine line to balance. For me as a reader of this genre, I want an alpha whom you'd only find in fiction and I'm willing to suspend my disbelief - a lot! As far as being a jerk vs. being too soft, in fiction and as a writer, I will always go with a man potentially being perceived as being too hard than too soft. It's what I want to read and I know it's fiction. And I know it's spanking fiction and if it's too soft, I just lose interest.

    1. I agree on the too soft is such a turn off. I hate when they seem too hard or too mean, but I also keep reading because it kind of scares me/intrigues me/turns me on!

  4. I think the term "Alpha male" has unfortunately become synonymous with asshole lately. Too many books have the alpha in the relationship be all about "My tarzan, you jane. Ugh! Ugh!" which I find a turnoff and will make me stop reading the book. I'm glad you wrote this. I might refer back to it in an article I'm writing on the Alpha Male in a non-fictional aspect.

    Of course, on the flipside, I'm also tired of the heroines who go out of their way to be bratty just to create a spanking scene, but you've heard me say that before.

    There is also a separation in how I write my alpha males in a DD context as to how I wrote them in an M/s context, because they are vastly different situations. But my alphas all have a heart. I can't write alphas (or read them really) who are fictionally alpha. They turn me off. Give the man some heart. I have to love the character for me to accept what would otherwise be ass-behavior.

    1. I agree, the setting makes the difference! You need it a little rougher in a M/s context. And also yes, on the bratty heroines, so annoying! I don't mind sassy and feisty, but she also needs to be smart and caring.

      I think all characters need heart, at least the main ones, and if you give a bad guy a heart and actually get me to like him, then I will love to hate you!

  5. Ha. I started reading this thinking "Ooh this sounds like something I'll have strong opinions about" only to find I am ALL OVER this post.

    If there was a correct amount of sweet/stern for a hero to be, they'd all be identical and that would be rubbish. If a book is well written then its characters can be completely horrible and it will still be a great book.

    As for your question "Can you have a sweet Alpha male?" Well, YOU can, Ms McKay. Your books are full of sweet sexy dominant men. It's one of the reasons I love them so much.

    1. Aww, you're to kind, Etta!

      I think you are on to something though, if there was a mathematical equation for the perfect hero (well first, I would be out because I suck at math) then books would be boring because they would all be the same! I think a little bit of variation is wise.

  6. Personally I totally need a balanced, relatable hero. If I think the hero is a total authoritarian jerk - I'm outa there. But if he's a pushover, he can push off. Yup, impossible to please :) I agree wholeheartedly getting it right is a balancing act, and not only that, but what's right for me might not be right for the next reader - its more like balancing a wrinkly piece of wool than a nice straight lever....Ho hum!

    1. Impossible to please! That's why we're friends, birds of a feather and all that :P

      I think the resounding answer here is balance, and apparently we all want our cake and eat it too!

  7. I'm struggling to find that balance in my current WIP, except my problem is that my HOH often doesn't come off as alpha enough. He's new to it, though he grew up in a family that believed in DD. As he says, he's never been on the administering side of the situation before, and he's pretty worried and uncertain. I find myself worrying that he's going to come off as too soft and not alpha enough for a group of readers will, including myself, that admittedly goes for alpha males.