Smart Heroes

on November 13, 2008

I like smart men. Intelligence is sexy. Looks may go, but wit and intelligence stay for the duration. So it’s no surprise that most of my heroes use brains over brawn–though they could certainly hold their own if called to.

SUDDEN DEATH is in production and I wrote my first real alpha hero. John Flynn (THE PREY), Zack Travis (THE KILL), and Connor Kincaid (SEE NO EVIL) were all alpha heroes, but with the exception of maybe John, no one comes close to mercenary Jack Kincaid.

Jack came on scene in FEAR NO EVIL where he was called to help his twin brother, Dillon, rescue their younger sister who’d been kidnapped by a psychopath. I didn’t know a lot about Jack when he came on scene, and in my first draft I had several scenes in his point of view–scenes that my editor told me had to go. “He’s overshadowing your hero.” Why? Because he’s extremely alpha. Former Special Forces, he gathers intelligence, plans his attack, and acts. This is what he does best.

I didn’t know why Jack was estranged from his family, or why he left the military to become a soldier-for-hire, or why he’d never married. All this came out as I got into his head and wrote his story.

But in writing his story, I realized why I don’t love alpha heroes–at least some that I’ve encountered. (Certainly not Jack! He’s become one of my favorite characters, right up there with Dillon who had been my favorite hero.) They can be brutes. They border on chauvinism. And it’s very hard for me to like a book where the heroine justifies the way the hero treats her because he has some scars or baggage or needs the love of a good woman to heal his wounds.


The love of a good woman may be necessary for the hero to go from tortured to at peace, but that doesn’t justify him being an asshole.

This was one reason I was nervous about starting Jack’s book. He’s extremely alpha, and I didn’t know how he would treat the heroine. Would he want a damsel in distress to save? A tough kick-ass chick like Dillon’s girlfriend, Kate Donovan? Hmm, a bit.

But I decided to dig down and see what makes a man alpha. At least, my version of the alpha male who has to not only accept but love a smart woman.

Loyalty. Alpha heroes are loyal to an extreme, and sometimes to a fault. Be it country, friends, or the woman they love, they are steadfast. When their loyalty is betrayed, it’s a bleeding wound.

Honor. Alpha heroes stand for something, usually universal and often for the underdog. They have a code of honor that, if they are forced to break it, is another wound to their soul.

Protective. Alpha heroes will protect their country, their family, their friends, their lover to the death. This doesn’t mean they hover or restrict or tell their wife to take off her shoes and cook dinner, but they are watchful and will do what it takes to ensure the health and safety of those entrusted to them, be it a poor Central American village they’re protecting or the woman they love.

Reasoned. The best of the alpha heroes don’t act first. Like the elite military teams, they gather intelligence, they strategize and create a plan of action, and then they act. This may happen in seconds, or days, or months. But alpha heroes have a plan or ten. They are quick on their feet and adapt to changing circumstances. They think.

In terms of flaws, alpha heroes tend to be stubborn and when they believe they are right, they can be rigid and forceful. But WHY (motivation) is what’s important here. If they’re jerks, they’ll insist that they’re right all the time and you can just live with it. If they’re heroes, they’ll have a reason for their actions, and they don’t mind telling you why.

Jack came clearly in focus mid-way through the book when Megan (the heroine), Hans Vigo, and Jack’s closest friend, Father Francis Cardenas, a Catholic priest, were at Jack’s place after a drug dealer sent three thugs to kill Jack. Jack feels safe (protective) at his house: he can watch the people he cares for and those sent to help him find his friend’s killer. Here, he has control. He doesn’t exert the control, but it’s evident. When the three others decide they should leave after a heated conversation regarding the case, this is when Jack cracks a bit. It’s not safe to go back to town, and he can’t fathom why anyone would want to leave when that’s an action and they’re still in the gathering intelligence phase of the investigation. It’s begging for trouble.

When Jack cracked–a fraction, and no one see it except the reader–I fell in love. It was a turning point for me, because up to this point, Jack was being, well, a bit of a brute in some respects (not to the heroine!) Each time was justified, and I hope the reader agrees.

But even more important is how the alpha hero treats the heroine. This is what makes or breaks the hero for me. I write strong female characters; they’re not going to apologize for the brutish acts of an alpha hero. When the alpha gets too forceful, they stand up for themselves. And a real alpha hero loves it. If the heroine is in law enforcement or the military or another male dominated profession, a real alpha hero finds her sexy. They unite because of their common values–duty, honor, protect and serve–and that makes them a great team.

Roarke of the IN DEATH series by JD Robb is the perfect alpha hero. He lets Eve be the tough cop she is, watching in a protective mode without putting Eve in a bubble. He loves her more because she is strong amidst her inner vulnerability. He does what needs to be done to protect those he cares for, above all his wife. But he never tells Eve she should be anything other than who she is. I love that.

Who is your favorite alpha hero and why?