Thursday, October 8, 2009

From the Pen of a Beta Reader

Jayne Ann Krentz is wrong. I say this with trembling and trepidation but with unwavering conviction. After all, JAK is a goddess, a legendary defender of romance fiction, an author I’ve been reading for decades. And I’m just one among countless wannabes. Nevertheless, Ms. Krentz was wrong when she said, "No one wants to read about a beta hero." I am one, and I love reading about beta heroes. Furthermore, I know I’m not alone.

When I look back at the beta heroes I have known and loved, I realize that they are more than personal favorites. They are the heroes in some of the classic texts of our genre. Take Mr. Knightly in Jane Austen’s Emma—definitely a beta. Austen calls him a “sensible man,” sensibility being a quality she herself valued highly. Knightly is kind and compassionate and capable of great romantic love. He sees Emma’s faults clearly and loves her anyway.

Many of Georgette Heyer’s heroes are true alphas. Some would argue that heroes like the Duke of Avon (These Old Shades), the Marquis of Alverstoke (Frederica), and Lord Damorel (Venetia) define the generic conventions of the alpha hero. But Heyer herself divided her heroes into two types: Mark I (the alphas) and Mark II (the betas). Some of my favorite Heyer heroes--Hugo Darracott (The Unknown Ajax), Freddy Standen (Cotillion), and Gervase Frant, Earl of St. Erth (The Quiet Gentleman)—are betas all, practical, honorable, and capable of abiding friendship with a woman.

Connie Brockway’s As You Desire and Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr. Bridgerton rank high on many lists of all-time favorite romances; both feature beta heroes. Brockway’s Harry Braxton, best friend and protector of his long-time love, was an RT KISS-award winner, and affable charmer Colin Bridgerton and his beloved Penelope are on All About Romance’s most recent Top Ten Couples list. Clearly many readers appreciate the hotness factor possessed by a good beta. Even JAK herself must love a least one beta hero: Harry Stratton Trevelyan, scientist/philosopher hero of her popular Absolutely, Positively.

Examine almost any successful series, and you will find a beta in the mix. Murphy Muldoon, hero of the concluding book on Nora Roberts’s popular Born in trilogy, is an Irish farmer with a poet’s soul. Lord Robert Andreville, hero of Mary Jo Putney’s Angel Rogue (Fallen Angels), is a spy with a truly tortured past, but the charming Robin is also a beta, who uses humor and friendship to win his love. Another of my favorite betas is Ewan Poley, Earl of Ardmore, the hero of Eloisa James’s Kiss Me, Annabel (Essex Sister #2). This handsome Scot heats up the pages of a courtship journey book, but his kindness, sense of humor, and religious convictions mark him as beta hero.

The most recent beta hero to claim my heart is Sir Tobias Aldridge, hero of A Lady of Persuasion, the third book in Tessa Dare’s debut trilogy. Toby serves to demonstrate what a beta hero is, what he is not, and what endears beta heroes to many readers.

Betas are kind and decent.

We meet Toby in Goddess of the Hunt and watch the heroine of that book realize that her feelings for Toby were merely infatuation. In Surrender of a Siren, we learn that Sophia has jilted Toby. Early in A Lady of Persuasion, we discover that Toby, at some cost to his own reputation, has protected the jilt Sophia from becoming fodder for gossip. His doing so allows Sophia and Gray to return triumphantly to London. When Lucy is in labor and Jeremy is near mad with fear, it is Toby who talks until he’s hoarse to distract Jeremy; it is Toby who reminds him that Lucy knows her husband and loves him anyway.

Betas have a sense of honor.

Alphas do not have a monopoly on honor. Toby’s honor is the foundation of his devotion to family and friends. Even his mistakes are linked to his sense of honor. He is wrong to lie to Bel about his campaign, but he instinctively understands that he must find his own purpose in life, not have it handed to him by his wife.

Betas often have a highly developed sense of humor and often use a light touch to diffuse a tense moment.

Toby understands Gray’s concern for Bel and deals with big-brother-in-protective-mode with grace and humor. His offer of a brotherly hug left me laughing out loud. His playful teasing of Bel helps her to learn the need for balancing solemnity with a glad heart.

Betas are problem-solvers.

They lack the alphas’ need to control the lives of their pack, but when presented with a problem, they can come up with a solution, often an ingenious one. When Gray, a classic alpha, is confronted with Jeremy’s fears for Lucy, he is helpless. Joss, caught in memories of his own loss, only increases the fear. It is Toby who spends hours talking of “mundane, everyday concerns that he hoped would serve as a reminder that beyond this day, beyond Lucy’s labor, mundane, everyday life would continue.”

Betas are not wimps.

Toby has ample physical courage. He is not intimidated by Gray. When Bel is in danger from runaway horses, Toby risks his own life to save her. He faces a man with a loaded gun with fortitude and finesse.

Betas are not inferior lovers.

Scene after scene in A Lady of Persuasion reveals Toby as a tender, passionate lover who satisfies his beloved in every way. He also expresses his love in words and in meaningful ways such as the honey-sweetened ice cream.

Finally, betas are not out to save the world; their focus is on home and heart.

Toward the end of ALOP, when Toby announces that he will become an MP, a position in which he will serve “with honor,” just as he will manage his estate responsibly, he says to Bel, “But my highest goal, my true reason for living, is right here in my arms. It’s you, darling. It’s us.” A few paragraphs later he adds, “I intend to be, above everything, a devoted husband. . . . And a doting father.” Bel knows she’s the “luckiest woman alive.” So does the beta-loving reader.

What about you? Are you a beta lover? If not, why not? If so, who are your favorite betas?


Tessa D said...

Janga, I just adore this post! Thanks so much for loving betas and using Toby as an example. I loved writing him so much. After a few misbegotten attempts to make him an alpha, I gave up and just reveled in his betaness. He gets along with his mother! He can tell if a woman's pregnant, just by looking at her! :)

Ewan is my favorite EJ hero of the Essex quartet. Possibly my favorite EJ hero of all. And of course, Penelope and Colin are iconic. I think it's almost a given that if you have a series about a group of men, one of them should be a beta--he's got to keep all the rest of them from killing each other!

irisheyes said...

The one Beta that usually pops up and you didn't mention is Hartley Wade from Lord Carew's Bride. I love Hartley.

I think the characteristic that I find most appealling in most Betas is the sense of humor. I married a Beta and know that his sense of humor was one of his biggest draws! He can make me laugh at just about anything, including myself. I treasure it more and more the older I get.

I need to come back when I can come up with a contemporary Beta. I know he's right there and I can't quite put my finger on him. Something for me to think about through my busy day today :)

Hannah said...

Wonderful post! I believe Kate Walker gave similar advice in her 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance. Of course, she writes for Harlequin Presents, which is prime Alpha Hero territory. I have always been drawn to beta heros in both fiction and real life. However I haven't read many books with beta heros, so thanks for the recommendations in the post--I finally got A Lady of Persuasion from Amazon so will look forward to reading that soon! I also found an extensive list of books with beta heros at the All About Romance site.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Janga, I do love Alphas, but your post clarified for me just how much I like Betas, too. Like Irisheyes, it's the sense of humor that I find so appealling. That combined with the ability to give the floor to others make for a very attractive combination.

I'm married to a Beta, too. For my dh, it's all about the family, and doing the right thing.

MsHellion said...

Great post! And brilliantly presented...I love alphas, yes, but Colin Bridgerton is without a doubt one of my favorite heroes of all time, as is Harry from As You Desire. (That Egypt speech! Oh, my!)

LauraT said...

MsHellion... Oh.. Colin is one of my fav's, too. Great post Janga... I am dying even more now to read Tessa's books!! I might have to free up some of my weekend for a Tessa Dare marathon.

Katie Mack said...

I'm late to the game here, but I just want to add that I'm a beta-lover too! I enjoy alphas, but I enjoy betas equally as much, for all of the reasons you stated.

Probably my favorite beta hero is CL Sturgis from "Tell Me Lies" by Jennifer Crusie. He was also one of my personal picks for Top 10 heroes in AAR's poll, but alas didn't make the final count.

Janga said...

Tessa, I'm glad you didn't succeed in turning Toby into an alpha. :)
Jeremy and Gray are both wonderful heroes, but Toby--sigh!

Irish, I love Hartley Wade too. Lord Carew's Bride is my favorite Balogh. Balogh has a lot of betas; so does Carla Kelly. I know you share my love for Ruth Wind's Blue, who is a contemporary beta.

Hannah, is the Kate Walker you mentioned a book? I'm not familiar with it. I am familiar with AAR's Special Title Listings. They are a wonderful resource.

LauraT said...

Janga, I am wondering how we can convince you to blog more than once a week? ;).

Janga said...

Vanessa, I love alphas too--some of them, at least. I'm an all-of-the-above girl when it comes to heroes. But I think betas are undersppreciated. :)

Hellie, isn't that Egypt speech wonderful? It's hardly surprising that so many readers are wild about Brockway's Harry.

Laura, a Tessa Dare marathon sounds like a great idea. You have such a treat ahead.

Katie Mack, I agree CL Sturgis is great. Alex in Anyone But You is another Crusie beta I love. I spent so long trying to narrow my list that I missed the deadline on the mini-poll, but I was really disappointed that Harry Braxton didn't make it.

JulieJustJulie said...

What a great blog, Janga. I have to admit that I’m an Alpha Girl. At least I thought that I was an Alpha Girl. But after reading your blog I’m starting to wonder. Maybe I like Betas just as well. I think that I just never thought of them as Betas per say. In my head they weren’t Betas, they were Those Nice Guys. And really, what woman Wouldn’t want a nice guy?
Doesn’t my “I’m starting to wonder” reaction sound like the biggest aggravation of the Beta Boys existence? The woman love’s the Bata guy as much as the Alphas, but it takes her a while to realize it!
I too appreciate a Betas sense of humor. But it is their sense of Humility that I find most endearing.
One of my favorite Betas is Will Parker. The quiet drifter from LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory.

Hannah said...

Janga, the book I'm talking about is called Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. It seems to be much cheaper on Amazon UK, though of course you have to pay for shipping (that's where I ordered it, along with a DVD of The Seven Per-Cent solution, which is sadly unavailable in the US).