As I’ve gotten into writing paranormal romance, the subject of the alpha male hero has come up a lot. However, as I also write fantasy, I’ve started exploring other types of heroes as well.
The challenge with the alpha male is that, while he may work well in romance, a genre specifically geared toward fulfilling the female fantasy of an idealized male, he doesn’t work quite the same in other genres. Certainly, he exists in other genres, differing aspects of his alphaness emphasized or perhaps his flaws more distinctly highlighted. However, I find that, in addition to the alpha male, there’s a type of hero less discussed but, in my opinion, more admirable and interesting. For lack of a better term, the delta male. (Thanks to my husband for coming up with the name delta male.)
The delta male does not have to be the alpha, but by no means is he a beta, omega, or any other sort of subservient. He is, if nothing else, his own man no matter what life, authorities, or anyone else says.
Characteristics of the delta male include:
Independence: As I said, he is his own man. He may not know or fully understand himself consciously, but deep down where it counts, he has a solid core that will not be shaken or reshaped by those around him. He knows what is right, and if he isn’t certain, you can be sure he’ll figure it out. For his own principles, whether it requires defying authority or following a good and noble leader, he will not veer from his course. He defines himself.
Self-Controlled: He can be passionate, terrified, uncertain, or any other strong, consuming emotion, but he does not allow it or others to determine his actions or his fate. If he cannot control anything else in the world, he can and will at least control himself.
Sense of Humor: The delta male needs wit. It’s part of how he survives, and it’s often dry or acerbic. He can’t take himself too seriously, or he uses his humor to keep himself from getting crushed by circumstances and life. Whether dark humor underpins his outlook or sarcasm slips off his tongue, it’s a coping mechanism and one that is often highly entertaining to read.
Respects Others, Especially Women: Unlike an alpha male who generally gives respect to very few, only to one woman, or not at all, the delta male usually has a natural respect for women and others that often causes him difficulties. He’s the guy accused of old fashioned manners, not because he thinks he’s better, but because he was taught to respect women and that they deserve special attention. He’s also the guy who has to remind himself that, just because the bad guy is a girl, does not mean he’s not allowed to deservedly punch her.
Not Necessarily Dominant, but No Pushover Either: The delta male is happy to let someone else lead. In fact, sometimes he’s much more comfortable following as long as the man he pledges his service to deserves it. On the other hand, he won’t be pushed around. He will stand up for what’s right before he’ll follow a bad order, and woe to the man, king, or commander that offends the delta male’s sensibilities of right and wrong. This is the sort of hero who starts rebellions and revolutions. He’s also the sort who will die for king and country out of loyalty and love. He is the greatest of faithful servants and a tyrant’s worst nightmare.
Honor Before Reason: Doing right is more important to him than doing what makes the most sense or is the most effective or easy. His honor is everything. It defines his very soul. He will only mar or sacrifice it at extreme need or for an even greater honor, and when he does, oh, it’s humbling and moving and epic.
Heart of Gold: To go along with his honor, the delta male deeply cares. He may not want to. Life would certainly be easier if he didn’t. He might even pretend like he doesn’t, but he cannot escape his inner drive to do good and his genuine concern for others. It’s why he so frequently sacrifices himself, even if he grumbles about having to do it.
Self-Doubt: Because he is inherently good and so often at odds with everyone else, his true friend few, his opponents numerous, his mistakes impactful, and his honor essential, he is prone to self-analysis and thus to doubt. Is this really the right choice? Is he really doing the right thing? What will the cost of this or that be? Is it really worth it to hurt this much? But no matter how he doubts, he always pulls through in the end.
Vulnerable: The delta male does not like to admit that he is vulnerable. In fact, his most noble and heroic traits are often his weaknesses. His honor can put him into more difficult situations or stack the odds against him far more than they need to be. His heart of gold is often wounded; though, he will never let on. HIs ideals are admirable but do not sync with the world, and so he is often at odds with life and often alone or vastly outnumbered. And all of these allow his opponents to manipulate him, or at least they try. As a result of all this, the delta male’s acerbic humor usually emerges.
Balls, Brains, and Chutzpah: These are how the delta male gets through all the troubles which his vulnerabilities, nobleness, honor, and so forth get him into. He is not the strongest, fastest, best. He does not have ultimate authority or power. He is flawed and usually the underdog, so he presses on and uses his wits and his guts to get him past the toughest obstacles.
Will/The Determinator: He never gives up. You can take and destroy all he loves, challenge his principles, prove him foolish or insanely outmatched. You can turn the whole world against him and beat him to death and back, but he will crawl back to his feet, look you in the eye, and suffer it all again until somehow he achieves his goal. He reaches victory by deciding it will happen no matter the cost. The world moves because he decides it will. The price may be his very soul, but he will keep paying until it is done. You can kill him, but you cannot defeat him.
Some examples of delta males:
Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Worf from Star Trek
Maximus Decimus Meridius from Gladiator
Jean Valjean and Inspecter Javert from Les Miserables
Boxer the horse from Animal Farm by George Orwell
Eddard Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Jason Bourne from The Bourne Series
As I researched for this post, I found a couple great posts on alpha males that you might enjoy.
What do you think? What other examples can you think of for delta males?