Thursday, February 12, 2015

Author Thursday: Writing Mr. Nice Guy with Elizabeth Harmon

Today's Author Thursday guest is discussing my very favorite type of hero--the beta hero. (Heck yeah I bought a copy of her book! A beta figure skater? Yes, please.)


Writing Mr. Nice Guy
By Elizabeth Harmon

The Alpha hero. He’s the face of romance, and with Fifty Shades of Grey soon in theaters, he’s getting even more attention than usual. But are Christian Grey and his fraternity of billionaires, bikers, Navy SEALS, dukes and various other domineering, macho types the only heroes we swoon over?

Absolutely not, and I think it’s time to give a little love to my favorite hero to read and write, the Beta.

(Photo: Blue Man, courtesy David Hosford)
Too often, Mr. Nice Guy is stereotyped as wimpy, average…and worst of all, boring. A few (admittedly dated) romance writing guides consider him persona non grata. Which is too bad, because there’s plenty to love about a nice-guy hero.

However, writing them can be a challenge. Nice can easily become too perfect or bland. And since fiction is built on conflict and the Beta hero by nature is a low conflict guy, how do we keep our story moving forward?
  • By making our hero multi-faceted, believable and yes, flawed.
  • By looking beyond the classic love/hate dynamic for conflict.
Let’s start with defining our Nice Guy hero. One of the best descriptions I’ve found is the Best Friend hero archetype in The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines. The Best Friend is a kind-hearted team player who brings out the best in others. He is confident, emotionally mature, and supportive.

Anton Belikov, the Russian figure skater hero of my debut release, Pairing Off certainly fits this description. When he’s partnered with Carrie, an American skater who has been hurt personally and professionally, he quickly realizes that to regain her confidence on the ice, she needs a friend and ally. He does small things for her, like teaching her how to use the Moscow subway, and big things, like confronting a coach who bullies her. His humor and kindness help Carrie find courage to leave behind her painful past.

Growing up in a close-knit family, rocked by his mother’s terminal illness, taught Anton to put others’ needs ahead of his own, which brings us to another important component of the Beta hero—a compelling, believable background.

What life experiences made him who he is? Perhaps he was the good son, to make up for a rebellious sibling. Did his parents’ unhappy marriage, or illness, force him to become a caregiver or a peacemaker? Was he the super-responsible older sibling, the eager to please middle, or the adored baby brother? Was he, or maybe a sibling, bullied? On the other hand, was he the kid everybody liked?

Flaws are essential to multi-faceted characters and the Beta hero is no exception. To find his flaws, start with the flipside of some of his good qualities. Does being the good, responsible son frustrate him or keep him from pursuing his dreams? Does he get tired of cleaning up others’ messy lives? Perhaps his easy-going nature makes him complacent. These are all great sources of internal conflict. And speaking of conflict, in a story with a Nice Guy hero, it tends to play out as tension or a problem to be solved, rather than a direct clash, which keeps the heroine and hero fighting on every page.

Anton and Carrie have a shared goal—Olympic gold—and must work together to attain it. The story’s conflict comes from external forces (a rival pair, Carrie’s family, a ticking clock) and internal forces (Carrie’s struggle to trust and let go of the past). Nice Guy Anton has some internal issues too, but the real focus of the book is Carrie. Beta heroes work great when it’s the heroine who grows and changes most.

Have you tried writing a Beta hero? What do you like best about Mr. Nice Guy?
Contemporary romance author Elizabeth Harmon loves stories with humor, heat and heart…and sexy beta heroes. Her debut novel “Pairing Off” is published by Carina Press and is the first book in the series “Red Hot Russians.” Visit her online at


Tory Ferrera said...

Elizabeth, loving beta heroes, I was already in your corner, but your argued the point so cogently I'm convinced all over!

I have written a beta hero that I continue to love (though he's unpublished, alas). His honorable nature and his maturity are, to me, pretty irresistible. Of course, he's also got lovely broad shoulders and a nice smile...

Many top authors write beta heroes. Here are some favorites of mine - books I return to again and again because the men are what I call "quiet everyday heroes":

Mary Balogh's Secret Pearl (Adam, Duke of Ridgeway), Joanna Bourne's The Forbidden Rose (William Doyle), Grace Burrowes's Ethan (Ethan Grey) and Darius (Darius Lindsay), Liz Carlyle's Beauty Like the Night (Camden Rutledge), and Kristin Higgans' Next Best Thing (Ethan Mirabelli).

Elizabeth Harmon said...

Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes are on my TBR list for this year. Thanks for the recommendations. I'll try them.

Robyn Bachar said...

I second Mary Balogh. Nora Roberts does good betas too. Carter in "Vision in White" comes to mind.

Elizabeth Harmon said...

I read that one! Carter...mmm ;)