WHAT MAKES A HERO? by Renee Ryan

It’s always a joy whenever I’m asked to guest blog here at Petticoats and Pistols. It’s always an honor to hang-out with the fillies.  After all, I love Western Romances.  I especially love Historical Western Romances, hence the reason I write them. 

So, um, if I love westerns so much why is my September release, DANGEROUS ALLIES, set in 1939 Nazi Germany?  Let’s face it.  There weren’t a lot of cowboys roaming the German landscape in 1939.  I’d venture to say there weren’t any cowboys roaming around over there at that time.

It’s a long story of how I ended up setting my novel in WWII, one I’ll leave for another day.  Suffice it say, DANGEROUS ALLIES is a romantic spy thriller.  The hero is an American naval officer on loan to the British government.  MI6 (the British equivalent of today’s CIA) sends him into Germany to photograph the blueprints of a Nazi secret weapon.  The heroine is an exiled Russian princess and also the hero’s contact inside Germany.  As you can see, not a cowboy in sight.

But that doesn’t mean my hero, Jack, isn’t as sexy as any cowboy.  In fact, I think Jack has a lot in common with my other heroes.  Primarily because he’s an alpha hero. 

So what makes a hero an alpha?  More specifically, what makes an alpha hero appealing, whether he’s riding across the American west on a horse or doing his part to defeat the Nazis?

Here’s my very unscientific list of character traits that make an alpha hero. 

  1. He has integrity.  Seems straightforward, right?  Not so much.  Male integrity requires a strong sense of right and wrong deep within a man.  He has to know who he is at the core.  His yes should always mean yes, and his no should always mean no.  An alpha male will always do the right thing, even if that means losing something valuable to him.  He commits without compromising.  Most important of all, he doesn’t intentionally hurt people to get what he wants.  Rather, he refuses to make decisions that will have long-reaching, negative consequences to others.
  2. He respects others people’s boundaries.  Piggy-backing on my definition of integrity, a true alpha male respects others’ boundaries.  He doesn’t force himself on others, especially not on women.  He doesn’t insist people bend to his will just because it’s “his way or the highway.”  He takes people’s word at face value.  It’s not his place to read minds.  This doesn’t mean there aren’t times when he knows best.  But only in extreme moments of danger will he go against another’s wishes, which brings me to number three.
  3.  He protects those weaker than himself.  In the case of protecting his loved ones and those weaker than himself, an alpha does what needs to be done.  Immediately.  No hesitation, no discussion.  In times of danger, all bets are off.  When another’s safety is the only factor at play he steps up.  In other words, an alpha male protects his own, to the death if necessary.  No one is getting past him.  Not even the person he is protecting.    
  4. He likes women.  Again, this is another area that seems straightforward but isn’t.  An alpha male doesn’t just lust after women.  He truly likes them.  He enjoys their company.  He revels in their differences from himself, the sort of things that make females essentially female.  He finds a woman’s femininity fascinating and alluring.  He is charmed by her lilting voice and soft skin.  He even gets a kick out of her shifting moods (most of the time).  He recognizes that a successful man has a good woman walking beside him.  And once he commits to that woman he stays committed.    


So, there you have it, my list of alpha male characteristics.  Thoughts?  Additions?  Come on, fillies and guests, let’s talk men.  🙂


Oh, and I’d like to give away a copy of DANGEROUS ALLIES, my next release, to three of today’s commenters.  As a bonus, I’ll toss in my Love Inspired contemporary, HOMECOMING HERO, to each winner.  Both releases feature alpha males (unusual for Inspirationals).


Renee Ryan writes for Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Historical and Love Inspired line.  Her fabulous editor is Melissa Endlich.  For more information, visit Renee at renee@reneeryan.com

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33 thoughts on “WHAT MAKES A HERO? by Renee Ryan”

  1. Wow! I think I like an Alpha Male! Need to get my hands on these books! I also think that perhaps I am married to an alpha male, though I am sure he would not see himself in these descriptions.

  2. Thank you so much for your post today. I always learn so much here at Petticoats & Pistols.

    I always knew my husband was an alpha male. 🙂 but if you were to tell him that he’d deny it. I love that in him too…he’s very humble.

    I pray everyone visiting today has a blessed day.

  3. I have read both Renee’s books and I have to tell you that she writes a great alpha male, great, plot great everything. Sigh.

    I really love your list, Renee, because I think it fleshes out those alphas in a way that is beyond the normal stereotype.

    Again, folks, get these books. Renee writes em the way she has described em.

    Peace, Julie

  4. hi renee!
    sounds like your newest book is an exciting new twist–i bet it was fun to write something so totally different!

    alpha males…. insert sigh here (with dreamy look in my eyes)….
    i love a man who knows himself
    who’s honest and respectful and strong and makes you feel safe–who’s comfortable with who he is

    working in dog rescue there are a lot of dogs people would call alpha–but some are just dominant…the special ones are true alphas…who don’t have to prove anything, they just are (though they can sure back it up)–and through being strong steady leaders they gain the undying devotion of those underneath of them
    dogs and men…so much alike 🙂

    anyhow–i seem to be rambling a bit with diconnected tangents
    thanks for coming by and for the generous give away today!

  5. He’s caring. He’ll put himself out there to help others with no thought of reward.

    He respects men, woman and animals!

    He follows the golden rule.

    He values life BUT will do what he has to do to correct wrongs and to protect innocent people.

    He’s strong mentally and physically. He will show emotion and allow himself to love.

  6. Hi all,

    I’m leaving the hotel in a few minutes…today is move-in day for my daughter’s first year at college. But I’ll be checking in randomly throughout today…might be later, though.

    Anyway, GOOD MORNING.

    Connie and Cindy, I think a lot of the stereotype we have for the Alpha Male (in fiction) is a bit off. There’s a huge, huge difference between an alpha and a jerk. Many women miss that.

    Julie, THANK YOU for your kind words. I do love my alphas…not sure I could write any other man. Mainly because an alpha starts with integrity. I’m married to that kind of man.

    Oh, Tabitha, YES, you nailed it. There is a huge difference between an alpha and a bully. I’ve learned a lot about this through my brother who trains dogs for field trials.

    Laurie, EXCELLENT additions to the list.

    Okay, off to shower…


  7. I am a huge Renee Ryan fan since bringing home ‘Loving Bella’ from Nationals and have started reading the backlist of Love Inspired Historicals. May I suggest ‘Hannah’s Bride’ if you want another wonderful alpha male, or ‘Heartland Wedding’. Although I hadn’t considered Pete from ‘Heartland Wedding’ an alpha hero, he certainly does have integrity and respects boundaries. He is a man of honor, and fits that honor into every part of his life, which I think most alpha males do.

    I’m so surprised and pleased to see a time like the 1930’s in your release. Although I love westerns and Regency work, it’s great to see variety from publishers.

    I like Tabitha’s distinction between dominance and alpha behavior.

  8. Hi Renee – LOVE your list of Alpha male characteristics. Those traits make for THE best kind of hero, bar none.

    Oh and good luck with sending your baby out into the world (of college life) – it can be very emotional/traumatic for both mother and daughter – believe me I know.

  9. Good luck to your daughter during her firsy year at college. I enjoy an alpha hero at least on paper as well.

  10. Okay, taking a break from the heat…my daughter’s dorm isn’t air conditioned. HA. She is getting her first introduction to “real” life. We’re running up to Walmart for MORE last minute things we missed. It’s like a wedding, always something else to get. 😉


    Gillian, THANK YOU for your kind words. I’m so pleased to know my stories resonate. I’m truly blessed to write characters so close to my heart. People ask me where I get my ideas. All i can say…I’m just the quill.

    Hi Goldie,

    Dangerous Allies is definitely a war story…but no battlefields. It’s what I would call a “girl” war story. Well…if there is such a thing.


  11. Winnie,

    So glad to see you this morning. Waving from Kentucky.

    Anon…so far, the move is going well.

    Okay, at Walmart. Time to get back to work. 😉


  12. Renee, welcome back to P&P! We always love it when you come. And what a great subject. I love alpha heroes. The heroes in all my stories have been alphas. There’s something so touching in strong silent men. I think I’d add one thing to your list. The alpha has to have a soft spot for animals and children.

    Enjoy your day!

  13. Renee, glad to have you back in the Junction! I’m definitely married to an Alpha–the man has the gift of leadership wrapped in a package of respect and tied up with a bow of “awwww.” (Can you tell I’m crazy about him?!)

    Tabitha, I think your description is perfect. There are lots of dominant males who will willingly follow a true alpha.

  14. Hi Renee, wow you alpha hero sounds like my kind of man, send him my way! I am intrugued by your new book. I love me some cowboys but I think I could really go for this book. Thanks for sharing your alpha’s with us today!

  15. Your September release has my attention! I am all for a romantic spy thriller… sounds like a great read! Enjoyed your post!!! 😀

  16. Hi Renee, Who doesn’t like an Alpha Male. it seems that they show up in all ANIMALS. Humans, dogs, horses, etc.
    You’re WWII story sounds very interesting.
    Give your daughter my best. Been there, done that with my daughter.

  17. Hello, Renee! Very intriguing story line for “Dangerous Allies”! The “Alpha” male is the dominant leader of the pack. They have qualities and strengths which make them “number one”! Along with all that greatness can come arrogance, a “my way is the only way” attitude, and a sometimes ornery personality. However, their fierce devotion to their loved ones, their loyalty and their innate honor all go together quite nicely to smooth the rough edges. Not too smooth, though…leave some of that masculine allure…a little beard stubble to tickle your skin : ) I love big, gruff, tough men who have even bigger hearts and an inner core of compassion. I also appreciate intelligence and humor, but kindness is the essential quality. Vulnerability is sometimes the key to an alpha male. What he may consider to be his weakness is actually the inner force which makes him an alpha.

    A man who takes care of his family with his wealth is a provider. A hero is a man who takes care of his family in all circumstances, especially when wealth is unavailable or unattainable. A man with a compassionate heart, strong principles, honor and humor will always be heroic to those who love him. Money cannot buy those qualities.

  18. (Heaving a romantic sigh…) I love me an Alpha Male. I think it goes back to the fact that I just love the stories where the hero saves/protects and honors the heroine. Soooo romantic. I have never read a novel set in Nazi Germany…Sounds really fascinating! I hope we get to hear the story of why you chose that time and setting in a future posting!

  19. Hi Renee, always so good to have you here in Wildflower Junction. Hop-hp hooray on the new books. One of my favorite books ever is Follett’s Eye of the Needle…actually the hero is a girl LOL but I love the WW2 setting, so I know I’m gonna love this.

    I love alpha males who once in a while show a softer side. Loved your breakdown of characteristics.

    Good luck to your daughter! Those college days are good ones for parents, too.

  20. Hi Renee! Thanks for visiting P&P today, especially with all you’ve got going on. The humidity is just awful today . . . at least Walmart has a/c! Great list for Alpha Heroes . . . am looking forward to reading your book!

  21. Renee,
    love your list for Alpha heroes. And I certainly agree with comments that alpha doesn’t mean bully or jerk.

    And I, for one, do get tired of the ‘tortured’ alpha male. Yeah, we’ve all got some baggage that tortures us. But a hero doesn’t have to be all wrapped up in that part of himself–making him so dark and dangerous.

    Of course, I do love me some beta heroes as well. 🙂 Guess that means I just love the heroes!

  22. I have to admit, I’m drawn to the alpha male stories. Although Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Nerd series was great and they weren’t alpha’s. I think I’ll enjoy your romantic spy thriller, I’m a big James Bond fan and am loving the new Covert Operations on USA network this season.

  23. PHEW! It’s been a long, exhausting day. I wish I would have been better at answering all the posts. I’m so glad to hear all the positive comments about alpha heroes.

    Stephanie (and anyone else interested) I’m going to be explaining why I went with the WWII setting on a blog post at eHarlequin on September 1st. It’s a long story. I also will be going into detail on Cheryl St. John’s blog. Cheryl, do you have a date for that?

    lizzie, I’m with you…a hero is a hero is a hero. 😉

    Oh, yes, Linda. Vicki Lewis Thompson’s Nerd heroes were great. I had a chance to eat dinner with her in Orlando and I made sure I thanked her for showing another side to heroes. Funny, though, when I think about it…her “nerd” heroes always ended up tapping into their “alpha” side to save the day. Hmmm…brings up a whole ‘nother discussion, huh? Can a Beta hero be an Alpha at times??? Or is there something like a Beta hero with an Alpha heart or an Alpha hero with a Beta heart? What’s the difference. Ugh, makes my fried brain really fried. 😉


  24. My brain is cooked. Think I’ll call it a night. I’ll try to check in again a few times tomorrow from the road. Ten hours through the mountains to get home. EEK!!!


  25. He likes women – that’s a plus! It seems like a different combination than usual and, thus, very interesting. 10 hours is a long trek!

  26. Honor is a major characteristic for me. Closely related to integrity, it is something he hold himself to.

    A sense of humor is a must. A dry wit is especially appreciated. It doesn’t diminish his stature, it reminds us and him that he is human after all.

    A tender spot for children. We know he will defend them with his life, but he needs to be able to extend a gentle hand to those who are frightened or hurt. Make them know he is there for them no matter what.

    I see the Beta heroes as sort of an Alpha’s sidekick. All the same important characteristics, but content to step back and support rather than lead. However, since he has those important characteristics, he can step up when needed and be as alpha as needed.

    A good hero is a good hero, whether he is in cowboy boots and a stetson or in a uniform.

    Best of luck with the release of DANGEROUS ALLIES.

  27. Thoughts, you ask? You just described my husband. I’m one lucky pup.
    Thanks for sharing (but I’m not sharing my husband, LOL!).

  28. Hi, I’m late… a trip into the city always takes a day. I glanced at this post before I left but hubby was calling and I didn’t have time to comment.

    Renee, I’ve enjoyed each book of yours so far and I think it’ll be interesting to see how you’ve developed your hero in this one.

    I love those pics. Can you share where you got them?

    Hoping for all the best with this release.

  29. Okay, heading out this morning. Will check in later today.

    Catslady, glad you like the list. 😉

    Patricia, YES, a sense of honor is closely related to integrity. I don’t think one can exist without the other. Great point about the Beta as an alpha’s sidekick. NICE

    Oooo, Laney, you are one lucky lady.

    Anita Mae! First off, so good to finally meet you face to face in Orlando. Hope you had a good time. As far as the pics. I went to Google images and entered cowboy. LOTS of great pictures there. 😉

    All right, off I go……….


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