Updated: Jan 29, 2021
In both reading and writing, I ADORE every Beta Male lead I come across. My tastes can be summarized as a guy who says, "Yeah, I'm cool, but you should see my girlfriend."
So how can YOU create that lovable, engaging, addictive, all-around-sweet character?
I'm going to be describing Beta Male characters who are healthy and happy—not sullen, mean, bitter about not being "the boss," or treated as lesser by their partners. Ain't nobody got time for that.
For the romantic aspects, I use examples of Beta Male characters in the context of a male-female relationship, but this info absolutely applies to male-male or polyamorous relationships.
This topic is Beta Male as in personality, not a furry or A/B/O dynamic. That is an entiiiirely different discussion.
At the end of this post, I'm also gonna include a list of some of my fave books and movies that include Beta Males. You're welcome.
Important facets in creating a great Beta Male lead
How he interacts with his partner
How he interacts with other people in general
Typical jobs or group positions
What to AVOID
The two brands of Beta Male™
Beta Male characters are, by definition, big ol' softies.
Within this umbrella term, they all pretty much fall into one of two categories:
Look sweet, act sweet (a marshmallow!)
Look mean, act sweet (a...burnt marshmallow)
Note that the distinction is purely surface-level. Spend 5 minutes with even the burnt-est of marshmallows, and their nature becomes clear.
How your Beta Male lead interacts with his partner
One quick and easy way to identify a Beta Male? Watch how he interacts with his partner.
He acts as his partner's support or second-in-command. He'll let her call the shots and take the initiative/next steps.
To be clear: This is NOT the same as consent, which is ALWAYS right and necessary, no matter the personality type. Consent is irrelevant to whether or not your character is a Beta Male. We're talking about general leadership here.
In this case, your Beta Male feels more confident and comfortable when his partner CONSISTENTLY takes the lead. His perspective on his partner's plans: "Whatever you want to do is what we'll do, and it'll be perfect. You're so wonderful."
Also, he probably looks at her with heart eyes all the time.
In Miraculous Ladybug, Marinette/Ladybug heads up the strategy, is physically stronger, and does the actual akuma-slaying. She runs the show (lol).
Adrien/Chat Noir is strong and smart, and she needs him as a partner, but in general he defers to her.
In the Lunar Chronicles, Wolf follows Scarlet around like a giant, genetically enhanced puppy. She calls the shots, 100%.
Does he look like he could kill you? Yes. Has he actually killed people? Yes. Is he going to take one (1) step out of line without checking with her first? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Does your Beta Male ever push back against his partner?
A Beta Male and his partner are equals. She values his ideas and respects him. However, she generally takes the lead.
He's really only likely to push back against her if she's going to hurt herself or others. Or if she just has a stupendously terrible idea. Which also happens.
How does your Beta Male interact with his partner in bed?
Hon hon hon hon hon hon hon.
Given their preference of following and serving, Beta Males tend to be bottoms or service tops (sub tops? whatever they're called).
Hence, their partners are generally tops or power bottoms.
Your Beta Male will probs spend a lot of time on his knees (ohohoho!).
The exception to this: if his partner takes the lead by being on her knees and having her wicked way with him.
Untz. Untz. Untz.
How your Beta Male interacts with people in general
The very first impression depends on your character's Beta Brand.
A full-on Marshmallow will be gentler with everyone upfront and visibly nonthreatening.
A Burnt Marshmallow might come across as more intimidating, maybe not as open. Still, talk to him for 5 minutes, and he'll probably end up gushing about his wife and kids. A big softie.
A happy, healthy Beta is rarely mean to anyone, unless something major sets him off. (Like when Raleigh throws down in Pacific Rim because someone insults his mate Mako.)
If your Beta Male teases someone, it'll be playful (not vindictive).
Keep sarcasm to a minimum, if there's any at all—it's the sour end of the humor spectrum, and Betas tend to be sweet by nature.
Jobs and group positions your Beta Male prefers
Rather than taking a top-tier leadership position, Beta Males tend to be followers or support to the top leaders.
Not to say that they can't lead. It's just not generally their first inclination or ideal position.
Let's say you've got a stack of characters, and they're all working at some big company.
An alpha-personality character will snatch up that CEO or President position.
Meanwhile, a beta-personality character will more likely become VP, where they can do a lot of good without everything resting on their shoulders.
In casual group events, too, they're less likely to take control of the whole thing, unless there's no one else available to do so.
Is your Beta Male a leader in certain situations?
There's a key exception to this support-to-the-leaders guideline.
Your Beta Male may be a fantastic leader in niche situations or certain contexts.
Aaaand guess who my example is? My favorite literary beta male ever, Wolf from the Lunar Chronicles.
Wolf... my dear, sweet Wolf. Son of my heart.
He's the alpha of his pack of super-soldiers. He's the top rank, they all answer to him, he literally murders people bc he's so scary, etc.
This is THE ONLY CONTEXT in which Wolf takes a leadership role. God bless 'im.
The SECOND Scarlet shows up on the page, she is breaking shit, kicking ass, and taking names. Meanwhile, Wolf trails along behind her, love-struck and terrifying.
I love him so much. Almost as much as I love her. Swoon.
My point: Wolf is a quintessential beta when his mate enters the picture. But when it comes to his pack of genetically modified super-soldiers from the moon (which makes more sense in context, I promise)—he takes up that leadership role.
Your Beta Male's physical appearance
Your Beta Male can be short and soft, or big and buff, or anywhere in between. All Beta Male sizes and shapes are valid!
This brings us back to the Marshmallow/Burnt Marshmallow dichotomy.
For a visibly soft-and-sweet Beta Male, you may want to give him softer edges, both literally and figuratively. (Not a requirement! But something to consider.)
For a Beta Male that looks intimidating, you might give him extra height and bulk. Maybe tattoos too. And then show him playing peek-a-boo with a local infant.
Personally, I love love LOVE the "giant cinnamon bun" contrast. Give me that any day of the week.
Hashtag gentle giant.
Your Beta Male's personal style
The fact that your guy is a Beta Male doesn't necessarily have an effect on his style choices.
Burnt Marshmallows might gravitate towards a more "serious" look:
A lot of Marshmallow Beta Male characters tend toward a "softer" look:
Those trends are, as far as I can tell, basically just socialized gender roles. You are NOT obligated to follow them.
Dress your Beta Male however the hell ya want.
What to avoid when writing your Beta Male lead
This guy is a delightful li'l baby. Treat him well!
A true, healthy Beta Male lead isn't sullen about "not being the boss." He has embraced this part of his personality.
A Beta Male in a healthy relationship doesn't feel neglected or unappreciated. His partner respects him, listens to him, and values him.
A Beta Male isn't a slave. He isn't beneath anyone.
And as much as he might trail after his partner lovingly, he isn't a blind follower. A healthy Beta Male will call other people on their shit when necessary.
Recap of how to write a lovable Beta Male lead
As you craft your Beta Male lead, consider these aspects of his character:
How he interacts with his partner
How he interacts with other people in general
His jobs or positions in groups
His physical appearance
His personal style
And be sure to avoid the To-Don'ts by having him embrace this part of his personality, by pairing him with someone who values him, and by treating him as equal to the other characters,
Now go forth and create your marshmallow.
I believe in you!
References (i.e., stuff to add to your to-read and to-watch lists)
Because sharing is caring.
Books I love that feature a beta-male romantic lead:
Wolf (and arguably the entire male cast) in Scarlet/the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (Scarlet on Goodreads)
Max in Falling for Max by Shannon Stacey (Goodreads)
Trevor in Geek Girl by Cindy C Bennett (Goodreads)
Alec in A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean (Goodreads)
Marcus in The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior by Megan Frampton (Goodreads)
pretty much all of my own male leads lol
Movies and TV shows I love that feature a beta-male romantic lead:
Raleigh Becket in Pacific Rim
Adrien Agreste/Chat Noir in Miraculous Ladybug
Hercules in Disney's Hercules
Wayne Rigsby in The Mentalist
Dr. Doppler in Disney's Treasure Planet (okay, yes, it's a subplot. Let me have this)