Mailvox: writing sociosexuality

Stan Hai isn’t sure how to go about doing it:

How can I write blue-shirt SF if I’m barely a Delta myself? Writing Alpha characters always turns out unrealistic for me, because I don’t know what I’m talking about. I finally quit writing Gamma & Omega characters, but when it comes to a hero, I’ve got three choices: Superman/James Bond/Neo (i.e. Alpha Mary Sues who never lose), Beta who’s competent in one thing (which I can’t write about because that’s not me) and Gamma Special (whom everyone is sick of.) The thing I’m working now is about a Gamma who becomes a Delta. He’s offered Special Power, and rejects it. Thoughts?

Stan has already taken the first step, which is to understand that sociosexuality exists and that it affects how people think, act, and react. Rather like the process of learning a language, he finally is beginning to understand how much he doesn’t know. This is true for EVERY man, of every rank.  Women, unsurprisingly, tend to do a better job of writing two very different types of male characters, Alpha and Delta. They even occasionally delve into a very extreme form of smothering Gamma when they want to creep their female readers out.

It is harder for men to differentiate between the different male classes as we tend to gravitate towards writing our own perspective large on all the male characters. The one thing Louis L’Amour and Neal Stephenson have in common is that they both base all the male protagonists on their own sociosexuality. They are both significant authors, but L’Amour’s protagonists are all Alphas, brimming with self-confidence, laconic, proactive, and utterly certain of female interest in them, which is not at all surprising if you know his life story. Stephenson’s are all Gammas, insecure, diffident, reactive, and forever bewildered as to why the woman with whom they are involved has any interest in them at all.

In this, Stephenson is all-too-typical of modern male SF writers. And as Hai implies, when the average Pink SF writer tries to address sociosexuality, even unconsciously, he makes a hash of it. Patrick Rothfuss’s Kvothe is probably the best example, as it is hard to imagine a better, or more hilariously mistaken, Alpha-through-a-Gamma’s eyes ever being written.

The way to do it is to first understand your own social rank and grasp that you should use it for characters of that social rank. Second, seek to understand the perspective of the others. The recent series on Gamma, which features current and ex-Gammas talking about their feelings and thought processes, has been INVALUABLE to me as a writer. I now have a much better understanding of what makes them tick; had I tried to write a Gamma protagonist before this I would have likely failed almost as spectacularly as Rothfuss fails with his Alpha. I had no idea, none, that the key to writing Gamma is a man at the bottom of the totem pole who knows he should, by rights, be at the top because Special.

However, keep in mind that you may, instead, wish to flatter various socio-sexual ranks rather than describe them. Gammas like Stephenson and Scalzi do a good job of appealing to Gammas because what appeals to them naturally appeals to other Gammas. But if a sociosexual-aware writer were to focus on flattering the various social ranks, he might have even more success.

  • Alpha. The protagonist is in charge. He seeks out, takes on, and conquers various challenges, many of whom are other Alphas. He also defeats the occasional Gamma who tries to stab him in the back. Deltas follow him gladly. Hmmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it, Mr. Howard?
  • Beta. The good lieutenant is given great responsibility by his Alpha. Loyally serves the Alpha and accompanies him through thick and thin. At times, his loyalty is tested, the enemy even tries to tempt him into betraying his Alpha by offering him a crown of his own, but he resists, he perseveres, and his Alpha is triumphant in the end, at which point he publicly credits the Beta and tells everyone how he could never have done it without the Beta.
  • Delta. He’s just a guy, like any other guy. Larger events swirl around him, but the Delta gradually finds his place in the team, which comes to respect each other and learns how to work together as a unit. His side wins after much turmoil and suffering, although he doesn’t have much to do with that. But he knows he did his part and has the satisfaction of knowing he has the respect and approval of the others. His captain tells him that he was the glue who held it all together. He gets a medal and wins the love of a good woman in the end. They have nice healthy children and make a nice modest home together.
  • Gamma. No one knows how special he is. The Alphas unfairly rule and keep him down by trickery. Even the girl he loves in a way no woman has ever been loved before doesn’t realize how special he is or how happy he would make her if only she would let him. Bad people treat him badly and unfairly. But through his clever wit, the Gamma makes fools of everyone through always having the perfect thing to say, culminating when he totally humiliates the Alpha and reveals him to be an unworthy paper tiger in a brilliant verbal exchange front of everyone, including the girl. The Gamma is finally recognized as the true First Man in Rome by everyone as the girl shyly confesses that she has always seen and admired his specialness. He calls her “milady” and roguishly offers her his arm as everyone looks on enviously and applauds the smoothness of his style.
  • Omega. REVENGE.
  • Sigma. He is dragged from his solitary sanctuary by the desperate need of friends he hasn’t seen in years, but whom he can hardly deny. Conflict abounds, mostly between posturing idiots concerning nonsensical trivialities that no one with more than half a brain could ever possibly care about. The Sigma contemptuously dispatches three foes in succession, one by utilizing superior logic, one by seducing her, and one by physical combat, before finally ending all the conflict with a brilliant masterstroke that convinces the blithering idiots to knock it off once and for all. Everyone agrees that the ultimate solution is for the Sigma to marry the beautiful princess and be crowned king. On the day of the wedding, it is discovered that the Sigma has vanished, as have two of the prettiest and most morally flexible ladies-in-waiting. A note is found rejecting both princess and crown, and inviting everyone in the realm to either fuck off or die, as they please.
  • Lambda. He always knew he was different. He exchanging longing looks with another boy once, but nothing happened. Mean boys called him names and beat him up for being too sensitive. Then he went to the big city. There he discovered discos and bathhouses and true love. Then his true love died of AIDS/was gay-bashed to death. So he went back to the discos and bathhouses and did too many drugs until meeting a rich, successful, and previously straight Alpha who is won over by his sob story of his tragic true love and helps him kick his drug habit. He and the formerly straight Alpha travel to Mexico where they pick up a pair of hot Latin twins at a gay strip club.

Which of those seven stories deeply appeals to you? Which of these fit the plots, protagonists and perspectives of books you know? See if you can identify a popular book or series that fits each of these sociosexual themes. Understand where you fit, then work to apply these basic filters in the way you describe your characters, and you will produce works that are more psychologically real to your readers, because you are reflecting the real psychological world back to them.