Monday, March 10, 2008

Alpha, Beta--who is he?

Author Kally Surbeck led an informal discussion on how to determine if a character (male or female) is an alpha, beta, theta, delta or omega. For some reason no one brought up gamma, and I forgot about that one during the class time, so it remains without definition.

First off, alpha does not = asshole. Beta does not = wimp.

An alpha person is someone who sees themselves in charge and the only person capable of leading. They do not accept input from others—their way is best. “I can do this myself. Get out of my way.”

Beta bases their actions on what is best for the community and always they put community needs before their own.

Omega holds special social standing, like a wise woman or medicine man. Outside of the leadership chain.

Delta is someone who does the job they are assigned, no questions asked, no thought input.

Theta is the class that is really an alpha in waiting; they make outstanding leaders yet they take the time to listen to advice from others before making decisions. A true theta will know when to step aside and let the alpha lead.

We classified movie characters to illustrate. It is worthy to note that individuals rarely stay as one subtype their entire lives—people shift with external and internal influences. That theta prince may grow up to be an alpha king. A delta can break out of their housing of orders and make decisions on their own.

Bill Pullman’s character from “While You Were Sleeping” is a classic beta: he knows what he wants, what his desire is, yet for the good of the family he refuses to step forward and steal his brother’s girl.

In Independence Day, Bill’s president is a theta—at every opportunity he takes action, flying with the fighter jets, etc. yet he takes time to weigh his decisions and listen to his advisors.

Will Smith’s fighter pilot is a classic alpha. He’s going to fly that ship to space. He’s going to kick ass. If he hadn’t returned to Earth, to his love interest, that would have been fine with him too—because he met his goal.

Mila Jovovich in Resident Evil is an alpha—she defers leadership only after she thinks it’s safe. As Joan of Arc in The Messenger she was a beta.

Delta examples: terminators, Rambo, the redshirts in Star Trek…they go do as they’re told. Interesting characterization of a delta comes from removing their structure—they must adapt and adjust.
A smart theta will protect himself by using deltas. An alpha wouldn’t think of that.

Omega—we have few examples of this but two are Mog-Ur from Clan of the Cave Bear and the witch-woman from 13th Warrior.

Going back to the idea that people are rarely static types, look at the series of Alien films with Sigourney Weaver. Ripley in the first movie was a delta. While saving Newt in Aliens, she was beta—her actions were guided by what was best for the child. #3, she was an alpha. And in #4, when Ripley was a so-many-times-cloned individual, she became omega. The character evolved with her situation.

Lord of the Rings, either books or films, broke down this way:

Gandalf is a theta in the books but comes across as omega in the films

Stryder/Aragorn is theta; he spends time thinking what is best for everyone else but he is a leader.

Boromir = alpha. Faramir = beta. He has tried to keep the family together, knew his brother was first in line but in his absence he stepped up to the plate for the good of the family and kingdom. Deferred to their father despite the man’s addled worldview.

Frodo = omega. The ringbearer.

Sam = true nature is theta but his role is delta. He refused the call of the ring and was vassal to Frodo out of love. He has grown and knows where he grew to.

Merry and Pippen: cross between omega and theta. They saw a lot of things on their journey that no one back home will understand or is willing to talk about. That puts them outside society.
Hope this is a help in “classifying” your heroes and heroines. As to what you do with that info, well, just remember people can change, even book characters.