One key thing about romances and westerns, well sci fi too, is they are built around archetypes more than what might be found in say literary fiction. In short, the hero represents more than a hero. Joseph Campbell and his Hero's Journey is really speaking to the archetype of all great mythology. While a more literary work might wander around, a romance will have a form behind it, and it's not impossible to find what it is for someone who is interested in such.
Now, as much as i think I have read most of what is out there on writing, I come across something that's been around and I had missed-- the gamma hero. I knew there were alpha and beta heroes. But gamma heroes? I'd never heard of them, but the following article is from 1997.
To be honest, I hadn't actually thought of my heroes in those terms. I do think of the hero's journey with each book, the gate keeper experience, the adventure and then the return, but the type... not so much that.
Okay, so definitions roughly, for those who don't do links and as best I understand them:
alpha: handsome, sexy, strong, leadership material, hell-bent-for-leather kind of guy-- not a lot of complexity but the kind of guy people look to in a time of trouble
beta: your best friend, unassuming, not necessarily handsome or tall, maybe even physically with some weaknesses
gamma: some say a mix of alpha and beta but I see them more as wounded heroes. They stand back; do not seek out leadership but clearly look like they should be leaders
After reading that article, I looked at my already written heroes to see where they fit. In the contemporaries, I have six clear alphas (if I count the four paranormals, I have three more). These are men who will go after what they want-- once they know what it is. They are natural leaders and strong. The kind of guy who stands up for right and where others know they can count on them.
Yes, alpha males do exist, and they are not bullies who clearly aren't even heroes. Alphas don't need to be bullies to get their way. Alphas though are not the wounded hero. In a book of mine, they will be going through a lot-- sometimes thanks to who they love, but they will remain alphas.
That leaves me four contemporary gammas as I just have not written beta heroes. Betas are great, nothing wrong with them, but they say if you want to do a love story with a beta hero, he has to be facing heroic struggles to make it interesting enough to hold the readers' attention. The alpha isn't going through a lot of internal wrangling with himself, but he's going to create his own dramas by pushing past the obstacles in his way-- including any put there by the heroine.
John Wayne usually played the typical alpha hero. Mel Gibson is the gamma and for beta, think Tom Hanks.
It has been said that the best husbands are betas, but I don't believe that is necessary. What I do believe is an alpha requires a woman who has her own life, or she'll be forever upset that he's off fighting dragons. Gammas would be tough to make it work because the guy is so complex and has been through hell already. The woman who falls in love with him better be prepared to fight his demons as well as the enemy outside. Once he fights past all that, he could be just fine-- but a lot of women give up before they get there.
I am not sure where the anti-hero fits into this. I guess he's a gamma but one who you can't really be sure is going to be a hero until the last reel has been run.