Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bad Boys (Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You)

In case no one caught my pop culture reference in the title, I give you the Cops Theme Song (and now that song is stuck in your head. You're welcome.)

Today I would like to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: bad boys.

As you wish.
Yes, I know. Guys seems to think all girls want are bad boys, and nice guys finish last and all that. But let's table the real life discussion in favor of fiction. Jessica Page Morrell has an awesome book that talks about the different flavors of antiheroes called Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches that you might consider picking up if you're really into antiheroes like I am. 

So here we go. The word(s) of the day is the moral spectrum. As writers, we might not think about our character in terms of their moral spectrum and where they might fall on it, but it's usually something we at least have a feel for. If you ask a writer if his character would kick puppies or steal money if he thought he would get away with it, they can usually come up with an answer of what each character would do. But usually in a book you have the main character and all the secondary characters existing within the same spot on the moral spectrum.

I think it's sad that more writers don't play around with their character's morals. It's a great way to provide contrast and conflict between your characters. Usually the main character's morals only vary slightly from what the writer themselves would and wouldn't do. So the characters all seem to fall in that gray area between willing to kill to protect themselves, but not willing to kick puppies and push little old ladies into the street.

Whether or not you spell it out on paper or not, you might consider writing a character that acts wildly outside of your personal code of ethics.

Bad boys don't exist just so rabid fangirls can write uncomfortable fan fiction about them (lampshaded in this funny comic). They can really add some spice to your book without taking the entire plot over. They come in two main varieties: Bad boys and Dark Knights.

Bad Boys: These are the sexy lone wolf-types. They are normally rebellious pleasure seekers who enjoys breaking the law more than a regular hero. They are almost always charismatic, and the sort of guy your mother doesn't want you to bring home. They are normally slightly mysterious, with a vague and shady past. They break too many rules and flout tradition too much to be considered regular heroes. Within each category you also have a range. So Han Solo comes to mind, at the very top of the Bad Boy moral spectrum, while most of Vin Diesel's characters are at the very low end of this spectrum.

Dark Heroes: These guys are dark and brooding. They have a core of rage and pain, and almost always have a tragic past.They often have their own moral code, that is usually not in line with society's current moral standards. They are often rude and prickly to the main characters, and are the lowest on the moral continuum. Which means if they take one more step down, they become villains. Batman is the titular example. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice fits this nicely, and in my opinion, if John McClane from the Die Hard movies was just a little less scrupulous with his bullets and explosives, he would descend into Dark Knight status. And if Prince Nuada from Hellboy II didn't want to kill all humans, he would be considered a Dark Knight. At the moment he's earned Tragic Villain status, so someone should tell his PR department to step up. 

Of course, these are generalizations, and there are no hard and fast rules. There's a lot of overlap, and like any category there are ways to break it. You don't want to make cardboard character regardless of where they fall on the moral spectrum. Bad Boys are a great way to shake up your plot and characters a bit, and a nice way to experiment with your writing. 

Oh, and for those of you wondering why I only talked about the guys, bad girls fall into different categories, because certain behavior is deemed more acceptable by society from a guy (i.e. sleeping around) than it is from a girl. So woman act in a different manner in order to gain "bad girl" status.

I have a secondary character in my WiP and he's definitely sitting in the Dark Knight camp. I am not sure I would want to know him in real life, but he's certainly shaking up the status quo between my more moral main characters. No matter how you cut it, conflict is fascinating, and nothing quite stirs the pot like a bad boy who refuses to toe the line.


  1. My MC is somewhere between the two. He's dark and brooding, not really a lone wolf, and at the beginning of the story he's a rather prickly fellow. It does give you another dynamic to play with.

    I have never liked the traditional hero. My favorite Dark Knight of late... Jace in The Mortal Instruments. Ah, be still my heart...