Rogues and scoundrels, womanisers, damaged souls. Tall, dark and brooding… there are almost as many clichés to describe our romantic bad boys as there are bad boys in fiction.
And it’s a conundrum isn’t it? That characters in stories can get away with murder (literally, or should that be literarily) and yet still win our love.
From Heathcliff to Rochester, Rupert Campbell-Black to Christian Grey; romantic bad boys have drawn us in since stories began. Personal tolerances vary, but if you have loved fiction, film or theatre I’d be willing to bet that you have loved a bad boy too.
“Mad, bad and dangerous to know” these guys are not always easy to love. They’re not easy to master as characters either. Writing a bastard is simple, asking readers to fall in love with him…not so much. Clearly it can be done, and when done well the lovable bad boy is a wondrous thing. The fictional scoundrel can be gloriously addictive, and its an addiction which you don’t even need to feel guilty about.
There are degrees of badness; from the endearing Lothario through to the downright criminal badass. If the writing is good enough there are few ‘crimes’ that cannot be forgiven. But therein lies the rub of characterisation; a badly written bad-boy can easily become just a nasty bastard. No one loves a nasty bastard.
There aren’t any rules, but I’ve got some thoughts on writing that most elusive of creatures – that frustrating, unattainable but heart-breakingly desirable hero, the romantic rogue who will carry us away on a carpet of magical fantasy.
- The scale of the sins or crimes: It would be a brave (or foolish) writer who asked their hero to commit the unforgivable. There are acts which shouldn’t be forgiven lightly, and they don’t belong in romance.
- Physical beauty: With romance it’s all about the desire, and if you’re already dealing with emotional flaws a flawed appearance would add a layer of challenge to the writing. I’d read it though. If you’re up to this please write it.
- Why are they bad? Be it history, trauma, betrayal or misfortune, do make the reasons for their behaviour believable, and adequate excuse for their misdemeanours. I recently read (part of) a series where it was revealed late on (after much hinting and allusion that our hero was justified in behaving like a royal wanker) that his sins were due to a virus he’d caught or somesuch nonsense. I’m still miffed about that.
- The good, the bad and the ugly; There must be redeeming characteristics – sufficient to match the ‘bad’. And the reader has to know about them. We’ll forgive his dark brooding if we know in our hearts that he’d jump in a freezing lake to save our drowning puppy.
- Can he be saved? Well as writers we must have hope! And mainly we hope that despite our rogue’s bad behaviour, our readers will really want to save him. He may be bad, but he’s got to be good enough to deserve his happy ever after.
I’d love to hear about your favourite fictional bad boys, or if you’re writing one yourself let me know how you go about developing their character.