The Art of Mirriam Neal

//bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?

This is something I’ve discussed before, but I’d like to go more in-depth on it today. Also, if it seems vague and/or like a ramble, my only excuse is that I’m terribly sick. Which I think, personally, is decent as far as excuses go.

The Bad Boy.

Who doesn’t love a good fictional bad boy, right? The danger, the mystery, the attitude, the copious amounts of black leather. However, as the years have passed, I have more and more issues with how ‘bad boys’ are portrayed, both in novels and on-screen. If someone is supposed to be an antagonist, then fine, make them as horrible as you like. But if they’re supposed to be a protagonist, or at least an anti-hero, then there are certain elements you should avoid. After all, a ‘bad boy’ on the side of the good guys can only be so ‘bad’ before he becomes an actual villain.

First off, when writing a ‘bad boy,’ you have to realize one thing – the ‘bad’ is a very fluid word. When we say ‘bad boy,’ we don’t mean ‘evil man.’ We mean someone with a persona or a bad reputation who probably isn’t as bad as people think he is.

In other words, your protagonist ‘bad boy’ cannot actually be a bad person. This ruins everything you’re trying to accomplish and sets a bad example.

A ‘bad boy’ must have motivation to act the way he does. He didn’t wake up one morning and decide ‘hey, I want this persona.’ (And if he did, then you have a very shallow character and I can’t fix that for you.) There must be a good reason behind the way he behaves, and you have to make sure your audience discovers this reason eventually. It’s always fun to unravel a good mystery, but the mystery has to be there.

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The bad boy must have lines he won’t cross. This is what keeps him from becoming a villain. You can’t take a rapist or someone who hits children and then turn him into a good guy. The bad boy must have his own moral code.

I’ve read so many novels (Young Adult novels are the worst culprits) where the bad boys have nothing redeemable about them except apparent ‘hotness.’ They can be as cruel and manipulative as possible, and the heroine will still end up falling in love with them because ‘sparks fly.’ Oh, my goodness, I can’t tell you how much this makes me want to run my head into a wall.

The thing to remember is that ‘bad boys’ must, in fact be relatively good. It’s a paradoxical truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless. Unless you’re going to give them a smashing redemption arc, they can’t be bad people. (And I’m all for smashing redemption arcs, but even then, there are lines you probably can’t cross if you want to bring them back to the side of righteousness.)

Some good examples of ‘bad boys’ in fiction are Bellamy Blake from The 100, Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, Young-Do from Heirs, Tony Stark from Marvel, Kyo from Fruits Basket, Miles Matheson from Revolution, and the classic Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.

What about you? Do you have a favorite fictional bad boy? Do you have anything to add? I’d love to know!

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