Does Everyone Really Love a Bad Boy?

A while back, somebody suggested I write a few posts on the ‘Bad Boy’ concept.  I agreed thinking it shouldn’t be too hard.  Now, I’m sitting here trying to figure out what I was thinking.  Seriously, this feels like it’s outside of my ballpark because ‘Bad Boy’s in my mind don’t really appear outside of romances and dramas.  Then again, I’m using a very narrow definition.  Let me try to enhance it by some stream of consciousness writing.

The ‘Bad Boy’ is a male character who stands against societal behavior norms in some fashion.  It can be the clothes they wear, the food they eat, how they talk, or any number of things that make them an outcast.  Yet, they aren’t like your ‘nerd’ and ‘introvert’ outcasts because there’s a sense of ‘coolness’ about them.  Some are even rather social, especially if you include charismatic villains such as Loki and Joker.  I mean, these two have actual fandoms that root for them to win.  Those are extreme, so most of your ‘Bad Boys’ will be your rebel/mysterious stranger types.  You really drive them home when someone is trying to change their ways, which is why you see them so often in romances and teen dramas.  It’s definitely more attitude-driven than anything else.

I never really got into this concept, but I think I can get an idea of why they have so much appeal to audiences and other characters.  Physiologically, there is an adrenaline rush from interacting with a ‘Bad Boy’.  They tend to have this aura of danger or risk because of that anti-norm activity/description.  It’s naughty to be interested in them since you don’t know what will happen.  This feeds a psychological desire to break a rut and shake up your own world.  A person can’t stay the same if they interact with this potential catalyst for change.  This might be why there are times where it seems the attraction is more to what the ‘Bad Boy’ stands for than who or what they are.  It also goes contrary to the attempt to tame him and bring him closer to the norms.  This is where the concept tends to lose me, but I don’t think I’m the target audience for these guys.

As an author, I can see how this is a difficult character to work with.  You want them to be attractive to the other protagonists and the audience, so having them be bad to the point of asshole is a mistake.  Yet, you can’t have them be too nice and approachable since you need that risk factor.  Creating an explanation for their behavior helps since a tragic background or a misunderstanding can add a dimension of understanding.  The trick is to get to that point without losing the audience.  Hit it too soon and you ruin the ‘Bad Boy’ image long before the climax.  Too late and he comes off as an antagonist with a desperate attempt by the author to redeem him.  So, how can you handle this without falling into either trap?

I really don’t have any clear idea.  Perhaps the best thing to do is to write the character as he is in your head and let the cards fall where they may.  ‘Bad Boys’ that are designed specifically for that category come off as forced and shallow.  The dynamic rebels and anti-social guys tend to be very human.  They’re simply different from everyone else and treated as such.  Establishing the society at first helps because one reader might see a ‘Bad Boy’ while another sees a regular person and a third sees a villain.  You really have to prevent pre-existing beliefs on how humans should act from taking the forefront if you want a widely accepted ‘Bad Boy’.  Heck, you need this for any character, but it’s really true for those that go against norms.

What do you think about the ‘Bad Boy’ archetype?  Ever try to write?  Did you accidentally write one?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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35 Responses to Does Everyone Really Love a Bad Boy?

  1. I’m with you, Charles. My mother would tell my sister and I that most women like the Bad Boy. My sister dated a few.
    Me? I’m attracted to health and intelligence and always have been.

    I think you’re right about the “forced and shallow” aspect. I can’t write a character unless he shows up in my head that way, I experience most of how he behaves, or I know someone like him very well.
    Come to think of it, this is another reason why I struggled with my protagonist of ‘Skinwalkers’ on my site. The guy’s a selfish jerk and I couldn’t quite capture him.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I may have gotten close, but the sexual attractiveness element is missing. There have been a number of bad girls too, mostly from DC comics.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. L. Marie says:

    Great topic and tips. I loved the movie 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU! Like Chelsea said, many women like a bad boy. And I went through that phase in my early 20s. After being burned, I finally understood the value of a nice guy. 😄

    But writing this kind of character is a challenge as you and others have mentioned. The bad boy is a standard trope of YA fiction, usually the bad boy with a heart of gold. I’ve written a bad boy character, but not as the bad boy romantic lead (ala Heath Ledger’s character in the movie) but as someone the heroine might fall for but later realizes is not quite right for her. But I wanted the “bad boy” to seem human, as you mentioned–with flaws and strengths.

    I agree that writers have to establish what is meant as a bad boy in regard to societal notions. As you said, one person might see this person as misguided but lovable while someone else might see this person as a villain.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I would like to try the bad boy route. Sounds like t would be a fun character to write. Haven’t done it yet.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. storyspiller says:

    Lovely read. I think I have read about enough bad boys stay away from them literally. Anyways, very wonderful advice!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Authentikei says:

    I’ve seen the “bad boy” types who portray the “trickster” archetype very well, especially if they have more dimension to them and aren’t just trying to be cool and I’ve also seen…well, the bad boy that’s just trying to be cool because that “shallowness” you mentioned is due to his character not being fleshed out. Bad boys are often shapeshifters hiding behind a guise, but they can be good plot devices when done right. They’re the element of chaos destined to shake up the order of things, whether they aim to or not, usually. I recently watched/read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and couldn’t stop thinking about Crowley while reading your post. Gaiman did a good job making sure Crowley wasn’t shallow, but had the guise of someone who was shallow (he almost let the world end because of his car lol), which made him very attractive. Some audiences just love the rule breakers.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Crowley is a good example. Not a romantic character too. Never thought about the trickster aspect. That route can be very useful for a lot of non-romance genres.


      • Staci Troilo says:

        Funny. As I was skimming comments, I saw Crowley and immediately thought of Supernatural. I think he’s probably a bad-boy/villain hybrid, leaning into villain but coming through too many times to land squarely there.

        I’ve written romances, but never the bad boy as the lead. Alpha men, sure, and with all the delicious rough edges, but always hearts of gold and stalwart purpose. It might be fun to try the bad boy. It has to be easier to get into his head than into that of a bat-crap crazy villain, and I’ve done that, so why not?

        Loved this post, Charles.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. Sounds like a good challenge. I’m still not really sure how to go about doing it.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I guess my version of Herbert West (originally in a H.P. Lovecraft story) is a kind of bad boy, complete with a troubled upbringing, etc. I’m not sure I managed to make him sympathetic enough, though. Readers seem to prefer his friends and associates. I agree this is a character type that can be attractive to work with but hard to get just right.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Pingback: Does Everyone Really Love a Bad Boy? | Legends of Windemere – Sharon E. Cathcart

  9. I know I mentioned this topic, probably along with others, so I’m glad you found a use for it.

    To me, a Bad Boy has some element of privilege that lets him get away with flouting the rules. He may be wealthy himself, so he can pay the fines if necessary, or just come from an important family, who will cover up his behavior. This latter would create family drama that allows him to continue the cycle of misbehavior. “No one understands me, so I act up.”

    The Joker has wealth at least some of the time, due to his robberies, but he spends it all on those incredible gadgets and death traps. That makes him broke again, and he repeats the cycle of robbing and wild spending. time he spends in Arkham is just a little rest period that doesn’t change his ways.

    Loki is the son of a king, but jealous of his brother, Thor. He plays tricks on people, creates family drama, and is pushed to play more tricks because “it isn’t fair how everyone loves Thor but not him.” Recent writing, both in movies and comics, has him trying to change, but due to his reputation everyone thinks it’s just a trick.

    An interesting combination of Bruce Wayne, the playboy billionaire, who flaunts his wealth and gets wild at parties as his “cover identity,” but secretly spends much of his time and treasure as the vigilante Batman.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On reflection, I should also add that behind every Bad Boy is someone who supports the behavior (whether they know it or not). It could be the parents who pay their fines, allowing them to escape responsibility, or it could be a woman who thinks she can “change him.” And, in many romances, I guess she does change him!


    • Is the wealth really a factor for a bad boy? That isn’t necessarily a villain. Heath Ledger in 10 Things wasn’t a rich character. Not sure if Travolta in Grease was. I always though it was more attitude than station in life.


  10. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  11. I love writing bad boys. Inside this nice lady there’s a bad boy trying to get out.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Does Everyone Really Love A Bad Boy? – Written By Charles Yallowitz – Writer's Treasure Chest

  13. madhatteress says:

    That bit you wrote about how difficult such a character is to work with really made me acknowledge how hard it can be. An audience is sometimes, if not generally picky, at least myself, and it takes very little to set them off about a character, and even though I have never thought of it that way, I can only now imagine how difficult it must be to create a persona like this very subtly and stylishly as to not make it forced and as you’ve said or typical


  14. madhatteress says:

    Even though I wish I didn’t for it is very trendy now to the point of forced redundancy, I do find appeal in such characters but not more so than nerdy geniuses for example. Maybe I just have a thing for definitive archetypes in general. lol.


  15. madhatteress says:

    I guess at some point the like between a “bad boy” and a “mad boy” had been blurred. I mean the Joker was mad more than simply a bad regular guy. Or of course, the mad hatter.


    • There does seem to be a blurry line between mad and bad at times. I don’t think Joker was really a ‘bad boy’ until the Heath Ledger version. That wasn’t even because of the character, but the actor. This might be why you see more confusion here when it comes to TV and film. People may go with the ‘mad boy’ thinking it’s a ‘bad boy’ because the actor is attractive and charming both in and out of character.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: The Bad Girl: Is It a Worthwhile Character Type? | Legends of Windemere

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