Normally, I wouldn’t divulge all of my secrets on how to write a bad boy, but I have had quite a few people contact me personally for information on how to create more attraction between a main character and a ‘bad boy’ character.
I love writing these characters! They are so complex. Their character arc is huge. I am sorry that I am a sucker for these cliche’s, but I can’t help it.
I mean… this is how I picture my bad boy in my work in progress…
(Photos of Jason Mamoa found on Celebitchy.com and whoandwhom.com)
uh… where was I?…
Oh yes… bad boys. First you need some inspiration. Find some pictures of people you think fit the character and hang them all over your room.
I’m just kidding, that isn’t necessary, but it sure helps! I am on Pinterest and have boards for my books and works in progress. I also have secret boards that no one sees. This is where I dump a lot of images and possibilities while I am still forming my setting and characters. I think most authors have an image in their minds of what their characters look like. The problem that I see with the use of Bad Boys in novels are that they usually don’t go beyond the physical aspects. Don’t make your bad boy only skin deep. I like to write scenes that keep the reader wondering if the Bad Boy has changed or if he is still the same jerk. Decide in the very beginning of writing your novel if he will remain bad or have redeeming qualities and change in the end. You will write him differently based on your decision.
Let’s talk about the standard physical traits for Bad Boys that you see time and time again in novels:
* Black leather jacket, motorcycle, sports car, muscles, sunglasses, scars, guns, muscles, long hair, smoking, alcohol, muscles, and they are usually heart-stopping gorgeous. Why do we see this time and time again?? Because it works and it is hot!
* But, that is also why it has fallen into the cliche category. If you want the reader to connect with this character, you’ve got to go deeper. Peel away those layers of muscle and give him a reason why he is this way.
* They need a reason why they choose what they choose, and why they act the way they do. He must have a motivation. Bad boys don’t just happen. They are molded and brought together by life experiences and his past. Were they bullied or tortured? Give them a unique, unbelievable past — it is fiction, after all. The more crazy his history, the better.
Now, let’s talk about internal character traits that you could add for more depth:
* Add in something they are incredible at: Awesome to the extreme level! Are they super smart, but don’t flaunt it? Are they a gifted swordsman, gunman, karate man? Any fighting skill is good. Let us see his skill in action and show us that he is the very best with this skill. Preferably protecting the protagonist, love interest, or a helpless kitten. 🙂
* Bad Boys don’t follow the rules: They don’t follow convention and don’t care what people think. They are usually broody and moody when it comes to rules. Police chases, detention, and jail are consequences, but he doesn’t care or think about that.
* He acts calm and confident while everything is hitting the fan: When the other characters are beyond hope, the bad boy saves the day with his incredible skills, while acting like it is no big deal.
A Bad Boy must have flaws:
* Does he battle with depression beneath a tough facade? Does he have an illness? When he skips school, does he actually go to the homeless shelter to serve lunch? What about empathy — that can be a huge internal flaw that goes unseen, but also becomes a redeeming quality in the end.
* Most bad boys have a foul mouth. That usually goes along with the territory. Just make sure the swearing isn’t overkill and distracting. I think it takes much more skill to portray bad boys without all of the smut and curse words. In the future I will write a post about writing language into novels. It is a balancing act to find the right amount. I think the villains and antagonists should be the main people who curse. It takes more wit and brains to convey how you are feeling without cursing all of the time. I think this should reflect in your characters as well.
* Flaws are usually hidden beneath all that leather and muscles. The love interest or protagonist usually is the one to expose the flaws.
Give him one or two details that make him different:
* Give him a contrasting detail opposite of the Bad Boy facade. This is a surface thing, not some deep internal conflict. Something small, like maybe your bad boy collects unusual orchids. Or maybe he loves working in the garden. Maybe he even has a pet goldfish he named fluffy. I don’t know, but this will make your guy stand apart and become memorable.
*In my work in progress I gave him the talent of being an artist. No one knows about it, and he actually hides his gift. Some of my favorite scenes I’ve written is when he is sketching. In the future his artistic talent could turn into an intimate scene like in the movie Titanic! Haha – okay maybe not, but you get my point.
If the Bad Boy is going to be the love interest, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT give him these character traits:
*Physically abusive, sexually abusive, controlling and possessive, sexist, dismissing love interests ideas and wishes, and please don’t make him a crazy stalker.*
The above list makes me hate the Bad Boy. If he has the above flaws, he is not sexy and your readers will not fall in love with your character. You must show a softer side and usually the love interest draws it out of him.
If your bad boy is going to remain a bad boy, then by all means, give him all of the list above, along with murdering, cheating, and whatever else you conjure up. Don’t give him redeeming qualities. Have him act selfishly throughout the entire novel. Have him hurt people just for the fun of it. If you give him too many flaws and awful traits, then he borders becoming the antagonist or villain…
…And here is a post I wrote about Villains.
I will tell you one of my favorite bad boys in film. Tristan (Brad Pitt) from Legends of the Fall. I think he was multilayered, went out to find himself, and came back a better man. Yes, he did this because of a woman, but he found himself all by himself. I like that he didn’t get his first love. His life took on a more meaningful turn because of it.
Who are some of your favorite bad boys in literature and film? What are their strengths and flaws that make you love them? -Happy writing,