I understand that there's a lot of leeway with this group. Maybe that's why I find it so intriguing. For the sake of argument (and because the Harlequin forum group I work with is focusing on villains this week), I intend to focus on the bad boy who recognizes himself as such and doesn't necessarily want to change.
|Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne|
Because, let's face it, most of the time women fall for a book's "reformed bad boy," the man who appears bad on the outside, but is never so far over the edge that he can't be redeemed by heroic actions or emotions brought out by the heroine. You know, someone like Guy of Gisborne from BBC's Robin Hood or Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'll get to men like them next week...
I'm talking about the other one. The one who revels in the skill set he's earned that makes him a "bad boy." This isn't to say that he doesn't change because of the heroine, but what I've noticed is that these men retain the same personality traits or special skills that put them into the "bad boy" category in the first place. They adapt these skills to protect the heroine, but don't leave them behind as they find a new life with their perfect woman.
These men are slowly making a comeback in today's world. This is an interesting trend in and of itself, since not that long ago they were considered ancient and useless, relics leftover from the pre-Feminist era. But if the unique attributes of this group of men are used correctly, they can be a welcome change to the Superman-esque alpha hero that is so common today. It's not that those types of heroes are bad, it's just that they're so...reliable.
The bad boy is not reliable, at least not in the way we've come to expect.
One of my favorite bad boys comes from Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. Jericho Barrons is everything this kind of hero should be: mysterious, powerful, and scorching, both in bed and out of it. On her site, Ms. Moning put his allure into far better words than I ever could: "JZB is the closest to a true sociopath by the terms we define one, yet has the most impeccable system of ethics of all the personalities in the FEVER world. His ethical structure is flawless. It doesn’t contradict itself. There’s beauty in that. Trust derives from consistency. Barrons is a consistent man."
Barrons is the reason I read the series in the first place, and has remained the reason I've had to buy and rebuy new copies of the books...I wear them out because I read them so often. If you're a fan of paranormal romance, you should read these books. If you are interested in reading complex characterization, a heady mix of internal and external conflict, goosebump-raising sexuality, or how good authors can write what their characters need - no matter how dark and scary the place that writing takes them may become - you must read these books. If you're too scared to take them on right now, visit Ms. Moning's site first, explore a bit, then read the books. You won't regret it.
Needless to say, as a reader, these books are part of my Holy Grail set.
But as a writer, Barrons and the Fever world has taught me an even greater lesson. A true hero is a man the reader can come to rely on, to trust. If he changes, it must fit within his code. It doesn't compromise his value system, even if he loves the heroine more than his own life. If anything, his system should be set up so that if that woman ever comes along, he can enfold her into his morals.
That's hard to write. Maybe that's why not a lot of authors have taken on this hero.
|Ian Somerholder as Damon Salvatore|
But there are other examples of this hero out there. Not to go all CW on this post, but Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries (regardless of how he'll change by the end of the series) initially fit this hero type as well. He has the potential to be a good person; Elena sees this, as do other characters as the series goes on. The difference is that Damon doesn't want to be a good person. At one point, Elena asks him, "Why don't you ever let people see the good in you?"
His response: "Because when people see good they expect good. And I don’t want to have to live up to anybody’s expectations."
It's an interesting conundrum for a character. Do you stay true to that character's personality, or do you force
them to change to get what they want?
I'm eager to see where the series goes with this one, because in my experience, you can paint a zebra with spots, but they'll eventually wash off.
Can you think of other heroes who fit this bad boy type? What makes them alluring to you?