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November 13, 2010

Writing the Bad Boy

Writing the Bad Boy

By Brunonia Barry


I have written male villains before. I believe I understand them. A villain is only a villain to us. To him, he’s misunderstood. His actions are completely justified. Any villain worth his salt can give you five or six good reasons he’s not a villain at all, why, under the circumstances, his bad deeds make perfect sense.

 While some writers think the bad boy and villain are closely linked, I believe the bad boy is a completely different animal. He knows who he is. He isn’t making excuses. He relishes his badness; and we love him for it.

In my new book, I’m writing about the bad boy, two bad boys in fact. So far, it’s a lot of fun.  They are often handsome, sometimes in an unconventional way, usually smart or at least very clever, and always charismatic. Think Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall, or for that matter Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise, or Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It. Okay, sorry. Enough with the Brad Pitt.

Seriously, has the bad boy archetype always been with us, or is he a fairly recent and much emulated creation? Which came first, the chicken or the Brad Pitt?  Sorry, I slipped. Won’t happen again.

No seriously, let’s look back at some earlier bad boys. Clark Gable often played a bad boy. As did Cary Grant (think of him in An Affair to Remember before he changed his ways). Fred Astaire even danced the part, the playboy who could not be caught except, of course, by the right woman.

Is the bad boy a rogue? Is he an antihero? My thinking is that he could be either and maybe a combination. What do you think?

And why are we so damned attracted to him?

Years ago, in my single days, my roommate and I took a trip to Maui. We wanted to charter a boat to Molokai Crater to do a bit of snorkeling. We looked though our list of boats and immediately and unanimously chose a charter operated by an outfit that called themselves The Bad Boys of the Pacific. There were much better boats out there, ones that certainly sounded safer than the Bad Boys, but there was never any doubt or second thought about our choice. As it turned out, the Bad Boys weren’t so bad after all (probably a good thing). They were actually very nice guys who probably fancied themselves modern day pirates.

And speaking of pirates, now there’s another bad boy image. In reality, pirates were rather terrifying creatures. Why do we always picture them as bad boys rather than the sadistic murderous villains they probably were? If you thought my earlier obsession was excessive, don’t even get me started on Johnny Depp.

Why are Bad Boys so irresistible?  And why do we always seem to believe we can tame them? “He’ll change for me” is a decidedly female fantasy, one we shouldn’t be too proud of, it seems to me.  I mean, if we liked them so much as bad boys, why would we want them to change?

I read somewhere that bad boys trigger a subconscious biological imperative in women. We shy away from really bad people, but the bad boy will presumably fight for home and family much more easily than say, the nice guy.

Who’s your favorite bad boy? Did you ever date one? Why do you think they’re so compelling? 



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I must recuse myself from any discussion of bad boys:)

My wife, however, seems to like bad boys:)

There are a couple of things I'm not 100% certain the Statute of Limitations have expired on, so all I'm going to say is, "Yeah, what Doc said"...:)

Oh boy!

Dated them, married one (he turned out to be Evil, not Bad) and love reading about them.

The thing that attracts us - among other things - is that if they fall for us, we think we won something. And the prize is--- usually a jagoff who expects us to fix everything.

Lesson learned!

Did I date him? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

And Brunonia, I worked with Brad Pitt (did not date him) and even spent a weekend with him on a road trip (did not sleep with him) and while he was certainly beautiful, and very hip, he was also--I probably shouldn't tell you this, it will mess with your writing--nice. Really nice. Quiet. Introspective. Loved music. We went to concerts together. We drove a hundred miles to hear my brother play banjo music.

Go figure.

Never did date a bad boy. Bad girl, sort of. Was it fun, yes.

Truthfully I never got the whole love a bad boy thing. It must be like cocaine. Ra really great high and then the bad side comes up and bites you in the ass. I have known more than a few girls who just could not get enough of them.

One of the things about growing older is that I can see now how the bad boys turned out. One or two really were bad boys and did time. More than a few are dead before 50. Some are now the fathers' of girls and are ready to shoot anything coming through the door that looks like they did at that age.

William and Doc, thanks for making me laugh. Great comments!

Kathy, I married one too, first time out. My husband of many years now had just enough bad boy to catch my attention (do we ever learn?) but turned out to be a really nice guy.

And Harley, what a life you lead! I actually figured Brad Pitt was a nice guy (based on his New Orleans work and other things I'd read), but I have to say he plays a heck of a good bad boy!

I've made a pretty good living writing about bad boys. But I married the nicest guy--who'd definitely drive me 100 miles to listen to banjo music.

Love the bad boys, Brunonia! Have fun writing about yours!

I dated some bad boys, but the one I fell for is the sweetest, gentlest man. Bad boys just can't measure up to a good man.

Brunonia, I love this post. Love your definition of the bad boy. I rarely dated anybody who wasn't one. Or if not a bad boy, then at least an oddball of sorts. Even at the time, I knew I was compensating for my own "nice girl-ness," and they were doing the opposite with me.

Aw, Harley, I love hearing that about BP. I think that's what I was always hoping for--the bad boy who was, in private, with me, all of those sweet things you mentioned. I did find one of them.

And yes, Kathy, the "prize," absolutely.

Brings to mind a song by Tim McGraw.

I never was drawn to bad boys, so I can't blame my first marriage on that. But I agree - the biggest mistake is to think you can "fix" them. Usually you just end up in a fix.

Great picture to see early Saturday morning.

Bad boys are fun to watch--with other women. I think I developed a better self-preservation defense mechanism after getting burned too many times by the bad boys. Including, yes, the first husband. Who wasn't so much of a bad boy as he was just bad person. I fell for it, though.

I'm much more drawn to fictional bad boys than real life ones. Love yours, Nancy! And Sarah's, too.

Clearly, She, Margie likes bad boys. And they like her!

Dated a bad boy but knew enough never to marry one. I will admit that DH has the bad boy twinkle in his eyes but he is really solid.

I want to categorize bad boys. I remember James Dean being the misunderstood, smoldering bad boy who girls were not sure if they want to "fix" him or run away with him.
Jimmy Cagney was an intense bad guy with a dangerous aura and girls did not want to mess with him.
In modern days we have Don Draper from the Mad Men tv show who women want look at, adore and fantasize about.
In real life I have a guy who is solid with just the touch of surprise even after all these years.

Love this topic, Brunonia. In my 4th Deborah Knott book, UP JUMPS THE DEVIL, her first (sort of) husband is the devil who jumped up -- a classic bad boy. Readers clamored so much to see him again that I had to bring him back last year in SAND SHARKS. The South is full of bad boys gone good. Just takes them longer to grow up, but if you find one who loves his momma, he'll usually turn out to be a great husband and daddy in the end.

Reading "Midsummer Night's Dream" with high school students, I made the point that we shouldn't feel superior to Helena in her lovesick foolishness because we all have had, or will have, times when our affections overrule our good sense and we want the worst people in the worst way. "Even you, Miss Garrett?" Oh yes . . .
After one party, a friend said to her husband, "We really have to find a nice guy for Mary."

I always remembered Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady reassuring those around her with the words "I'm a GOOD girl, I am."
We want our women to be GOOD but we want our men to have a touch of BAD in a GOOD way.

I love reading about bad boys, but in real life, I like good men with a wicked sense of humor, does that count? And yes, Harley, you give us a window to a life that is decidedly different from the tabloids, so thank you. Brunonia, I look forward to your next, having enjoyed your others. Saving bad boys from themselves...sounds too motherly to me, and I am soooo do done with that.

Lately, I have been thinking that a woman sometimes attracts a "bad boy" masking a need for love.
It might be a little too far-reaching on my part but when I met my DH I felt that we could complete each other because of maybe havng being thrown to the wolves and needed each other to survive.
Listening to our life stories I believe makes us decide how we want to live the rest of our lives.

I love your observation about bad boys changing for us but being willing to bring out the bad to defend home and family. When you're threatened, you don't want the nice guy, you want the guy who'll kick ass.

Roarke, say, of J. D. Robb creation. As opposed to Hannibal Lechter.

There's a romance to it.

In real life, it's been my experience that it's a bit more messy than the way things go in movies and books.

I am always amazed at the way LiZ Lemon (Tina Fey) on the tv show 30 ROCK manages to make Jack (Alec Baldwin) redeemable.
Jack is an arrogant television manager who Liz Lemon who in her clever and guiless way depends on Jack for support when it entails her personal insecurities.
Jack tries not to get involved with Liz but somehow she softens his "bad boy" persona.

I think I stopped having crushes on "bad boys" in middle school. I learned a lot of lessons late in life, but that one I seemed to pick up early. I don't mind them in fiction if they're written with nuance (and a heroine who sees through them and knocks them on their butts from time to time), but the many of the "classic" types just bore me. Needless to say, my hubby is *not* a bad boy :)

I didn't date them, per se. Slept with a lot of them, though.

Back in my acting days, if you can count cat-and-mouse style playful dodging on the set and around the studio as dating, then I dated bad-boy teenager Richard Dreyfuss when we were in The Young Runaways. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063827/ Mm... so long ago.

Dated bad boys and bad girls exclusively. Married a bad boy, who is really very dear, a good man, and a great father.

Cornelia - ditto.

I think there is a big difference between a 'bad' boy and an asshole. A true bad boy with the twinkle in his eye that says he wants you naked with him on a motorcycle is fun bad. An asshole who wants to own you - totally different kind of bad.

My dad was a classic good guy through and through, if I could find a good guy like him I might start dating again. No more bad boys for me.

Hi. It's Me, Margie.

Just because he is a real bad boy doesn't mean he isn't also a real good man.

Just ask Faith Hill.

Those two are smokin'. I'll bet he wears that Stetson. All the time. Just sayin'.

Great comments everyone! Very helpful in my musings for the book. I'm glad to see that, though we might like bad boys, for the most part, we end up liking (or becoming) good men. Now I just have to figure out if either of my fictional bad boys can turn into a good man. I think it's possible for one of them. I think the other one might be a lost cause. And my protgagonist is definitely not a fixer.

Way late to the party here, but I think that bad boys appeal to the 'mender' in soft-hearted women (like me) who want to make things better for whatever created the wounded or bitter or angry (James Dean) edge in the boy. In college years and just after, I always wanted to make things better for a musician friend who found fame and alcohol together at too young an age, but he had the good sense to reject me, angrily if necessary, so that we didn't end up creating a bigger mess by my efforts to save him.

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