Bad BoysHow bad is bad?
I’m playing around with a story idea in which my hero is…less than heroic. He’s the black sheep of the family, has scandalized them to the point where they’d do anything to put distance between them. He’s gambled his trust fund away and his family is tired of bailing him out. He’s never worked a day in his life, never taken responsibility for anything, and it’s time for him to grow up.
On the other hand, he’s a real charmer and can get people on his side very easily. I actually really like him.
The thing is, for him to make the journey I have planned for him, he has to start out as a Bad Boy.
Now, I know the fascination with Bad Boys. Rhett Butler was a gambler and a smuggler. Maverick was a gambler. See Diane’s post about the Phantom, or witness the fandemonium about Lost’s Sawyer. These guys are bad. They’ve separated themselves from the world. And yet, women root for them to be redeemed. Are they, though?
Rhett, I would say yes, but not through love of Scarlett, but through love of Bonnie Blue. Maverick, well, bad example since it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it. The Phantom…Diane theorizes he’s redeemed because Christine proves to him he can be loved, so he gives up everything. But meanwhile, there’s Raoul, his rival, tied to the grate.
Sawyer…now, when we meet Sawyer, he’s out for number one. He’s scavenging through the plane for supplies he can use in barter. He’s stealing from dead people. He was a con man in his previous life, he killed a man he believed to be the man who ruined his life, and he plans to kill again. So what makes us root for him (besides the dimples)? His fondness for Kate, which was crude at first, is now tender. He reads, so much that Jack had to make him glasses, and maybe we associate that with intelligence, I don’t know. The way he calls Jin “Chewy” because no one can understand him. I think part of what we like watching about Sawyer (besides the shirtless scenes) is that he’s being dragged out of himself, and he’s doing it kicking and screaming.
In Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, we first meet the hero leaving the bed of his married mistress. It takes a stroke and incarceration in a mental hospital, abandonment by his family, the impending loss of his title to make him see the error of his ways. He was intrigued by the heroine who wasn’t afraid of him, comes to depend on her, much to his dismay, and falls in love with her. (Although, in honesty, I thought several times while reading the book that the heroine would grow into a bitter faced religious woman who looked down on her husband and wondered why she ever married him.)
In Black Ice, the hero is a heartless mercenary who, while he stepped out of looking out only for himself, still had a long way to go in my mind. Clearly they’re much worse than my Ethan. (Well, maybe. I haven’t decided what the scandal is yet.) And they get the girl and word of mouth about these books is through the roof.
So what will it take for Ethan? What steps does a bad boy have to take to be redeemed? What qualities does he need to have to make us root for him?