Tips to Write “Bad Boys in Books”

Sharon's Heart Logo for WebBad Boys. You see the fall coming as she tries to make Mr. Wrong into Mr. Right. You’d like to warn her, but you know she has to come to the conclusion herself. Odds are he won’t change. But you know, if she changed her bad boy into a more conventional one, she wouldn’t want him anymore.

Bad boys. We know ‘em when we see ‘em, but defining just who they are is a slippery proposition. Not all are tattooed, pierced, leather-jacketed, motorcycle riders. But they might be. That is such a clichéd trope, however, that the best writers avoid. Rather, the best- written bad boys leave you guessing as to how far they will go. And clothes and earrings might not signal that.

To be clear, I’m not talking about villains in books. That’s a particular kind of bad boy, for sure. I am talking about the men women are attracted to but shouldn’t be. The kind of guy you wouldn’t take home to meet Daddy. Him.

I’ve done a good bit of reading on the topic to try to figure out just who “bad boys” are, why women are attracted to them, and how writers can use that information to write more interesting characters. I interviewed an expert on men for his views. (Okay, so it was my husband, still …) And I drew on experience. Okay, limited experience.

Now, not all women are attracted to bad boys, or at least not enough to pursue a relationship with one. But some women fantasize about bad boys. Or they flirt with the possibility and even engage in short term flings. You’ve seen it in books. “Oh, no,” you cringe when she sends a come-hither message to a guy who is so totally wrong! “What are you thinking?” It doesn’t help that he ignores the message. He’s in control of who he wants to be with. If she’s too available, a bad boy is likely not interested. And the general perception is that the sex with bad boys is phenomenal.

Well, as the old joke goes with guys (“You’re thinking with the wrong head.”), so it goes with some women. The animal attraction, the lust factor, the forbidden aspect can be intoxicating when confronted with a bad boy.

I contend that women in books are not truly attracted to bad boys who are reallllly bad. They don’t want to get involved with murderers, rapists, sadists, abusers, and others of that ilk. No, they like their bad boys to straddle good and bad with the heavier foot down on the bad side. They look redeemable, and therefore present a challenge to women. When writing these women, include why they are attracted to bad boys.

Rappers men gesturingWhy are women drawn to bad boys? The best thinking is that:

1) Women, at heart, want to be protected. Bad boys project that they have the power and will to protect what matters to them.
2) Women are curious about men so different from themselves.
3) Women want the vicarious thrill of being a bad girl by hanging out with a bad boy.
4) Women take the bad boy as a challenge to be redeemed or a prize to be won.
5) Women seek men who will dominate them, within boundaries.
6) Women want the prestige of being the pick of a perceived leader.
7) Women want the power that comes with being the pick of a perceived leader.
8) Women are bored with “nice guys”.

Bad boys make great foils in books, no matter the genre. If you want to write in a great bad boy for your next book, keep these tips in mind:

A bad boy exudes confidence. An authentic bad boy can be described as assertive, strong-minded, and decisive. Women are attracted to that confidence and strength. He is not likely to admit he is wrong. He has the power and he’s not afraid to use it.

A bad boy allows his interests to take precedence. He can take or leave a relationship with a woman. A bad boy is unattached. Women are not of prime concern to him emotionally. Some women are drawn to these men who are emotionally unavailable.

A bad boy is a moody charmer. A woman with him won’t know what he’s thinking or what might trigger good and bad moods. But when he turns his attention to her, she thinks she has won the prize. His full attention, so hard to get, convinces her she is the one for him.

A bad boy is riddled with paradoxes making him hard to understand. He kicks over a begger’s money can, but then he visits his sick aunt in the hospital. He swerves his bike so he can kill a bunny for dinner, but then he rescues a puppy abandoned alongside the road. He won’t remember your birthday, but he volunteers to work with PTSD veterans.

A bad boy has an edge to him. Will he become violent while drinking? Will he pull a knife on someone? Will he move into someone’s personal space to menace him. Will he intimidate someone just to get his way? Will he start brawling or destroy furniture? The protagonist should wonder about his stability.

A bad boy displays an attitude. His attitude is revealed sometimes with clothing, piercings, tats and the like. But even without the accouterments, he oozes Attitude. That attitude results in treating others poorly. He’s so into his own wants and interests that he overlooks those of others. He’s rude, he cheats, he brawls, he lies all because his needs are paramount.

A bad boy is a rebel with or without a cause. He challenges authority just because. He takes short cuts, thinks rules are for other people.

A bad boy likely engages in dangerous hobbies. He might even engage in activities that skirt the law if not outright breaking a law.

A bad boy is mysterious, complex, and complicated. He has a backstory and you may never find out what it is. He carries psychic wounds that are deep and covered up. He won’t bare his soul to a woman or anyone else. Nor does he tend to be self-reflective.

Does every bad boy in books display the panoply of personality described here? No, of course not. But if you create your own mix of traits, you could have a near infinite number of bad boys for your books.

Author: Sharon Arthur Moore

Sharon Arthur Moore is an intrepid cook, who has lived in every region of the country except the Pacific Northwest and loved every single one of them.

2 thoughts on “Tips to Write “Bad Boys in Books””

  1. Great article, thank you!
    In my other other job (as psychologist), I find many good girls are drawn to bad boys in the (futile) hope of reforming them. If a bad boy changes for you, then he must really love you and therefore you must be really lovable – that’s how the thinking goes. But ladies, it’s almost always a doomed enterprise. Keep your “aisle alter hymn” wedding march for the compensatory fantasies of fiction, and hook up with a good guy in real life. Many of the signs of the iconic bad boy you’ve listed above are also symptoms of psychopathology 0_O

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