What is it about bad boys? Those loveable scamps who are utterly irredeemable but still attract us because their badness is so much more interesting than the good guy’s goodness. You can count on the hero to do the right thing because he’s the hero. You can count on the bad boy to be bad. Now, the bad boy may do the right thing if he feels like it, or for a selfish and egocentric reason. Or he may do the wrong thing and try to spin it as the right thing. But when he eventually does a bad thing, he can’t really be blamed because he’s “bad.” It’s in his nature to do bad and we should have expected it. Here’s an example.
SPOILER ALERT! I started thinking about bad boys after seeing the film Thor: The Dark World (IMDB) in November. My thoughts were prompted by the film’s fascinating bad guy, Loki (Tom Hiddleston – IMDb). Loki is a handsome schemer and magician who casts intricate illusions that fool even his brother, Thor (Chris Hemsworth – IMDb), who should know better than to take anything Loki does at face value. While Loki helped Thor do the right thing (Thor is, after all a hero), he still manages to twist appearances to suit himself and his ultimate goal. He steals a great scene where he repairs his relationship with his brother and perhaps squeezes a tear from the unsuspecting audience. *sniff* But watch out! Loki is, at heart, a bad boy, one might even say SUPERVILLIAN, who surprises the same audience within the hour. I left the theater totally psyched for Loki’s next film appearance, ready to embrace the badness.
From the author’s point of view the role of bad guy, or villain, or antagonist, can be a lot of fun to write. Most modern fiction writing guides suggest that the hero needs to grow and change in some manner by the end of the story, but the bad guy can get away with staying the same. No one expects the villain to be redeemed, only subjected to justice in some form. This means that an author can write his or her bad boy as sneaky, lying, and irredeemably bad as wanted–and most people won’t mind. What a rush that is, right? The antagonist doesn’t have to be sympathetic, yet he is. His backstory might include tragedy, drama, and loss suffered at a formative age, but remember you’re hearing the story from a bad boy. Can you believe any part of what he tells you? The author doesn’t have to make a charismatic villain logical or even give him a solid motive. The reader will accept him because he’s charming. The author doesn’t have to spend time researching the psychology of badness; he can make the villain sink from bad to worse to worst.
While the mindless and indestructible killing machine type of bad boy like Freddy or Jason may strike horror in the minds of filmgoers, a reader needs a different type of villain. A charming, cultured bad boy can heighten mystery and sexual tension in a story while fulfilling his role as someone for the protagonist to fight. Think about that the next time you’re writing a bad guy. Instead of writing him greasy and disheveled, try making him debonair. And then he can kill dozens of people, or sell the international secret, or betray the unsuspecting hero and we’ll accept him for it.
Oh, and apparently the makers of Jaguar automobiles agree with me. Check out the Superbowl commercial called British Villains Rendezvous (british villains rendezvous) which features Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley and Mark Strong. Then let’s have a spirited discussion about the bad boys you find irresistible.
P.S. I wrote my post weeks before seeing this ad, and I can prove it.