Bad Boys vs. “Bad Boys”

19 Oct

By Sammy Bina


If there’s one thing I love, it’s a bad boy. I’m a sucker for stories where Lonely Girl befriends him and fills his horrible life with puppies and sunshine. I adore the push-and-pull dynamic of “good vs. evil” and their otherwise messed up relationship. I live for those scenes where Bad Boy reverts back to his badness and Lonely Girl is left feeling devastated until Bad Boy realizes his mistake and transforms into a knight in shining armor.

But you’ve got to admit, that’s pretty clichΓ©. And as much as we love the stereotype, it isn’t very realistic.

Up for discussion today is #24 on my Intern Tips list: Black clothes, tattoos, and an earring do not a bad boy make.

Like you all, I’m a pretty avid reader. My book shelf is full of beloved YA novels that contain the stereotypical bad boy. And until recently, I thought nothing of it. I didn’t actually pay attention to the unrealistic portrayal of my favorite male characters. Instead, I was sucked in by my favorite clichΓ© and never bother to look beyond it. It’s fiction, I told myself. It’s not meant to be realistic.

And while it’s true that fiction doesn’t have to be realistic, lately I’ve come to find that these stereotypes and generalizations just don’t cut it for me anymore. After all the submissions I’ve read, after all the books I’ve bought, and after all the blog entries and articles I’ve read, I’ve decided I want a realistic story I can get behind. I want a bad boy who’s actually bad.

But where do we draw the line between bad boys and “bad boys”?

Based on the reading I’ve done in the last few months (both published and unpublished), most “bad boys” seem to be labeled as such simply because of their physical appearance. They wear all black, or have a leather jacket. They have ripped up jeans and dark, brooding eyes. Their black, grungy hair tends to fall in their face, and an earring hangs from one or both ears. They might have a tattoo or six as well. But beyond that, they aren’t much of a bad boy at all. They’re just quiet or misunderstood. Maybe their home life isn’t so great. But, overall, they’re generally not bad people. You’d feel safe spending time with them, and to be honest, your grandma probably would too. Basically, the guy’s harmless.

But if your character really is an honest-to-god bad boy, you have to dig beneath the surface. Maybe they wear black, but it isn’t a requirement. So what if they don’t have tattoos? A true bad boy is all personality. They’re rude, they cheat on their girlfriends, and they get in fights. They’re uncomfortable to be around and bring your insecurities to the forefront. Maybe they drink excessively, smoke, or do drugs. Maybe all three. But, generally, they aren’t the guy you’d want to bring home to Daddy.

Need some examples?

I thought Patch from Becca Fitzpatrick’s HUSH, HUSH was a pretty believable bad boy. He was snide at first, rude, hung out in sketchy pool halls, got into fights, and was an overall mystery. There were times when I didn’t like him, or wanted to slap him just as much as Nora did. Sometimes I questioned his morals or his actions. And in the end, he may have redeemed himself somewhat, but the reader’s left questioning who he really is. Is he still the guy from the beginning of the book, or has he actually changed? Therein lies the mystery, and the reason he can still pull off his bad boy image. I have yet to read CRESCENDO, but I’m assuming the bad boy image carries over; it certainly looks like it, based on the synopsis.

Or how about Draco Malfoy? If you want a perfect example of a bad boy, look no further. He’s a hard-to-read asshole with unclear motivations. Frankly, most of the time you’re just wondering what the heck he’s up to. He’s generally a pretty awful fellow, and yet you somehow feel bad for him. He’s a sympathetic bad boy, and the very best kind. You want to believe he’s good at heart, but is he really?

But there are bad boys in published literature that I think fall short. In another take on the fallen angel story, I didn’t buy into Daniel’s character from Lauren Kate’s FALLEN as much as I’d have liked. Though the overall story is good, and I really enjoyed Luce’s narration, I just couldn’t get behind Daniel. The mystery that Patch presents is absent; Daniel’s motivations seem pretty surface-level. In other words, he wasn’t complex enough. The bad boy image was only skin deep.

And that, dear readers, is where I feel some authors slip up. They forget that some guys really do just wear black but are perfectly harmless. And that there are others, who might also wear black, that have killed someone, or sell drugs for a living. It’s all in the presentation. Your bad boy doesn’t necessarily have to look the part, but he does have to act it.

Also, you have to consider the redemption factor. As you may well know from real life, bad boys can be difficult to change. Girls like to think they can conquer his bad attitude and poor manners, but how often does that actually happen? You’re allowed to bend the rules in fiction – there’s no doubt about that – but make sure you aren’t bending things beyond a reasonable level of belief.

I still read books containing “bad boys,” but these days I pay close attention to the way the author has portrayed him. Maybe the unreliable portrayal of my beloved male character will ruin the story for me, but maybe it won’t. There are still plenty of authors out there who know how to create bad boys that behave exactly how you’d expect. And the closer we can get to that, I think the better off we’ll be.


Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior with a BA in Creative Writing. She is currently querying THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, an adult dystopian romance, and simultaneously working on two YA projects. She is an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, and can be found on twitter, or at her blog.

47 Responses to “Bad Boys vs. “Bad Boys””

  1. Marina October 19, 2010 at 12:20 AM #

    Indeed, my good lady, indeed.
    But it’s really, really, really hard to find realistic bad boys! Especially in online stories, and most of the time, if they are actually bad, people end up disliking them without realizing that they are the “bad boys”.
    The only one I can think of is Logan from Myrica’s Against All Odds and Everybody Hates Logan.
    And maybe Rhett Butler? But Rhett is a man… and everyone loves him ❀

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 1:04 AM #

      It IS hard to find realistic bad boys! But I think, even if they are legit bad boys, they can be likable, you know? It’s just a really fine line we writers walk. That’s why I’m even more impressed when I see it done right!

      And I agree with you about Logan. He’s a pretty good example, too.

  2. Nicole October 19, 2010 at 2:28 AM #

    I think Heathcliff is the perfect bad boy. I hate him. Hate. Hate. Hate. But, even though a hate him, I find his character intriguing, passionate and sad. I feel for him, and he has some of the best lines in literature.

    • Nicole October 19, 2010 at 2:32 AM #

      Isn’t that what a bad is so post to do? Not change into the ‘good guy’ at the end, but make you like him by hating him? Change of heart at the end just makes his badness seem… fake, or a mask or something.

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:29 AM #

      Is it terrible that I haven’t actually read WUTHERING HEIGHTS? My high school English classes never made me read it. But from what I DO know, I agree, Heathcliff’s a pretty good example, too!

      And I think that’s what trips me up lately. The dramatic change of heart tends to ruin the book for me now :-/

  3. Aurora Blackguard October 19, 2010 at 3:15 AM #

    Bad boys, bad boys, what’cha gonna do? What’cha gonnna do when they – sorry, I couldn’t resist!

    YES. I didn’t really enjoy HUSH HUSH (I’m sorry fans but Nora was SO ANNOYING – and maybe I’m just a little bored with fallen angel stories. Nothing cut it after the Mortal Instruments) but I thought Fitzpatrick really made Patch bad. I mean, in the end he doesn’t end up confessing undying love for Nora. He’s still a shitface. But thet’s okay. I don’t really believe he’s all that hot either anyway. Great post, Sammy!

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:31 AM #

      Hey, it’s a good song! You’re forgiven πŸ˜‰

      See, but that’s the thing. Even not liking the book, you were able to recognize a legit bad boy when you say him. Which, in my eyes, makes Fitzpatrick an awesome writer. I love that you said Patch is “still a shitface,” haha. You’re my hero for the day.

  4. Vee October 19, 2010 at 4:11 AM #

    I really didn’t like Patch — thought he crossed the line into stalkerish, and never believed the romance between him and Nora, but I can definitely see what you mean about him making a good bad boy.

    Other good bad boys — Heathcliff, Darcy, Dorian Gray (Dorian’s probably my favourite). And I love Draco, too.

    Awesome post, Sammy πŸ™‚

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:32 AM #

      I can see what you mean about Patch, totally. Have you noticed that lots of bad boys (and “bad boys”) tend to be a bit stalkerish? I just noticed after you said that. Huh.

  5. Theresa Milstein October 19, 2010 at 6:11 AM #

    I agree with your portrayal of bad boys. Parch from Hush, Hush and Draco Malfoy from HP are two good examples. Although Malfoy isn’t anyone’s love interest.

    Then there are those who are supposed to be bad but love the protagonist the whole time, like in Evermore. Or the questionable bad boy like in The Eternal Ones.

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:34 AM #

      True about Draco, but in all other aspects, I think he functions pretty well as a bad boy. I figured the love interest part wasn’t always the deciding factor. Plus, I really just wanted to post his picture for eye candy, lol.

      Haven’t read Evermore or The Eternal Ones, but I’ll take your word for it!

  6. tymcon October 19, 2010 at 7:27 AM #

    Yeah that’s pretty much the reason I couldn’t get into the The Dark Instruments seires (is that the name?)
    Good post.

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:34 AM #

      Haven’t read it, so I can’t say! But I think unbelievable characters, in any instance, can totally ruin a story. Bad boy or not.

  7. amiekaufman October 19, 2010 at 9:30 AM #

    I think this is why I like my bad boys in fiction rather than real life–that redemption, when they’re done realistically, is hard to come by. I think Draco’s a great example, in that he’s fascinating, there are things to like about him, but you can’t really point to anything that says he’s secretly a sweetheart in disguise.

    I agree that some aren’t done realistically, and sometimes I’m fine with that–it’s like I want a hot bubblebath, comfort and swooning. A realistic bad boy, though, is a far more fascinating character.

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:36 AM #

      Exactly! Sometimes I don’t mind the cliche. Sometimes I really am just looking for some mindless reading where everything turns out alright in the end. But you’re right – realistic bad boys are WAY more interesting. No ifs, ands, or buts about it!

  8. Jess October 19, 2010 at 9:49 AM #

    I’m totally not a fan of the bad boy as love interest just because those relationships pretty much must be abusive to a degree, and that never works for me. I’m sure it could be handled skillfully and there’s exceptions, but I haven’t found them yet. (If it’s an actual bad boy, that is.)

    I thought Draco’s motives were pretty obvious, actually… himself. But I still haven’t read the last two. Maybe he grows more ambiguous. πŸ˜€

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:38 AM #

      Hey, to each his own! I’ve been really into gritty, realistic YA lately, but someone else might not. Totally your prerogative, Jess! If I come across any realistic bad boys who AREN’T abusive, I’ll let you know! Vanessa suggested Ty from STOLEN; have you read that?

      • Kat Zhang October 19, 2010 at 8:34 PM #

        Oh, man, I can’t see Ty as a “bad boy” (he is the kidnapper, right? Because he’s pretty much referred to as “you” the whole book, I can’t really remember). See, that’s the thing with me and the whole bad boy thing. I don’t think it works unless, despite everything, you still like the guy. It’s a pull and push kind of thing. He should be attractive despite (or maybe because of) his unsavory tendencies. And for me, once the guy crosses some lines, it’s no longer really possible for me to like him. Drugging and kidnapping a girl? I don’t care how much you think you love her. That’s just wrong…

        • samanthabina October 20, 2010 at 12:57 AM #

          I can see your point, Kat, about the guy having to be likable. It really is important! And for a main character, I think there really does have to be some likability factor involved. When the bad boy is more of a peripheral character, then I think it isn’t as important to like him. Maybe?

  9. Chele October 19, 2010 at 9:57 AM #

    Draaaacoooo ❀

    Haha actually I find Draco more a wannabe bad boy (in the BEST way, of course ;D) than an actual one. But that was what I liked about him – he thought he was bad and he was so into Death Eater-y stuff, but no way he could have killed anyone in cold blood. Kinda like Regulus. I can't help but adore both of them.

    And honestly I can't think of ANY realistic bad boys off the top of my head that haven't already been mentioned. BADASS ones, mmm yes. Pahaha. But that's just me I guess, I tend to avoid reading novels about bad boys (realistic or no). Gimme adorkable/cheeky anytime ;D

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:39 AM #

      I couldn’t resist using the picture πŸ˜‰

      I can see what you mean about Draco being a wannabe instead of an actual bad boy. But for the purpose of this argument, I decided to lump him into the good example category. Because, for the most part, I feel he’s a pretty effective bad boy, even if he is just faking it!

  10. Vanessa Di Gregorio October 19, 2010 at 10:26 AM #

    Ah Draco. He is such a perfect example of a great bad boy.

    What about Ty from STOLEN? He’s not a bad boy exactly, but he definitely does bad things – I think why I liked him so much was because he wasn’t your stereotypical “bad boy”. Draco isn’t stereotypical – although you can tell he wants to be. But whenever he runs away hurt, or backs off, you see another side of him that maybe isn’t so bad. And he’s conflicted. I think the best bad boys are conflicted.

    Also, can I bring up Spike from Buffy? Because he’s my fave bad boy EVER.

    • priscillashay October 19, 2010 at 10:36 AM #

      haha…oh, Vanessa ❀ I claim Spike πŸ˜›

      • Vanessa Di Gregorio October 19, 2010 at 12:50 PM #

        Hahaha, I guess it looks like we’re going to fight over him! πŸ˜› (Unless we share, lol)

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:41 AM #

      I think Ty could totally qualify! He’s a perfect example of the non-stereotypical bad boy; thanks for bringing him up, Vanessa!

      God, I need to reread that book. I love it so much.

  11. priscillashay October 19, 2010 at 10:34 AM #

    oo…so you MIGHT like Luce in @LisaDez ‘s Personal Demons:

    Darcy is a fav…but..I never really thought about him as the classic/sterotypical bad boy.

    Heathcliff is a good example. I couldn’t really get through the writing style itself…but the character was good. πŸ™‚

    Hmmm…who else. oh! I know there aren’t a lot of romance writers here, but I think Saint in London’s Perfect Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch (in her Lessons in Love series)

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 11:43 AM #

      I’ve had PERSONAL DEMONS on my TBR pile for a while – I’ll see if I can’t bump it up! And I’ve never even heard of LONDON’S PERFECT SCOUNDREL, so I’ll have to add that, too. Lots of new recommendations today — thanks!

  12. Chantal October 19, 2010 at 11:58 AM #

    Great post! I don’t think I ever truly bought into that cliche when reading YA, not even when I was younger. The big change of heart and character at the end of a novel always makes me cringe too lol. And if they’re a ‘real’ bad boy, why does the girl like him? Is she self destructive? That just leads me to getting annoyed with the girl usually. There’s exceptions of course, where it can work pretty well. But yeah, if all he’s doing is wearing black, being quiet, and listening to his ipod really loud….he’s more just goth, or a recluse. Or shy. Albeit, the parents of the girl might stereotype him as a bad boy because of solely how he looks, but the main girl shouldn’t :p

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 3:10 PM #

      Exactly my point πŸ™‚ We assume people are bad boys simply by the way they look and never really look beyond that. Parents may assume a guy with tattoos isn’t good enough for their daughter, but he may just be the nicest person alive. Similarly, said guy with tattoos may be a total asshole. Which is why stereotypes do so much harm. We overlook people simply because they fall in a group physically, when otherwise they’re nothing but.

  13. Savannah J. Foley October 19, 2010 at 12:38 PM #

    I’d just like to say that it’s really awesome no one said Edward from Twilight. Or Jacob, for that matter.

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 3:10 PM #

      I’ve been waiting for it, to be honest. I was going to use Edward as an example of a “bad boy,” but he doesn’t even fit that. He’s just miserable :-p

      • Savannah J. Foley October 19, 2010 at 4:47 PM #

        Jacob did kind of a bad boy thing at the end there… okay, this conversation has gone on too long already, lol!

        • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 5:33 PM #

          Shhhhhhhh! We don’t want people getting the wrong idea :-p

          • Kat Zhang October 19, 2010 at 8:36 PM #

            I’m just gonna enter the conversation to say “nope. not at ALL”


  14. Susan October 19, 2010 at 2:13 PM #

    Fabulous post! This is something I’ve been noticing more recently as well – and I think this whole article hits upon the issue wonderfully. I love your descriptions of what does not make a badboy. πŸ™‚

    I still swear that Iago’s one of Shakespeare’s best characters – all because he’s one giant baddie with serious issues that don’t get explained.

    • samanthabina October 19, 2010 at 3:11 PM #

      I didn’t even THINK of Iago! But I agree 110%! God, I love that guy.

      • Rika Ashton October 19, 2010 at 7:59 PM #

        Love Iago, one of my fave villains. Honestly, I just read the play to see what horrible, twisted thing he could come up with next. On the subject of Patch from Hush Hush, I though he was a pretty believable bad boy, but again I didn’t find the romance entirely believable, but I guess that’s why they have a sequel.

        • samanthabina October 20, 2010 at 12:53 AM #

          I didn’t buy into the romance as much as I’d have liked. Which is why I’m really excited to get my hands on CRESCENDO! Is there supposed to be a third book? I thought I remembered seeing that somewhere. If so, then I feel like it’s gonna be dragged out for a little longer than necessary. We shall see!

          • Rika Ashton October 20, 2010 at 8:54 PM #

            Yup, there’s going to be a third book. It’s listed on her site and I think it’s called “Tempest.”

  15. Armith-Greenleaf October 19, 2010 at 8:57 PM #

    Holy crap, this was excellent. *gives you chocolate*

    I’m currently writing a bad boy story, it’s a concept I always wanted to try out and only this year I got the right idea. But I’ve read skin-deep bad boys too often, too much, and I told myself not to fall into that trap.

    Then I thought “what if I create a character that is a likeable bad boy… but *not* with a heart of gold?” So I started thinking what possible situations could make a person turn out like this without necessarily falling into the really bad habits (drugs, alcoholism, stealing, raping, killing) and I got it! (I think.)


    He doesn’t wear all black. His hair is long and he ties it in a pony tail, to defy. He’s not flunking class, but skips sometimes. His girlfriend is a bad, bad girl and he’s only with her for the lay. He’s poor, so his clothes are shabby. His father is an alcoholic.

    Insert our heroine: she doesn’t know most of this at the beginning, but her intuition tells her he’s in something bad, but not quite as most people think.


    In other words, he’s a practical kind of person/character, shallowness or the typical naivety of teens is beneath/past him.

    Anyway, I got too excited there and got carried away. Heh.

    PS. Your posts are getting much better! πŸ˜€

    • samanthabina October 20, 2010 at 12:55 AM #

      Sounds to me like you might’ve found a way to make it work, too! Staying true to the way people actually act is usually a safe place to start. Good luck with your project!

  16. MD Irvine October 20, 2010 at 1:05 AM #

    Black clothes, tattoos, and an earring do not a bad boy make. Bad boys don’t tend to be in my writing but I can see how it is easy to get caught in this trap. Although I did write a one-shot where a guy with black clothes, tattoos and an earring wasn’t a bad boy. He was “A Gentle Rebel”

    Draco Malfoy was a perfect example I want to believe he is good at heart and that I can redeem him πŸ˜‰

    • samanthabina October 20, 2010 at 9:18 PM #

      He can redeem me any time πŸ˜‰

      … Does that even make sense? I pulled an all-nighter last night, so my brain isn’t functioning properly, haha.


  1. Writing in Style (Or Style in Writing?) « Let The Words Flow - June 15, 2011

    […] readers understand them. I mentioned once how black clothing doesn’t make your leading man a bad boy, but it’s still making a statement. Same goes for that girl who’s always wearing frumpy […]

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