#TalkingPoint: When Bad Boys Cross The Line
Today on PHS #TalkingPoint are two Medieval Historical authors, Elisabeth Hobbes and Nicole Locke. The question for today is: When does a bad boy hero cross the line into villain territory? #toobadboy.
Question 1: What is a Bad Boy and are they Necessary to Romance?
It’s something I’ve been pondering because the hero of my next release Redeeming the Rogue Knight is someone readers have already met in The Blacksmith’s Wife as the knight the eponymous wife had set her heart on. I hadn’t planned to use him again. I sent him off abroad to fight as a soldier in the Hundred Years War and thought Joanna and Hal had seen the last of him. I wasn’t expecting readers to ask what happened to him. Did he just need the love of a good woman to turn him around? Readers wanted to know so I decided to find out.
It seems to be a depressing truism in real life that women like a bastard. There is the persisting belief it’s possible to be ‘the one’ to change a bad boy and make him mend his ways. In fiction too there is something appealing about a bit of danger- the man who flouts authority, takes on the world by his own rules, someone volatile who you’ll never be quite sure won’t bunk off and leave you in the deep. A bad boy is a grey area. He can be a liar, drunk and gambler. He can start fights, sleep around or lose the family lands but usually stays within waving distance of the law.
Take Han Solo (and how many of us wouldn’t), he’s unreliable, cocky, sexually predatory, mercenary, amoral and he’s prepared to shoot first (oh yes he does) but the audience are rooting for him to turn to the light side because he’s got charm and wit, and there are enough hints underneath it all that a good man is struggling to break out from whatever circumstances have led him to act as he does.
Bad Boys are as necessary to romance as any other personality. You can’t have good without evil, but there’s a whole spectrum in between and I believe that’s where Bad Boys belong.
I also believe that’s where the good stuff in life is as well. It’s where we put in the day to day struggle and fall in love. For me, it makes life interesting to equate a man on a motorbike with my fighting for a parking space while shopping.
But it’s true as well; bad boys are all about fighting everyday dragons.
Question 2: What makes up your Villain?
The bad boy hero might inadvertently cause emotional distress to the heroine or put her in danger by association or omission, but he never acts intentionally against her. The moment he deliberately seeks to harm her (or any of the protagonists we’re rooting for) he becomes the villain. As soon as a crime is committed he’s pushed himself firmly into villain territory.
One of the greatest romantic leads of all time is Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind but throughout the book he walks dangerously close to being the villain. Charming on the surface but with violence not far beneath. He has already ruined one girl’s reputation before he meets Scarlett. He confesses that he killed a freed slave for looking at a white woman in the wrong way. He acts in an intimidating way throughout their marriage (telling Scarlett he could crush her skull between his hands- what a hero!) Then of course there’s the infamous scene where he drags a protesting Scarlett to the bedroom with the intention of raping (or ravishing, if anyone would like to explain the difference) her into forgetting Ashley Wilkes and by doing so loses all my sympathy never to be regained.
To know when a bad boy hero crosses the line into villain, there’s a litmus test question that must be asked: Can they be redeemed?
For me a classic villain is Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones. (Careful - SPOILERS!) He is the son of Jamie Lannister and yet… He executes Ned Stark, and has his King’s Guard beat Sansa, his betrothed. He orders his father’s children to be killed, and repeatedly insults his family.
If he wasn’t killed in Season 4 would he have been redeemable? No. He’s cruel for cruelty sake. This is boy/man who would pull the wings off of flies because he can. He’s arrogant not to protect or because he earned it, but because he was born to power and flaunts it. Every act he does is to serve only himself.
Question Three: Who’s your favourite Bad Boy?
I have a real soft spot for Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: an amoral killer who spends countless episodes trying to murder Buffy and her friends. He’s a swaggering punk who commands the screen whenever he appears and is totally devoted to his long-time partner Drusilla and then to Buffy. You could argue that being a vampire he is only acting according to nature but in one shocking episode tries (but fails) to rape her. It should be end of story for him but over the remaining series he convincingly transforms from enemy to ally, confidant to love interest to the point the audience is rooting for them to get together.
Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones is my go to bad boy. Here’s a man who killed his father, who pushed a boy out the window with intent to kill him, and who committed incest with his sister. All villainous acts. In fact, I stopped watching Game of Thrones when Jamie pushed Bran Stark out the window. Yes, I know that was the first show. But I’m glad I stopped because when it became Season 4, I binge watched and Jamie’s entire character arc unfolded.
How he was captured, became a prisoner, lost a hand, and met Brienne of Tarth, a woman of honour. And here is when we see Jamie in another light. Why he killed his father, and how much he cares for his sister. How he longs for honour. How much he respects and admires Brienne when he loses his hand--for her. When he rescues--her.
He may push more children out windows, and still love his sister. He’s definitely going to kill again, but his longing, his love, make him redeemable. And I can’t wait.
Conclusion for Elisabeth Hobbes:
Why does Spike manage to stay the right side of the line but Rhett doesn’t? Partly it’s the power balance. Rhett is capable of overpowering Scarlett physically and in the period they live in he holds all the cards, legally and financially. Buffy is more than capable of kicking Spike’s butt – and does on a number of occasions. They’re equal and in some ways the modern, American woman is better placed than the English Victorian (bloody awful) poet to survive in the world.
Mainly it’s about remorse. A bad boy must, when confronted with the impact of what he has done, show remorse. Having hit rock bottom he needs to have the desire to change and make amends, to redeem himself in some way for who and what he was. He might not succeed but the intent has to be there.
Rhett never seems remorseful other than when drunkenly confessing his crime to Melanie. Spike literally puts himself through Hell to prove he is worthy of forgiveness, down to sacrificing his own life to save Buffy’s (and the world). He understands that the world is better with her than with him in it.
Roger starts very firmly in bad boy territory. One of the things I knew I had to do was confront him with what his careless and callous attitude towards women does to them. I’m not giving away the nature of his sacrifice but hopefully by the end of Redeeming the Rogue Knight readers will agree he’s moved over the line into ‘bad boy’. Whether he moves even further along the continuum into ‘good boy’ is something you’ll have to find out in August.
Conclusion for Nicole Locke:
Jamie versus Joffrey. So, one’s a bad boy and the other a villain because one does his heinous deeds to protect and the other to serve only himself. Thus, am I arguing that the true villainous act is not killing or incest, but selfishness?
For that we return to the litmus test question: Can they be redeemed? In stories such as these, the only path to redemption is Love.
Thus, it’s not selfishness that makes the difference between the characters, it’s Love. Jamie is capable of it, and he shows it. He attempts to kill Bran Stark by pushing him out the window because he loves his sister and his children. They would all have been killed if their secret was revealed. A villainous act; a loving act. For what wouldn’t a father or husband do to protect his wife and children?
Complicated lives and stories, but then again, so are bad boys and villains. And so is Love.
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