Bad Boys

Here’s an interesting question for you: what bad stuff do you think a hero can get away with doing?

The crit group and I were discussing this as I have an ms with a bad boy in it, a bad boy who has left all the bad stuff behind physically but not mentally. Now I’m talking about his teens here, where he went off the rails and got into some trouble. He pulled himself out of it and is now a successful businessman (aren’t they all?) but he still feels guilty about this stuff – especially as the heroine persists in thinking he’s a great guy but doesn’t know about some of the things he did (no this is not the whole of the conflict by the way, it’s just a layer).

What I wanted to know was what’s acceptable in terms of ‘bad stuff’? Obviously violence towards women and kids is a huge no no. So what else? It has to be something that he would feel very bad about but not serious enough to warrant being arrested and going to jail for years and years. And clearly needs to leave him still feeling awful as an adult. The crit group gave me some great ideas but what I’d like to know is what is your particular line in the sand? Is it drugs? Violence (unfemale related)? Alcohol related crimes? Robbery?

Or is it all in the execution?

21 thoughts on “Bad Boys”

  1. Well, I weighed in already. ๐Ÿ™‚ But great post. I’m really looking forward to hearing the consensus on this since I definitely pushed it with one of my heroes.

    I will say that I really enjoy it when an author shocks me. I love a punch that hits you square instead of being pulled. Like in Jennie Lucas’s new Presents when the hero lied to the heroine, straight out, no skirting it, he lied to her. And in Annie West’s new one he admitted, even to himself, that he was paying the heroine for sex, and even though he was disgusted with himself, he needed her so badly that he was willing to do that if he had to.

  2. Great question. Not sure if I’ve got a great answer though. But here goes….

    1. Wild teen – the usual big motorbike, leather jacket, rebellion – put’s parents through hell because he thinks his older brother/sister got all the attention etc.
    2. Revenge. He lies to the heroine because he perceives her of
    doing some injustice in the past. This can also apply to family revenge.
    3. Drugs/alcohol – he could have been a user in the past – and did bad things to get them – to blot out some horrid childhood issue. He’s now a reformed character of course as he’s set up a hostel etc.
    4. Could have been a runaway – from an abusive parent – and feels guilt ridden and hides this behind a veneer of hardness etc.
    5. As Maisey says – lying is a good one – for whatever the reason.
    6. He could even be on the run for a crime he thinks he’s committed in the past(but in reality didn’t actually do). (Umm this is more a HM&B “Suspense” perhaps!)
    7. He’s a closed book – refusing to allow anyone near him – because the last time he let someone near him something *bad* happened. His first wife died in a fire and he wasn’t there to help etc..
    Phew….like I said…not sure if these help but….Take care. Caroline x

  3. I think you can definitely get away with gambling ๐Ÿ™‚

    But you know what… I think this is a really tricky one because some readers will forgive more than others. And of course… for some things it’s all in the motivation – WHY was he a bad boy? Was he a Robin Hood type?

    I think the best bad boy with a past I’ve read was the hero in Heidi Rice’s debut!! Phwoarh!!!

    Good luck and like Maisey I can’t wait to hear what others say ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Interesting post. I think it is all in the way you do it – and I guess you don’t have to be hugely specific or go into great detail to convey wildness in the past.

    Personally I’d draw the line at drugs. I had a secondary character who’d once had probs with coke and my ed said that a) it was a bit ugly in what is essentially a fanstasy escapist read and b) however the hero reacted to it would alientate readers who have a different take on drug use. But of course that was just in relation to my story.

  5. A very interesting discussion topic.

    As Lucy said, and as you once reminded me, you need to tread carefully with drugs and alcohol. A bit of disorderly behaviour with his mates after a few drinks, or perhaps being caught with cannabis (as long as it wasn’t his!) might be acceptable. Though these types of offences might leave a record, a kindly local officer perhaps let it go with a warning if he knew the boys and that this was a first offence.

    Other options could be spraying graffiti or joy-riding in a neighbour’s car, but if you want something he will still be feeling guilty about years later, perhaps he witnessed a friend doing something awful (stealing or vandalism) and he never reported it.

    Especially if that incident caused someone pain (and even better if it caused pain to someone the heroine loves), it might weigh on him that he never came forward – perhaps because he was afraid of that so-called friend hurting someone he loved in revenge …

  6. I think Lucy’s right, you don’t always have to be specific. I’ve read a few where the hero ‘got in with a bad crow’ as a boy and the rest is left to the reader’s imagination.

  7. I can take practically any past misdemeanour or even crime on the chin where a hero is concerned, but only as long as you can feel that he’s no longer that person … if you see what I mean. I think perhaps cold-blooded murder might be out, lol, though murder in extreme cases of self-defence is acceptable. I don’t give two hoots about drugs or alcohol problems, never having been much of a saint myself, but with such issues you have to bear in mind what the majority of – particularly US, perhaps – readers will make of such issues. I’m incredibly liberal and almost impossible to shock, but some people would throw a book across the room if the hero admitted to a parking offence. So if you get into bed, pun intended, with a genre which makes a point of presenting main characters as very straight, law-abiding and basically honest – erm, and how many of us are all of those things all the time?! – you have to accept, unfortunately, that many bad boy issues will be out of bounds.

    Though if you write paranormal or romantic suspense, the limits of what is acceptable become far more blurry and interesting. Just a thought.

    Basically, if he’s a good guy now, and genuinely contrite, shouldn’t we just say ‘Awww’ and forgive his past? No?

  8. Great post, Jackie, and it’s certainly got me thinking. I suppose how far you’re prepared to let your character go comes down to morals and what society sees as acceptable or unacceptable – and what the reader expects too.

    I think it’s sometimes pushing it a bit to expect readers to forgive, or let go certain misdemeanours in a character’s past as sometimes it’s a case of thinking that leopards don’t change their spots. No matter how successful and ‘good’ they are now, they can never seem to redeem themselves in the eyes of everyone else – and if they truly are remorseful, it can have a profound effect on their lives and relationships. Are they constantly trying to hide what they’ve done in the past from everyone they meet, or are they trying to hard to people please to compensate for their ‘bad’ past?

    But I agree violence against women and kids is out of the question and possibly the glorification of drug taking – anything where another person is signficantly harmes and the perp doesn’t get punished.

    Julie xx

  9. What Caroline says rocks!

    Actually I’ve just read a great bad boy book – MnB Medical Sarah Morgan…The Rebel Doctor’s Bride. I am a bit of a bad boy lover (you should see my bad boy book shelf).

    Sarah Morgan so pulls the ‘so bad he had to leave the village’ off and it only adds to the hero’s character because he was acting out because of bad abuse at home. We don’t feel sorry for him, we root for him that he went on and turned it all around and he doesn’t give a stuff about what people think because he never has done (nobody cared about him). I think that last bit is a great way to handle it e.g. when he starts to give a stuff he knows he must be erk…in love. Brilliant book. You can get it as free ebook download. I also think him being just ‘wild – girls, stunts, untrustable’ is a good bad boy angle from MnB because it can be hard to know where the line is. When he winds up the village locum doctor noone will trust him with a bargepole. A really great book and I was so in love with him!Sigh jx

  10. So many good suggestions – not sure I can add much more. Only other thing i can think of is maybe he had a ‘bad boy rep at school, like he was on of the kids skipping school and smoking behind the sheds or something like that.

  11. Hi Jackie,

    What a great question. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about because the last few stories I’ve written the boys have been oh so bad. I think the degree you can push it depends very much on the line and the associated readership. Whatever the bad deeds were the reader has to feel he will/can be redeemed and I think if that’s already happened and then you reveal the past, you’re probably OK. I’ve used an unfortunate past and circumstances for a ‘do what he needed to survive’ type bad boy story. I’ve also used the ‘screw everything in skirts’ scenario as well as a ‘do whatever it takes to succeed’ one. It’s a balance though. You don’t want to shock the reader so much that they disconnect from the character/story, but in your outline it has to obviously be something substantial, something weighty.

  12. LOL, Suzanne!! Getting in with a bad crow does sound intriguing!

    I can just picture this bad boy crow in leathers and tattoos over it’s wings, with a fag hanging out of its beak cawing “you got a light, mate?” Tee hee! It did make me giggle!

    Wonder what kind of rap sheet it would have! Can’t imagine what kind of previous it would have!

    Julie xx

  13. Hey, fabulous response guys!

    Maisey – Wow, must have a look at Annie’s!

    Caroline – thanks for the suggestions. My hero’s issues are responsibility and my current idea is along the lines of number 3. Though he will have steered clear of the drugs I think.

    Rach – my poor bad boy as a teen has feelings that he’s not good enough. Always the outsider. Due not being wanted by his father, his mother is forced to take him when they divorce and then he doens’t get on with his new stepdad. And then his mother goes off and has kids so he feels like a cuckoo in the nest. Hence the rebellion – he’s not good enough, he knows he’s not, to hell with everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Lucy – I was hoping to be non-specific but I think due to the hero feeling bad about it, he’s going to have to tell the heroine about what he did. Hence having to think of something for him to tell. I’m debating drug use – not for the hero but for someone associated with him.

    Romy – I think it has to be more serious the vandalism. As to the witnesses something awful, that might be it. Or, he gets a friend in with a bad crowd and then is unable to get the friend away when the hero cleans himself up, or something! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Suzanne – think I will have to be specific, sadly.

    Jane – I too don’t really care what it is as long as there is motivation. But it’s the fantasy factor I have to watch out for (as Lucy says) in Modern Heat. Then again, the bad stuff has already happened in the past so I don’t need to go into it in too much detail.

    Julie – yeah, what’s acceptable is tricky depending on the reader. I guess that’s why you don’t have too much that’s bad in category romance. Still, I wanted to push the boundaries just a little.

    Judy – I too love a bad boy. Though what I think of is bad, is someone’s else’s won’t-even-consider. I forgive a lot depending on the character and motivation. Wild girls and stunts would be good but I think I have to have something that’s worse than that. Still thinking of him dragging the friend into it and leaving him there – ie he either goes down with his friend or gets himself out.

    Janette – cheers lovie! Though skipping school and smoking isn’t bad enough for me sadly.

    Kaily – yep, that’s it in a nutshell. I think the bad thing must have happened to someone else but the hero feels he is responsible (whether he ACTUALLY was or not). It also can’t be too dark ’cause MH isn’t a dark line.

    Julie – Lol!

  14. Ok, after I leave this comment I’m going to be forever known as the most shallow person to have ever visited this blog.

    What can a bad boy get away with? For me, almost anything, but only if he’s kept his edge whilst becoming reformed. Because it all comes back to motivation, doesn’t it? I’m thinking more along the lines of films here now as opposed to books so clearly this is where I get shallow. If a man makes me sizzle in my seat then I can forgive him anything. I can, I can forgive Tim Daly’s character in The Outsider (he murdered men, cos he was good at it), but in his defence he only killed ‘bad’ people. The man’s hot, what can I say? Rach brings up a most excellent reference, Heidi’s debut hero, I could quite easily put aside everything in his past for one night with him, and yes, I know he’d redeemed himself but even if he hadn’t, I’d still want a bit of private time with him…

    If a man lays his hands on a woman or a child there is absolutely no way possible to redeem him. NONE. Outside of that, it just doesn’t bother me if he’s got charisma and charm and some likeable qualities.

    P.S. Useless piece of information for you. Did you know that after the movie ‘Deliberate Stranger’, based on the life of serial killer Ted Bundy, was released, that the real Ted Bundy’s fan club increased by literally thousands of women wanting to date him? Yep, it’s true, all these women wanted contact with that monster because they’d seen Mark Harmon play the lead role and had clearly been taken in my his good looks. A good lookin sweet talkin man can be locked up for life but can still charm from behind bars.

    Ok, I’m done now. I’ve no idea what point I was trying to make but good luck with the ms!!!!


  15. Well I’m late. I blame the weekend ;). I don’t know about an alpha male and drugs I lean toward your idea of getting a friend into trouble. Perhaps to make money for his family he ends up with a gang – no addiction required so no weakening of his character. Having his friend/brother join with him may result in his friend’s death which could be what caused the hero to look at his live and clean up. Seeing yourself as responsible for friend’s death would be an unending torment.

  16. Aideen – yeah, that’s pretty much me too. If he’s reformed himself or made amends, a bad past can only lend an edge. Yes, indeed, Heidi’s hero was yummy.
    Interesting re Ted Bundy! Women can be very odd sometimes. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Lacey – indeed, lots of torment there. Maybe too much for MH. Might keep away from the death aspect, but his friend could have eventually gone to jail and that would make him feel pretty bad.

  17. I’m not sure I could forgive drugs issue, even if he’s totally reformed now but that’s just a personal preference (or unpreference, can’t think of the right word, it’s late here!)

    I’m wondering if maybe a crowd of them were all out, having drinks. He knew a friend was drinking too and did nothing to stop him driving home and the friend crashed car–your bad boy then feels guilty about this incident.

    Or I like the idea someone else came up with. Maybe he hurt his father because he was beating up his mother? It’s possible he could have killed his father to stop him hurting his mother but then his mother turned against him because even though he was nasty she still loved her husband. He’d feel pretty bad about that, he’s killed his father but readers would prob feel it was justified.

    Hmm, my solutions end up with someone dead. Wonder what that says about me? Probably that it’s time for bed and I should watch less Crime channel!

  18. Great post, Jackie.
    I can forgive any hero in any Harlequin Enterprises book because I know whatever he’s done/life he led in the past, makes him the hero he is in the present. I also know the story will be about his journey to redemption and that makes his HEA even more tantilising/poignant/fill in your own word for that heart stopping last chapter!
    Am I just a push-over when it comes to cateogry romances or what???? Margie s

  19. Joanne – his father is out of the picture so I can’t go that route. Not sure if he’d get away with killing his father actually. Even in self defence. Assault maybe but not sure of anything else.
    Could do the friend’s drunken crash. I think it’s going to center largely on not so much the illegality or otherwise of the activities, so much as his response. And his response will be to walk away. Responsibility etc is all part of his conflict so that’ll tie in nicely.

    Margie – yes, that’s true. The thing for my hero is that he has to discover he actually IS the man the heroine thinks he is and always has been.
    And like I said before, I can forgive mostly anything in a hero as long as his motivations are understandable.

  20. hmmm, tricky.
    Could he have been a ‘bad boy’ in the romantic sense?
    I’m thinking he could have maybe really used a woman, maybe when he was around 19 or 20 ( i’m casting a young brad pitt here for realism purposes, lol)?
    She was an older, richer woman, maybe a vulnerable widow (casting susan sarandon, are you sensing a thelma and louise vibe coming on?) …he reeled her in, made her believe he genuinely loved her and when he was really just after her money to set himself up, (because he’s craving stability after his messed up beginnings and doesn’t know what love is) …it went as far as the alter even, where he finally had a crisis of conscience and stood her up, walking away because he realised he couldn’t go through with it
    He broke her heart for the second time in her life, and put himself off serious relationships to boot – he’s a man who just can’t be trusted with a woman’s love.
    gone on a bit there haven’t I?
    As far as actual crime goes, I don’t think violence would work for me in a story, & addiction feels out of place for mh.
    Stealing, corruption, embezzlement possibly? Or probably not actually!
    What does he do for a living? Maybe something dodgy in his early business days that helped him financially but has left him feeling shoddy?

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