Okay, I’m admitting this up front – I love a good b*stard. I really, really do. I like reading about them and I loooove writing them. There’s is something very satisfying about a sexy, arrogant SOB who gets his comeuppance at the hands of the heroine. The powerful, autocratic alpha male brought down by some cool chick who becomes his Achilles heel.
For me nothing beats the thrill of reading when the hero does something particularly b*stardy and you’re going ‘no way! Did he really say/do that???’ And you’re shocked because wow, what a b*stard, but secretly you’re kind of thrilled because you never thought he’d go that far and yet he does.
Maybe you don’t find that thrilling but I do. And I admire an author who manages to pull off the b*stard and yet make him believable and sympathetic. I think it’s a very fine line and probably depends a lot on the reader. One woman’s hot button is another’s ‘whatever’.
Anyway, I’m writing this post because of my chess player. He is, to be blunt, a b*stard. And he’s a b*stard to write as well because his character is very black and white (imagery!), not to mention screwed up. He does things where I have that ‘I can’t believe you just did that’ moment. And for the past few iterations of this ms, I have been trying to pull back on him because…well…I’m afraid. I don’t want him to go there because it’s not ‘heroic’ or sympathetic. And yet every time I stop him the ms goes haywire because he’s not acting in character.
So eventually I decided to let him have his head and it’s made for a very interesting ms. Especially the end, where I broke him down totally and I finally figured out why he acts the way he does. And that, I have to say, was another ‘I can’t believe you did that’! moment. Yes, the b*stard was holding out on me and only revealed his true infamy in the last chapter and it’s something that I need to consider whether to pull back or let be. I’m hoping I can pull it off. Only time will tell.
But the interesting thing has been figuring out how I can pull off a good b*stard without making him too unsympathetic and here are a few things that I reckon you need to make your b*stard hero work (as always, take with a grain of salt because, y’know, unpublished etc).
1. Motivation – you MUST have good motivation for him to do the things he does. Just because he’s angry and he’s an alpha doesn’t work. Because deep down he’s a decent guy – he has to be, he’s the hero. So there has to be a very good reason for why he doesn’t act like a decent guy at times. We may not like what he does, but if we understand it,we’re more likely to forgive him.
2. Show some humanity – you need a save the cat moment. A moment where the reader can see his innate decency. It can be something he says or, more often, something he does. I’m particularly a fan of something nice he does for the heroine.
3. The heroine must be his equal – now, I’m not saying she needs to be a b*tch to his b*stard. She may actually be a quiet kind of heroine. I think this depends on what he needs as a character. Does he need someone to stand up to him? Or does he really need someone who forces him to be gentle? What can she teach him? I quite like the heroine who doesn’t get stroppy when he’s being an a-hole but kind of calms him like a horse-whisperer calming a wild stallion. Hehe. However you do it, she needs to be strong enough not to take his crap.
4. At some point he has to recogrnise his b*stardy – nothing is more annoying that a hero who behaves like an ass and gets away with it. Here is where you need your heroine to call him on it. Maybe not immediately because b*stards take time to wear down after all, but at some point he HAS to recognise when he’s being an ass. And an apology is always nice.
5. Break him – this is the part I find most satisfying. The heroine must break him down, strip away the b*stard mask he’s hiding behind, and find the true hero he is underneath. Maisey Yates has done a fabulous post on black moments so go read it because what she says is so true. You cannot hold back when breaking these kind of heroes. The b*stard hero will hold on to his b*stardy till the bitter end. And that’s mainly because it’s the b*stards that have the deepest conflict. The most terrible of wounds. He’ll hold onto his secrets extremely hard because he’s SO terrified of confronting them.
6. Give us an ending where he’s finally the hero he was always meant to be – mainly so we can see these guys have embraced the fact that they’re actually decent men and can now act like it.
So that’s my beginners guide to writing a b*stard. Anyone else got any great b*stard tips??