Beneath the Leather Jacket: Writing with the Bad Boy Trope
Everyone loves a bad boy—right? Even if bad boys make you run screaming in the other direction in real life, they’re hard to resist in fiction, especially in young adult novels. Take one part leather jacket, one part motorcycle, and one part tattoos, and you’ll have readers falling in love before your bad boy even says a peep.
But how do you write a bad boy that’ll make you swoon rather than sneer?
Bad Boy Dos
• That Magnetic Pull — Your bad boy character will be most successful if we feel that same, inescapable pull towards him as your protagonist. You always want your reader to fall for your love interest, but it’s even more important to make the reader swoon when you’re writing a bad boy. Since the bad boy needs to be wrong for the protagonist in some major way, whether he’s from a feuding family or he’s just rude, he’s not the easy choice for our protagonist. Since picking him will make life tough for your protagonist in some way, make sure we really love him so we can see why they (spoilers!) choose him in the end.
• Unleashing the Wild Side — Bad boys work really well in young adult novels when they help unleash a side of the protagonist we don’t see on page one. Character development is a huge part of any novel, and while your protagonist should grow and change on their own, a bad boy can be a useful tool to help them gain a different perspective or expose them to a world that’s not their own.
Bad Boy Don’ts
• Not So Bad — Writers are often told to make their characters sympathetic, and this means that characters that are meant to be bad boys are often not-all-that-bad boys, which can deflate a story. That’s not to say your bad boy needs to be a bank robber or an assassin! But make your bad boy character have some bad-ness to him. Otherwise, readers will be able to see through your bad boy’s facade easily, and we won’t be at all surprised when Mr. Mean is volunteering at an animal shelter by page 50.
• Really Way Too Bad — On the flip side, make sure that your bad boy has some redeeming qualities. If he doesn’t, he’s not a bad boy, he’s a jerk, and it’ll be hard for readers to fall in love (check out Emily’s blog post on this topic here). All characters need nuance, and it’s especially important that flawed characters like bad boys have another dimension. Maybe we see that, although he sucks at relationships, he’s insanely loyal and will do anything for the people he loves. We can love to hate him at the beginning of the book, but by the end, we should just love him, and that’s hard to do if he’s actually an awful person.
Now go forth and be bad—we won’t tell anyone!