Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Writer's Wednesday: Bad Boys as Heroes?

This Writer's Wednesday Intrigue author Paula Graves asks a great question - can bad boys be hero material?

I'm a sucker for a good redemption story. I'm also a bit of a sucker for a story where someone who seems completely irredeemable gets a second chance to get it right. Which got me to thinking about what a guy has to do to be a romance hero. Regardless of his background and history, what does it take to be heroic?

Could a thief be redeemed? I think this particular crime has the most potential, because slick, sexy jewel thiefs are an old staple of movies and stories, so you wouldn't have far to jump to make one of those guys a hero. But what about a guy who steals to keep his family fed? It seems a little more sympathetic on the surface--but heroes are supposed to be able to take care of their families without resorting to crime. In a perverted sort of way, it's more egregious for men to steal food than diamonds, at least in terms of what we're looking for in a hero. A diamond thief is doing something very difficult, breaking security systems, taking big risks. He's proactive and alpha in a way a common grocery thief wouldn't be.

But let's think a little harder about the food thief. What if he was a young, single father, left to take care of a new baby, out of work because the economy tanked and thanks to a troubled family life and having a child so young, he's never gotten enough education and training to pick himself up and make something of himself? We could set his story later in his life, after he's worked his way out of the mess he was in and now he's trying to go back to every place he stole money from (because he's so consciencious, he actually kept a journal documenting where he stole and what he stole because he intended to pay them back. Now we've got a hero with a real quirk, a real sense of honor, and someone who could make a very interesting hero with the right story. By going to lengths to pay back the money he owed, by even keeping the record in the first place, he's displaying honor as well as being proactive and daring about doing what's right. That's the kind of behavior we look for in our heroes, no matter what the background.

Could a con artist be redeemed? I'm reminded of the TV show LOST because all of those characters needed redemption in one way or another. But James "Sawyer" Ford was, for much of the early run, a near villain on the show who slowly, over time and with much suffering in the meantime, found his way to a measure of redemption. He ended the show still an anti-hero type, rather than a full-blown hero, but he was rootable enough to be considered a strong protagonist by the end. What made his redemption story work was that his essential self didn't really change--he was still clever, determined and at times ruthless--but his motives changed. He cared about other people in a way he didn't in the beginning He began taking into account the feelings and needs of others. He even put himself on the line to help others, something he didn't do in the early, unrootable days of the show. He was always proactive, but at the end, he showed honor as well.

I should point out that Sawyer was also a murderer--twice over--which I think is normally very hard to forgive in a hero. In both instances, Sawyer thought he was killing the man who destroyed his family. He was right one of the times, but not before he mistakenly murdered a man who was not guilty of the crimes he thought. The otherworldy, almost allegorical nature of LOST allows for viewers to overlook some pretty egregious behavior by the characters. But in a romance, I think it would be very hard to have a murderer as a hero unless the circumstances were extremely mitigating (like killing a man who killed your daughter or wife) and the hero had since repented of his behavior and accepted the moral and legal consequences of such a crime as being fully deserved.

I don't think rapists or sexual predators of any sort would be likely candidates for heroes because sexual violence is usually rooted in deeper psychological problems that those who commit the crimes won't be able to overcome. It would be a really, really, REALLY hard sell, both to an editor and to the reader.

But are there other crimes you think would be unforgivable for a potential hero to have ever committed in his lifetime? And are there bad guy characters in books, on TV or in movies that you think are prime candidates for a redemption story and their own happily ever after? Tell us about them!

Paula's latest release is BACHELOR SHERIFF.  Come back on the 28th as it is also our PINK HEART PICK Book Club selection for September! 

1 comment:

  1. Ooh, Paula, this is a subject very close to my heart cos I love bad boys.

    I definitely think con artists can make for excellent heroes if they have panache and their 'marks' are even badder guys, also if they're handsome and witty and sexy (like Paul and Bob in the Sting or Paul again in The Long Hot Summer) then you've definitely got something.

    Interestingly, my first hero in Bedded by a Bad Boy (gotta love that title!!) was an ex-con who'd been imprisoned twice: The first time for 'corrupting a minor' (the mitigating circumstances being he was 16 at the time and the girl was 15) and then later on parole he was done again for a bar fight (which he didn't start, but because he was on parole and he was involved he got sent back to prison). When the story started it was 15 years later and he still had that bad boy edge, but had learned from his mistakes. I think the most compelling thing about him as a hero was that his honour and integrity had been hard earned. After an abusive childhood he'd taken a lot of wrong turns and been punished for them but had managed to turn himself around...

    My editor really liked the fact that I'd taken risks with my hero and managed to make him redeemable despite having so many black marks against him.

    And it's the journey to redemption that makes a good bad boy IMHO - not so much the crime and whether it's excusable but whether he has redeemed himself. And how much it has cost him.

    Interesting discussion.