So, you killed someone? You have a dark past, present or future? That’s okay. You too, can still get the girl and find love!
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at what makes a character a bad boy or anti-hero and see if we can discern why the women swoon for them. Because they are, I promise. And your flaws are part of the attraction.
First, what defines a bad boy, anti-hero or what some call Byronic Heroes. We know the bad boys – the guys you can’t bring home to meet the parents. They may wear too much leather, have a disregard/disrespect for authority (and that includes dear old dad), brood, be rebellious, or be one of those long-haired music types. We know them by their clothes, their hair, their motorcycle, their attitude, their criminal record. And damn if they don’t draw us in with their sexy bad boy ways. Think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club, or Brad Pitt in Fight Club.
Anti-heroes are those characters who lack conventional heroic qualities. They possess both good and bad qualities. They show us what real human nature looks like. We root for them to redeem themselves and though they are not someone we can look up to, we like them and fall for them anyway. These guys are also the ones you may not want to bring home, but we want them despite their flaws. Think Vin Diesel as Riddick in any of the Riddick films, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean, or Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars.
Byronic Heroes are those who are proud, moody, cynical, vengeful, miserable and yet capable of deep emotion and strong affection. They can be obsessive, tortured and arrogant, yet we have to believe that our love can change them. Think Mr. Rochester (too many great actors have done this role – take your pick) from Jane Eyre, Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine from the X-Men, Laurence Olivier or Tom Hardy as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, or Gerard Butler as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. And let’s not forget Tom Hiddleston as Loki in Thor. They’re all just so irresistible!
So, why do we women-folk want them? I think it’s that we like a bit of the dark with our sweet. Too much nice can get cloying. Too much bad is not healthy for us. They may be murderers after all. But, if you can find that perfect balance, or kid yourself into thinking that you have, then voilá – love.
Something caused these guys to be like they are, we reason. They had rough childhoods. Some girl tap-danced all over their heart. They were orphaned, beaten, had bad role models… whatever. But something caused it – they weren’t born bad. We have to believe that if we want to believe we can help them on their road to redemption or believe that we will be the catalyst that spurs that redemption. It’s terribly romantic.
Okay, I may sound a bit snarky on this, but really I’m not. I buy into this all the time. I love these characters. I love these guys. I love the pure optimism and hope in it all. Jane Eyre totally saves Mr. Rochester and they live a long happy life together. Yes, they go through their share of tragedy and heartache, but still… at the end, they’re together, in love and she was the reason for his redemption. What isn’t to love about that?
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer (don’t roll your eyes – that show rocked!), Spike is a villain through how many seasons? He kills humans without remorse. Kills slayers with glee and much future boasting. He’s cruel, sarcastic, and if he can mess with you in any way, he will and smile while doing it. Even at his rottenest, we like him. He’s funny, sexy, and gets away with doing all the awful things we wish we could. But he cares deeply for Drusilla (who’s a total wacko) and later, Buffy, so we know he isn’t all bad. And who of us didn’t have a thing for him the minute he showed up in Season 2, Episode 3? Later, he becomes Buffy’s sex-toy, and then friend and at the end of the series, Spike is a hero of sorts. He and Buffy aren’t always nice to one another, but ultimately they bring about change for the better in each other.
Han Solo is a mercenary. He’s selfish and self-serving. He’s a sexy space cowboy with the coolest wingman ever. He’s a womanizer, street smart criminal, and hangs with the wrong crowds. He is not Dudley Do-Right, but under that gruff exterior beats the heart of a romantic softy who was willing to give up the love-of-his-life to his best friend when he thought that was what she wanted. Yes, indeed. This is a guy I can fall for. With ease. And don’t friendship, a worthy cause and the love of a good woman bring about a better Han? Yes they do. Love scores again.
Characters – the moral here is that even if you’re a killer, cruel, selfish, broody, and have loads of flaws, you can be redeemed and there’s a gal out there just waiting to be your salvation! Mind you, not all of the bad boys and anti-heroes can be redeemed, but that won’t slow the women down from trying.
Writers – characters don’t have to be perfect for readers to love them, want them, want to be them and find them emotionally relatable. Flaws add depth and are more interesting. Perfect characters are boring, so explore the dark side a little and see what happens.