Sunday, March 17, 2013

Advice for self-published romance authors: writing the lovable bad boys

Because Liz and I have been so close our whole lives, our writing often reflects similar themes.  It’s not that we plan it like that.  It just happens.  No more is this more evident than in our treatment of heroes and villains.  By which I mean the way we instinctively turn villains into the heroes of our books.

For me, Not Another Vampire Book and Wicked Ugly Bad both directly relate to the idea of “Bad Guys” becoming the focus of the story.  Plus, Kingu, Chason and Gion from the Elemental Phases series started out as antagonists and then ended with their own books.  I call these characters “heroic-villains.”  Truthfully, they’re my favorite guys to write.
I trace my villains love to a day in Disney World when I was a kid.  During a parade at the Magic Kingdom, I started cheering loudly when the Big Bad Wolf went by.  I was an empathetic child and felt the need to be supportive of underdogs.  No doubt the poor guy in the costume was sweltering in the Florida sun.  Plus, no one else was clapping for him.  I was his only fan.  In return for my adoration, the “wolf” gave me a huge bunch of balloons and did a frolicking dance that nearly sent him headlong into the moat outside Cinderella’s castle.
For a seven year old it all became clear in that moment.  Did any Little Pigs give me a dozen Mickey balloons and nearly careen off a bridge for me?  Hell no.  I was team wolf!  Absolutely this experience plays into my writing, especially in Wicked Ugly Bad, where the Big Bad Wolf isn’t so really bad, at all.  I like to explore the heroic-villain’s softer side.
If you want to write the villain as the hero of the book, I do have some suggestions, though:
1)      They can’t be too bad-Liz goes out of her way to make some of her characters the worst people possible.  Tyrant in The Son of Sun and Sand, for instance?  He’s a horrible, horrible person whom I adore.  Seriously, he’s my favorite off all her characters.  But even she would agree with me that a “heroic villain” can’t, say, feed a puppy through a paper shredder or run a strip club full of underage girls.  Use caution.  There are limits to how bad he can be and still be a viable hero.

2)      They can’t be villainous towards the heroine- Everybody likes a snarky bad guy.  Nothing wrong with that.  And your heroic-villain has to be somewhat bad.  That’s the whole point.  They don’t have to like the heroine right away.  Let him be a jerk.  But, I would never have them injure their heroine or do something completely unforgivable to her.  If anything, I would err on the side of caution and have the heroic-villain be significantly nicer to the heroine than he is to the rest of the characters.  This will give her a greater motivation for falling for the supposed bad guy.

3)        They should have a reason for their villainy- I tend to write my heroic-villains as halfway decent people, who are trapped by poor choices or bad circumstance.  They’ve had traumatic pasts and screwed-up lives.  If they’re sympathetic, it’s because they’re so self-destructive and lost.  Give them a reason for why they’re behaving this way and people will be more likely to forgive their actions.

4)      They should need heroine more than she needs them-I’m not talking surface motivations.  If you want to do a storyline where she needs him to save her family’s farm or something, great.  But, on an emotional level, heroic-villains need someone to come and save them from themselves. That’s the real story.  I think this is why I’m drawn to them as a writer.  Who needs the love of the princess more, the popular knight-in-shining armor or the lonely dragon?  In most cases, these guys are never going to win a popularity contest and they know it.  Chances are, the only one who can rescue your heroic-villain from isolation and bad decisions is the right heroine.  Speaking of which:

5)      Their heroines should be as strong as they are-  How she reacts to the heroic-villain and how she understands him will shape how the reader does.  You can’t have her cowering until the final page of the book, afraid to stand up for herself.  She has to meet him as an equal.  It’s the only way he’ll learn and they only way to keep the audience engaged in their relationship.  Now, if your heroine isn’t a naturally assertive, that’s okay.  I couldn’t make Ty in Exile in the Water Kingdom start yelling at Gion right off.  That’s not who she is.  But, I made sure that she didn’t let him push her around.  When she stopped talking to him, it made him more insane than if she’d punched him.  The point being, you can find something that works for your characters.

In closing, heroic-villains are the character I tend to write the most.  I’m drawn to them and their slew of problems.  I would encourage all writers to try writing one and see what developed.  Remember, bad guys need love, too.


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