Advice from the Archives: Can Heroes Ever Be Too Bad?

Do you love writing heroes with edge? Ever wondered how much edge is too much? Then this blog from last year’s SYTYCW competition is for you!

How bad is too bad? Can a hero ever behave so badly that even the love of a good woman can’t redeem him?

Now these are big – HUGE! – questions. For lots of readers, the hero is what draws them to romances, so giving them a hero they can fall in love with is vital. And many readers (myself included!) especially love a bad boy hero. For us, the redemption of the rake, the marrying of the playboy or the taming of the rebel is what it’s all about. To mess with this formula – to write a hero who behaves in such a way as to kill the readers’ love and respect for him – could be seen as a cardinal sin in the world of romance.

But what exactly might this behavior look like? And is it actually irredeemable?

Call me a soft touch (or maybe I’m just biased towards my heroes J), but I’m of the opinion that almost no behavior is irredeemable. As long as it’s superbly motivated and executed, it’s possible for readers to understand and accept pretty much anything, even if they don’t necessarily approve.

Of course, there are some behaviours that, in all honestly, we would not recommend you tackle! Rape, cruelty to animals, racism, homophobia, murder… these all cross a line that is *very* difficult to uncross. (Although… murder, if it was to protect someone he loved?  I could be persuaded to forgive and forget… Go on, who’s with me??) However dark-hearted or debauched these men are, they should have a code of honour that prevents them from becoming depraved. We don’t care how deep it’s buried, or how long it takes these heroes to find it, but that honour needs to be there in order for us to believe he’s really deserving of the heroine’s heart.

There are other reasons it might be difficult to warm to, or forgive, a hero. Confusion over what an Alpha male really is can be a major culprit here. Yes, Alphas can be arrogant and demanding and sometimes, downright rude. But they’re not total a**holes, even if at times, they’re close. And they are certainly not self-obsessed, over-sexed  misogynists. At the heart of it, heroes ultimately need to believe their heroines are their equal, and as such, deserve respect. That means not kicking off about using contraception, no double standards about their heroines’ sexual histories, and – my pet hate – not demanding a pregnant heroine gets an abortion.

But the biggest sin of all, in my book? The most unforgiveable crime? To be boring. Our books promise women escapist romantic fantasies, and the heroes are integral to that – whether they’re brooding desert sheikhs, honorable small-town sheriffs, and a million delicious variants in between.  As a romance writer, you’re part of the entertainment industry, and you have to remember that what you might want from a relationship in real life (stability, emotional availability, no relationship baggage) isn’t necessarily going to make for the most exciting reading experience. And realistic details about heroes (leaving the toilet seat up, anyone?) can be the kiss of death. Super bad boys win out over blandness any day. So, as you write your SYTYCW entry, have a think about how you’re going to make your hero – bad boy or otherwise! – stand out from the crowd. And just remember – the badder he is, the better those motivations need to be!