An interesting book keeps the reader engaged throughout, with surprises and plot twists.
A standard romance trope is good girls with bad guys. This plays out in crime/mafia/biker scenarios where the hero is a criminal, and the heroine is not. Another version is the bully romance, where the hero is a bully or overbearing boss or billionaire who owns everything but compassion. Other bad boys are the nomads, outlaws, snipers, soldiers, and alpha males who care for only themselves.
The bad boy trope is has a male lead that isn’t always likeable. He doesn’t need to have a redeeming quality. Sometimes, the female lead will try to change him, but that can be futile. Such a notion also plays into the false, misleading perception that one must change, that she must change him, to ensure their romantic relationship continues. Another concern with this perspective is that she must tolerate and accept his inappropriate behaviour, outbreaks, bullying, shouting matches, arrogance and sometimes abuse in the name of love.
Anti-hero/bad boy male leads in romances have gained popularity in the last decade. Writers have the right to write such stories. Readers have the right to read such stories. I’m simply pointing out my observations.
Let’s look at the flip side and explore what happens when the female main character (FMC) is the bad character. The bad character is assertive, dominates, breaks conventions, intimidates and breaks the law. What does the bad girl do that jars the reader?
It’s the change in the power dynamic that challenges readers’ assumptions. What happens if it’s the FMC who is the bully boss? Many perceive a woman who is assertive as bossy. Add some intimidation and bullying, and she is perceived as an unsympathetic character. If the female lead is unrelatable or unsympathetic, such characters are cast as villains. Think of the wicked witch in Snow White.
Let’s play around with a bully female character and explore ways for unsettling the trope while still engaging the reader. Bully romances tend to occur in office or work settings. Let’s call our FMC Marie.
Marie is the founder and CEO of a mining company. She works in a male-dominated field. She cannot show doubt or uncertainty, or her leadership is jeopardised. She cannot show compassion towards employees (who have lost a loved one or want flex time) because that makes her appear emotional and weak. If she plays hardball during a conversation, that makes her a ball-breaking bitch.
When her company needs investors, she’ll need to work twice as hard to prove that she’s competent enough to manage the funds to banks and venture capitalists. She’ll likely get unfavourable terms and conditions on loans and investments. She’ll push back on the conditions only to receive even more unfavourable counter-offers from banks and investors. This can make her bitter and mean.
Not quite the kind of female lead many readers can relate to, let alone stick with for sixty thousand words.
Let’s flip the situation again. The male main character (MMC) is named Scott. He started a tech company and approached venture capitalists. He was confident and assertive and landed ten million dollars to start his company. He elbowed and clawed and bullied his way to the top of the industry.
What is he? A bad boss or an inspiration? Odds are he’s viewed as a role model and inspiration. He’ll be invited to speak at prominent conferences and forums. He’ll be regarded as a captain of industry.
Despite these and other challenges, my advice is to write the story you want to write. Write the story that smooths feathers or the one that ruffles them. My overall suggestion is to be aware of how your story will be perceived. Start a conversation about expectations and norms and then smash those common beliefs. Write a story that meets readers’ expectations while sharing insight into why or how these expectations are harmful.
What makes bad boy tropes appealing is their alignment with many people’s expectations of power and authority. What makes bad girl tropes confrontational is that they don’t measure up to readers’ expectations of women. Sometimes this can be appealing to readers. Often it pushes readers away.
Whichever version of the bad person trope you choose to write, always include one or two redeeming qualities to ensure the reader can empathise. Allowing for both positive and negative qualities makes the character more realistic and believable as a love interest and, in the end, loveable.
Thank you, @Sstaatz, for the topic suggestion.
Readers are encouraged to reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation.
The image is courtesy Yan Krukov from Pexel.com