In the romance genre, we often look for books with a particular trope (i.e. reoccurring theme). The infamous “bad boy” most likely comes to mind. Yes, readers tend to have a strange fascination with these kinds of love interests. However, nobody has really talked about the fact that many readers have very different ideas regarding what makes for a good literary bad boy.
Being a personal bad boy fan myself, I was shocked to find out one day that my infatuation with villainous characters was considered illogical by fellow romance connoisseurs. “But what’s more ‘bad boy’ than a serpent-eyed, deep-voiced villain who wants to take over the world?” I’d ask. “But they are awful people. You shouldn’t like them and you shouldn’t want to date them,” they’d tell me.
Often times, when someone says that they like bad boys in romance, what they are really saying is that they like rebellious boys even though, personally, my first association with the word “bad” would be “mean” or “evil”. I’m not saying that either interpretation is wrong, per se, but it does bring up quite a lot of confusion for some authors, myself included, when a book is being advertised as a bad boy romance and a reader complains about there being too much emotional abuse because the love interest called the protagonist a hurtful name on more than one occasion.
But the problem of differing expectations is not quite as big as the problem many readers have with the protagonist falling in love with someone who would even so much as raise their voice at them. Regardless of your background, it takes quite a bit of suspension of disbelief to be able to believe that a perfect person who can never do anything even remotely wrong without extremely convincing justification exists. Nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. And that’s okay. It’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s also okay to long for perfection at the same time. We want to lose ourselves in a world better than our own even if just for a few hours. We want to pretend perfect people exist and that we can spend time with them in the worlds of the books we read. It’s perfectly fine for fictional characters to be unrealistic. I am the first person who will always argue that fiction books should be written for the purpose of entertainment first.
However, with that said, why can’t that rule apply to other types of characters as well? Why is a book deemed of lesser quality if its love interest is more selfish than a nice guy who is forced to steal cars to pay for his ill sibling’s medical bills? Of course we would want to surround ourselves and our loved ones with only the best and most kindhearted people in the real world and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But why shouldn’t readers be allowed to indulge in strange and perhaps nonsensical fantasies in the privacy of their homes? Why not acknowledge that less conventional books such as dark romances have worth?
A lot of people argue that books hold too much influence over people’s minds, and therefore, should only contain material that presents the values that we deem appropriate. In all honesty, I wish it were true. If it were, then we would be able to change the minds of countless individuals to do better things than they intend. But sadly, this is not the case. Immoral people don’t need a reason to do immoral things. What they look for is an excuse. When you hold a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail.
Human beings are capable of resisting their own urges and desires when they understand they are wrong and that it would be wrong to act on them. It’s the one thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. By claiming that we are unable to simply enjoy fiction books without being compelled to replicate the things we read in them is to deny that we are humans at all. Educated adults are able to discern fact from fiction, and are able to uphold moral values regardless of our various preferences and desires. I, as I’ve said, very much enjoy reading bad boy romances and erotica as much as writing them, but my husband, the person I chose to be my life partner, is as far from a bad boy as you can get. The only mean thing he’s ever done to me in all the years we’ve been together was buy me my favorite chocolate even though he knows I’m trying to lose some weight. I have written about characters killing one another, but I could never think of doing such a thing to another human being in real life. Even though I read and enjoy romances featuring bad boys, I am thankful that my family and schools have educated me well enough to know that these are not the kinds of people I would want to get involved with in real life.
So, truly, for intelligent, educated, and moral adults, what is the harm in a bad boy being the worst boy in a romance novel? There is no need to deem certain books with certain themes worthless or lacking in quality just because some of the choices the characters make are not something we necessarily approve of. Most fiction authors never write a story with the intent to urge people to do something in real life. After all, everything is make-believe with fiction, and authors trust that you, the reader, are able to make the right judgments about whether something is right or wrong. Especially when it comes to non-children’s books.
I hope that this article has managed to open your mind to new possibilities and equipped you with the understanding needed to objectively read and review books in which characters don’t make all the choices you feel they should. Here’s to responsible enjoyment!
Klara Raškaj is a fantasy romance author who occasionally indulges in writing pure, undiluted monster erotica. Though she often pushes the boundaries of genre conventions, she never fails to deliver on a unique story with a magical creature romance and some horror elements sprinkled in. In her spare time, she engages in heated fighting game matches against her husband or watches anime with him.
Take a look at her work and sign up for a FREE ebook on her website: https://klararaskaj.com/.