Monday, September 29, 2014

Even Bad Boys Have To Be Mama's Boys

I was reading a client's project last week that we have prepped for a particular editor. When we do something new like this, we often build the story from the ground up and spend a lot of time thinking through plots and characters to insure we are heading in the right direction. In any case, after reading through the first three pages, it hit me that the hero was really a jerk. Yes, there were some comments that were tossed in that implied he was supposed to be a good guy, but darn it, at the end of that partial, I really struggled to like the guy.

Unfortunately, there are so many stories that I have seen where the writer has tried to create this tough "bad boy" image for the hero, and made him so much of a "bad boy" that he becomes unlikable. The machismo, toughness or hard exterior the author created now has build up such a wall it become tough for the reader to connect with him.

If you think of this outside of writing, this happens all of the time. If someone moves into your neighborhood, or starts up in your company and his or her attitude is cold and distant, it becomes really hard to break that shell and get to know the person. What's worse is, the longer you don't talk to the person, the harder it is to finally get up the nerve to say something later. Eventually, there is nothing you can do to make that connection.

For an author, those opening pages of the book - essentially those first three chapters - is crucial to give the reader a chance to like the hero and heroine. The two of them might not be able to get along, but we have to make a connection with them. The rakes can really be bad boys, but we also have to see the softer side at some point. The tough cop can be ruthless at the station, but when he comes home, show us that softer side. It doesn't have to be much, but something has to be there.

In the case of my author and her story, it took a whole 2 paragraphs we had to insert to give us a sense of why he was being such a jerk to the heroine in the opening pages. We didn't need to have pages of back story or pages of mindless drivel and introspection. It was a small piece of introspection where he simply said to himself, "I have to stay distant to her. I cannot fall for her again (yes they had a prior relationship). He had to get her away soon because he knew, the longer he was around her, the harder the fall would be."

It is that little piece that we give to the reader to allow us to accept that  ruthlessness.

I do think authors make this mistake because they "don't want to give away too much." In other words, they are trying too hard to keep the reader in the dark just as much as the other characters. I should note, we see this also with query letters where the author "doesn't want to give away the ending to the agent." This is true for back cover blurbs for the consumer, but for the agent, we need to know. The same goes for the reader. It is OK for us to know things the other character doesn't know. This builds suspense.

So, if you do have those bad boys in your story, go ahead and keep 'em. We like these guys, but remember, to show that softer side. Let us in on their little secret of being a mama's boy and make sure it happens early in the story. I promise, your readers will not tell the heroine about that softer side. It will be our little secret until she finds out about it and then falls madly in love with him.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that if I dislike the main character I have a difficult time continuing to read.