Thursday 21 June 2012

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The Gathering Dark Blog Tour: Leigh Bardugo on the Appeal of the Badboy

Today, Leigh Bardugo is stopping by Once Upon a Bookcase as part of The Gathering Dark International Blog Tour! Read on to find out what makes Leigh's type of Badboy!

Leigh BardugoThe Appeal of the Badboy
First, we need to set some ground rules. I know some girls go in for a particular type of badboy: free spirits who ride motorcycles and slouch and won't be tamed (not by you, not by anyone!). These guys have "a past." They have problems with authority. They're often cranky and could probably do with a shave and a nap. This is not my type of badboy.

I like a badboy with an agenda and some ambition. He needs to be driven-- by personal demons, a thirst for vengeance, lust for gold, megalomania, low level sociopathy, whatever.

Preferred career paths: Dark wizard, goblin king, privateer/pirate, assassin, bounty hunter, soldier-for-hire to the highest bidder.

Favorite pastime: Doing what needs to be done.

I was always fascinated by these characters and never quite felt they got their due: David Bowie's Jareth (amusingly bad), Sandor Clegane (really bad), Raistlin from the Dragonlance series (not quite bad enough), even the monstrous Flagg who appeared in several of Stephen King's books in a variety of guises. These are not mouthy guys who hide their pain with sarcasm then stomp off to pout in good lighting. They kill people, enslave populations, destroy worlds. They like to keep busy.

Being ruthless isn't enough. My preferred badboy has a code, even a perverse kind of honor. He isn't a bully.

The Gathering Dark by Leigh BardugoBeing dangerous isn't enough. Angry bears and box jellyfish are dangerous but I don't want to get close to them. The platinum badboy has dignity, control, restraint.

That brings me to the allure of this particular kind of badboy or what I like to call, Flapping the Unflappable.

What does it mean when a boy who trusts no one chooses to trust you? Or when someone single-minded in his mission (whatever that may be), let's you distract him from that all-important goal (vengeance against his enemies, world domination, acquiring the Sword of Florgenflerg at any cost, etc.)? Frankly, it means you're awesome. It means there's something compelling enough about you to pull him off course, to drag him from his self-imposed exile from humanity, to disturb his well-ordered universe, and make him long for something more. You alone have been chosen to see behind the badboy's icy exterior to the human heart beneath, and that's a heady thing.

Of course, in real life, powerful, uncommunicative, isolated guys are usually that way for good reason. Delusions of grandeur, amorality, and a gift for violence tend to be decidedly less charming off the page, and we often find that, lurking beneath the brooding shell is a wounded little boy who doesn't have the guts to deal with his baggage. But in fiction the line between bad and evil can blur and the illusion of the brave but lonely monster can remain firmly in place. There at least, let bastards thrive.

Thank you, Leigh, for such an awesome guest post! Be sure to check out Leigh's website, and The Gathering Dark, which was released on 17th May 2012.


  1. I'm a bit too worked up at the moment to explain why this post is so disturbing. Instead, I'll link to a post that I wrote a few months ago about the danger of the bad boy fantasy in YA. I was calmer and thus better able to elucidate why this kind of thinking is so destructive.

    As for this quote, I can't even . . .

    "But in fiction the line between bad and evil can blur and the illusion of the brave but lonely monster can remain firmly in place. There at least, let bastards thrive."

    1. Leigh did say "in fiction" - she's not talking about real life. I've read your post, but I do feel that teens know the difference; through blogging, I know a number of teen girls, and none of them believe the way a "bad boy" behaves in a book is acceptable. It's fiction, it's just fun, and they know that. I understand that you think such stories could lead to unhealthy relationships, but I also think it would be highly insulting to teens to not have any stories with bad boys in them too. I do think they might end up feeling that those with a say think they're too stupid to know the difference and make their own opinions on that kind of thing, and that they're being wrapped up in cotton wool. I think there would be a big furor if you told teens what they can't read.

    2. I'm with Michelle on this one, as both a mother and someone who had a huge thing for bad boys when I was young. I don't think we need to *remove* bad boys from our stories because they absolutely exist. I think we need to stop *glorifying* them. There's a difference between writing a bad character and being honest about who he is and why he's broken, and then writing that same character as THE love interest our MC MUST OBTAIN. You know?

      We're inadvertently teaching that these behaviors are acceptable and even endearing. From someone who was abused by the beautiful broken bad boy she tried to fix, I can attest to the fact that there was nothing endearing about him. NOTHING.

    3. I can completely understand that. But, as it said it Michelle's post she left the URL to, this is based on paranormal novels. Now, I'm not saying the way that Edward in Twilight, for example, behaved is acceptable behaviour - if a normal guy acted that way, it would be completely wrong. But I think you also have to consider the story itself; Edward is a vampire, and Bella is in danger from bad vamps and volatile werewolves. I don't approve of his behaviour, but I think, considering everything, I can understand it. Also, in real life, there are no vampires or werewolves, therefore a girl wouldn't actually be in a situation where how Edward behaved would be considered on any level ok - which is my point; teens know the difference. Where paranormal is concerned, I think we can trust teens to take most of the story with a pinch of salt because of just how fictional it is. If the same things were happening in a contemporary, they would have the reaction they were supposed to. I hope this all makes sense.

    4. My original post (on my blog) was directed at writers of YA as a way to discuss how the content of their books can affect teen readers.

      It isn't an issue of "smart" or "stupid." I know brilliant and amazing teen girls who make some pretty stupid mistakes when it comes to guys and dating. I had no clue what I was doing at that age and could easily gotten myself in trouble had the wrong guy come along. What these girls lack is experience, and there's no amount of lecturing or after school specials that can give them that. But it confuses the issue when idealized romances based on abusive behavior result in True Love Forever with ponies and kitties playing in the sunshine.

      I'd written a longer response but realized that the perfect illustration of what I'm trying to point out already exists. If you haven't seen it before, Buffy vs. Edward remixes scenes from Twilight and Buffy in a way that is a bit more true to life, even though both involve paranormal beings.

      If an author wants to write a YA bad boy romance, by all means. You don't need my permission. But I do ask that writers consider whether the events of the the book glorify or justify destructive behavior. Instead of ignoring or brushing off the consequences, it's important to address the tough issues that come up when a bad boy misbehaves. And if there is a changing or taming of the beast, it impetus should be more than a simple "He loves me; he's all better now." Magic of that kind doesn't exist. Changing habits and attitudes is not easy, nor is it quick. While fiction isn't real life, it is a reflection of it and should do so honestly. Anything less is a disservice to our teen readers.

    5. Hey michelle, just wanted to let you know that there's a lot of people who can separate fiction from reality, unlike you. And there's a lot of activism out there for you to do that'd help real life people, 'saving' them from being attracted to fictional villain is the least and useless thing to worry about, because, I'm repeating it again, people can separate fiction from reality.

  2. I can understand the concern and it's a worthy topic. But I think the existence and appeal of the fictional badboy is somewhat separate from the issue of how a love interest (hero, badboy, beta or otherwise) treats the heroine and how the author chooses to have the heroine respond to that treatment.

  3. Ummm... I don't consider Edward a bad boy AT ALL. I love bad boys on the page. And I love this post!

    1. But the bad boys Leigh describes here are a more interesting version of the guys I like in real life. I don't like boring people. I like men who have interests, who are passionate about something. Bad boys in literature take this to the extreme. And they aren't evil to be evil. They don't realize they are on the wrong side of the fight, because they aren't fighting the same fight as everyone else... they have their own agenda. It is what makes them so interesting. They have thought through their world view and usually the heroine shows up and the realize maybe their logic is a little faulty (if they don't, the usually don't get the girl and have a tragic end... at least in my experience. This is far different from the bad boys like Edward, who is someone who is damage and is a threat to the main character. That IS disturbing and just unattravice.

    2. Sorry for all the grammar errors. I hate that usually, but am about to run out the door! can't wait to check back on all these thoughtful comments though.

    3. I LOVE this response...just thought I would let you know.

  4. Leigh - Love your post! You hint at something I've been wondering since I finished Shadow & Bone. "to disturb his well-ordered universe, and make him long for something more." <---might there be hope that The Darkling isn't all dark or that he actually has feelings for Alina??!!

    I don't think this post is about relationships or love interests. It's about the many people that love bad boy characters and even villains. All worlds, real and created, are full of good, evil, and every shade of grey in between. To not acknowledge that is ridiculous and a disservice to teens everywhere. Leigh does an amazing job showing the reader exactly how her heroine grows as a result of her encounters with the bad boy character.

    All villains are the heroes of their stories, and teens are smart enough to understand that. Books are fiction and entertainment, not role models or replacements for parents.

  5. Oh I LOVE this post! And honestly, it makes me a hell of a lot more excited to meet the Darkling that I so often hear about in reviews.

    Although I think my bad boy is *slightly* more tame than Leigh's. Generally in fiction, I swoon for the bad-boy-in-training, but still who has a past, who has secret ambition and desire that motivates him to be the way he is.

    I love how Leigh says that her particularly breed of bad boy has an agenda. YES. If they're just angry or dangerous for no reason, it grates my nerves. SOMETHING must inspire them to act the way they do and I want to dig deep and find that. I want the author to bring across a troubled and complicated character who can evoke sympathy, but yet.. well, he's still a bastard. I like feeling conflicted.

    Would I ever go for the bad boy in real life? NO. I'm personally all for the sweet, guy-next-door, though I'll slip a sideways glance at the mysterious badboy and wonder for a moment what his secrets are. In fiction? The sweet boy usually gets forgotten for the dark and twisted... (maybe I'm manifesting my hidden desires in a safe place? haha).

    Awesome, awesome, awesome post! I am SO excited to read The Gathering Dark!!