There are a lot of tropes in fiction, especially in young adult and new adult novels. I’m sure you can think of a few off the top of your head right now: The Chosen One, The Love Triangle, The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, The Resident Weird/Goth Kid, The Conveniently Absent Parents. The clumsy and understated yet somehow totally beautiful and competent at everything protagonist.
You get my drift.
If you’re a book lover with an internet connection, you’ve probably heard some ranting about tropes. But no matter how much people may rant about it, there is one particular trope that I am just not tired of: The Bad Boy With a Heart of Gold.
That’s right, I love me some fictional bad boys, and even better when they’re one of the ever-recognizable, tortured soul, all-black wearing, punch throwing, but secretly really good Bad Boy With a Heart of Gold. I adore those Travis Maddoxes (or, hell, basically any Maddox brother), Jace Wayland/Lightwood/Herondales, Will Herondales, and Draco Malfoys (okay, that last one is definitely arguable on the “heart of gold” front, but ya know…he comes around).
Besides, if I don’t put him on the list, he might tell Lucius.
For those of you who haven’t already uttered a disgusted “ugh” and clicked away from this article to go browse for hilarious political memes or start shopping for pillowcases with Dennis Quaid’s face on them (hey, I don’t know what you do with your free time), bear with me. Generally speaking, I have some pretty unpopular opinions on…well, a lot of things, so I’ll totally understand if you disagree with me, but the thing is…I’ve got my reasons. Several reasons. And we’re about to talk about them right meow.
1. There’s a lot going on underneath the surface.
As the affectionate nickname for the trope may suggest, there’s a lot going on here that we don’t see on the surface. The bad boy thing is just the hard candy shell—all the sweet goodness is on the inside.
The Bad Boy With a Heart of Gold is basically the epitome of the type of character who has a lot more going on than meets the eye, and call me crazy (no, go ahead, tons of people do), but I really love that. Almost as soon as we come across a fictional bad boy, I find myself thinking, so what’s reallyyy going on here?
Unless they’re a one dimensional, evil-cuz-they-like-to-be-evil villain (which is a whole different trope, mind you), it’s rare that anyone is a bad boy (or bad girl—I’m open to a little rebellion from any gender) for no reason at all. Something had to have made them this way, just like something (or things) made us all the way we are. So I can’t help but be intrigued when I discover a good fictional Bad Boy. I can’t help but wonder, how did we get here? What are you hiding? They keep me intrigued, and they keep me reading. And this point sort of ties in with my second point…
2. Their snark is a shield.
Yes, I said snark.
Remember how I said the Bad Boy With a Heart of Gold is the epitome of having something going on under the surface? Well, a lot of times what’s going on under the surface is some sort of painful past, a bad experience, or something that they’re running from, either literally or emotionally. A lot of times our beloved Bad Boys and Bad Girls are just trying to find some way to deal with whatever negativity haunts their past—or their present, for that matter. So what does that have to do with the snark?
Glad you asked.
All that snarkiness, the sharp wit, the constant sarcastic comments, the penchant for fighting, the natural magnetism for trouble—it’s all being used as a shield. I mean, hell, Jace will even tell you that himself.
Sarcastically, of course.
“I wish you’d stop desperately trying to get my attention like this,” he said. “It’s become embarrassing.”
“Sarcasm is the last refuge of the imaginatively bankrupt,” she told him.
“I can’t help it. I use my rapier wit to hide my inner pain.”
Yes, it’s a story you’ve heard before. I know, I know. That’s why it’s a trope. But again, it’s one I love. To me, it makes sense that people will use bad boy behavior as a shield or a metaphorical form of protection. That makes perfect sense to me. That is something that resonates with me more than many types of characterization, because it’s so realistic and so relatable. We all want to protect ourselves, protect our hearts, especially if we’ve gone through difficult things in the past. And we all go about it in different ways. Some of us close ourselves off or grow more cautious with our emotions.
Some of us join underground fight clubs or pilot flying motorcycles.
I mean, whatever works, right?
And while we’re on the topic of sarcastic comments, let’s discuss my third reason…
3. They’re funny.
“Azkaban–the wizard prison, Goyle. Honestly, if you were any slower, you’d be going backward.”
Since the bad boys are often the ones with all the sarcastic comments, they’re usually hilarious. Sure, some of the things they say are mean as hell (I’m looking at you, Draco), but you have to admit, they’re funny. Take Jace of The Mortal Instruments series as an example: without his nearly constant feed of somewhat-narcissistic, perpetually sardonic commentary, TMI would have been a totally different series.
Jace’s snarkiness had me legitimately laughing out loud so many times during that series (and still does when he appears in The Infernal Devices series), and the same goes for other lovable bad boys, especially The Maddox Brothers from Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster and its sequels.
“Haven’t you heard that modesty is an attractive trait?”
“Only from ugly people,” Jace confided. “The meek may inherit the earth, but at the moment it belongs to the conceited. Like me.”
“Not everyone wants you all the time, Jace,” he said.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“As far as Shadowhunters go, I’m a pretty big deal. Not to intimidate you.”
“I saw you fight Shawn Smith last year, man. I thought I was about to witness someone’s death!”
“You wanna see it again?”
“Who can tell me which president had a cross-eyed wife with a bad case of the uglies?” Chaney asked.
“Make sure you get that down,” Travis whispered. “I’m gonna need to know that for job interviews.”
“You are a complete asshole, you know that?”
“I’ve been called worse.”
4. They keep things interesting.
You have to admit: the Bad Boy With a Heart of Gold keeps things interesting. Yes, in real life, we all want the good guy who works hard, lays low, and who we never have to fly to Vegas to marry in a quickie wedding in order to give him an alibi for a deadly fire that broke out at an underground fight club.
But in fiction, you have to admit, it would get a bit boring reading 300 pages about a guy who goes to school, goes to sports practice, goes home and promptly does his homework and chores, helps mom with dinner, and then goes to sleep, every single day, over and over again. Sure, not every character has to break bad, and make no mistake about it, not all my fictional crushes are bad boys. For every Maddox brother and strangely enticing member of the Herondale lineage to obsess over, there’s also a Levi Stewart who wants to hear your fan fiction and brings you specialty Starbucks drinks (hi, dream boyfriend much?). There’s also definitely such a thing as taking the “bad boy image” too far (*cough* Christian Grey *cough* sorry, what? I’m a little under the weather). But those bad boys do keep it interesting. You never know what’s coming next, they manage to facilitate some serious plot twists, and there’s always another layer to peel back and learn about.
And finally, reason number five…
5. They’re hot.
The Bad Boy With a Heart of Gold is just plain hot. Sorry not sorry, but the dudes are downright sexy. And of course, looks aren’t everything. But they are something. And some of these book bad boys make it all too easy to develop a bit of a crush on them.
“A pair of heavy black boots stepped in front of me, diverting my attention to the floor. My eyes traveled upward: jeans spattered with blood, a set of finely chiseled abs, a bare, tattooed chest drenched in sweat, and finally, a pair of warm brown eyes. I was shoved from behind, and Travis caught me by the arm before I fell forward.” – Beautiful Disaster // Jamie McGuire
So, there you have it, folks. I’m not sick of the bad boy trope, and I doubt I will be anytime soon. What exactly this says about me, well, I’m not sure. My affinity for this particular trope isn’t exactly anything new. I’ve certainly dated my fair share of, shall we say, unsavory characters in my day, and ever since I was a child, my favorite Disney movie has always been Beauty and the Beast…and let’s be real, The Beast is kind of the definition of Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold.
What about all of you? Are you sick of the bad boy trope, or do you love it? Are there any other tropes you actually kind of love? Let me know in the comments below. You know I’d love to talk! <3