Mr. Perfect or Bad Boy Hero

I think everyone will agree when you’re reading a novel, any genre, if the hero is too perfect- or seemingly flawless- it’s boring. People like to have main characters with flaws. Sometimes even bad streaks. It’s the same thing with writers. When you’re writing a character that seems too nice or perfect, it’s boring.

I found that out with my previous manuscript. My heroine’s love interest seemed too perfect. And writing scenes with him in it was tedious. So now I get to have a fun time putting a few bad boy streaks in him. But I’ll start those fun revisions next year (a whopping 3 weeks away).

I’m having a blast writing my third manuscript. Mainly because the ‘hero’ in the story is hardly a hero at all. He starts a lot of the conflicts, has some unsavory ‘flaws’ and lives his life in a much less than charitable fashion. If I’m having this much more fun writing the story, I’m hoping my critiquers will have more fun reading it.

But this brought a big question to the tips of my fingers.

How bad is too bad before readers start to hate him? Before they throw the book across the room and refuse to read any further to see the redeeming qualities?

I think much of this depends first on the time period in which the book is set.

I believe Middle Ages and early Renaissance time period grants ‘heroes’ a little more wiggle room in the good/bad department, due to the harsh living conditions and necessity to live against the elements and endless bandits roaming the lands.

But for contemporary time period, what are some of the big No-No’s for heroes? I’ve heard several agents and editors say infidelity is the #1 Anti-Hero characteristic. Not necessarily promiscuity, but if the ‘hero’ is in a committed relationship or your intention to have the main characters end up together, infidelity is a major turn off.

Cruelty to children and the helpless is probably another big no-no. But how far can a writer go in ‘evil-ing up’ her hero?

I’ve perused a few sites trying to find what most others find as acceptable flaws, versus ‘too-much-to-handle.’

But what do you think? What ‘flaws in a hero would make you toss the book across the room? What is your boundary between hero and evil?

5 thoughts on “Mr. Perfect or Bad Boy Hero

  1. I think a big part of it is what genre you’re writing in. For romance, infidelity and rape are big no-no’s, but if you go into fantasy or scifi (or literary fiction, but let’s not count that because practically anything can happen there) then you begin to see heroes who do those things and either redeem themselves or get away with it. Also, there are the books where you aren’t actually *rooting* for the protagonist, because s/he’s an asshole, you’re just fascinated by them.

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  3. I’d define “bad.” Is he just someone who plays by his own rules and, as the great Fleetwood Mac said, goes his own way, or is he knocking off liquor store on his way to pick up the heroine for a date? I think readers will appreciate someone who has flaws like you said. And it will add to the tension. Can’t wait to read it!

  4. The manuscript I’m working on right now has a hero who has (at least in his mind) committed murder. How much worse can it get?

    But before I embarked on the writing of this manuscript, I researched Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” (here’s a link to that page in Wikipedia:, which helped me get a feel for what heros can/can’t get away with. I rented movies on Joseph Campell’s mythological theories, and I re-read his books–the same ones I had once read in college with a sort of aloof interest–but this time I really DELVED into the theory of the hero.

    It helped a lot.

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