What makes a bad boy too bad?

In real life, I’m not attracted to bad boys. I’m a habitual rule-follower; I’m allergic to getting in trouble. If I were a romance novel heroine, I’d be destined to end up with a bad boy.

Bad boys make me nervous. They’re unreliable—if you can’t trust them to follow society’s rules, how can you trust them to follow the unspoken rules of a committed relationship?

But in romance, I can suspend my own standards and believe that bad boys can be good boys when it comes to the woman they love. That said, I have very strict standards they have to stick to.

1. No talking down to the heroine. Ever.


This chaps my ass like a slap. My sympathy will never lie with a man who demeans a woman—whether it’s with words or a fist. He can misspeak, and get upset, and be occasionally rude, and say things he regrets. But no talking to the heroine like she’s beneath him or an idiot.

2. No cheating on the heroine. Or anyone else.

Zero tolerance. This is a crime against trust, and if a hero breaks a heroine’s trust this way, then he’s broken mine, too.

Inside by Brenda Novak3. No committing a felony—unless there are mitigating circumstances.

The exception probably wouldn’t have been there until a few weeks ago, when I read Brenda Novak’s gut-twisting romantic suspense Inside. The hero, Virgil Skinner, spent years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But while inside, he did commit crimes—horrible crimes—though I could understand why. And I wouldn’t have believed his character if he’d been able to survive prison without committing them.

But I can’t think of many other heroes who’ve done something heinous and still gained my sympathy.

Looking at my rules, I wonder if my definition of a bad boy is wrong. Maybe I’m getting bad boys mixed up with jerks. What do you think?

What’s your definition of a “bad boy”? Do you like bad-boy heroes? What are your standards for bad boys in romance?


  1. I love bad boys! My first romance novel has a charming bad boy. Lots of fun.

    I don’t have a definition as much as an example: Sawyer on lost. Gorgeous, dangerous, but he has a good heart (eventually).

  2. I love a bad boy hero, although in real life I’d either 1) hate him or 2) be scared to death of him. In novels, though, the heroine “saves” him and redeems him–and you have to love that!

  3. I agree…there is a difference between ‘bad boys’ and just plain jerks. One of the hallmarks of bad boy heros is that they typically want the heroine to leave right off the bat because they don’t want to hurt her, but they’re smitten and..the rest is romance. 🙂

    Bad boy: Vampires
    Hero Example: Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed
    Jerk Example: Collin Farrell’s character in the new Fright Night (whom I’m going to drool over anyway)

    Yup, I’m cliche…what can I say? 🙂

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