Crossing the Line: Bad Boy or Abusive?


He can't REALLY be a bad person, he has abs!

He can’t REALLY be a bad person, look at his abs!

Fair warning right up front, this is going to be a rant. A big fat ranty sunday with rant flavored cherries on top.

I’ve learned a lot from writing free fiction online. How to gain a fanbase before actually publishing anything, how to manage regular updates while working full time, how to interact with readers, and how not  to act when someone directs a nasty comment at me.

But something else I’ve learned is beginning to bother me. It’s not sitting right with me. It’s about love, or maybe (more likely) it’s about sex. It’s about the “love” interest and the ever-changing role he takes. Lately it seems like all I see is the bad boy. He shows up in every book, decked out in leather and scuffed shoes, ripped jeans. His jaw perfectly chiseled, his eyes glittering with deadly promise. And each time he shows up it seems like his behavior is more repulsive, more threatening, more inexcusable.

In fact, I’ve learned that if I want to get people to like one of the guys in my story, I should make him a cocky, rude playboy. In short, a total asshole.

My friends and I were talking about a book series that one friend happens to be reading right now. This book series will remain unnamed, but in short, it’s about a girl who is conned into selling her virginity to the highest bidder. A gross premise to begin with, because it’s not approached as something harmful and dangerous. When my friend told me who the love interest was, my jaw dropped.

Can you guess? Yup, the top bidder for this girl’s virginity. He’s the love interest.

Are you freaking kidding me?

Yeah, here we go. I’m putting on my ranty-pants (just in case you couldn’t tell).  When did it become perfectly fine to create this horrible, repulsive character and paint him in a positive light? When did we start to romanticize this behavior? And where do we draw the line?

I experimented with this a little bit, and it seemed like no matter what I made the asshole in my story do, the readers still loved him. Of course, I’m not saying all readers are buying into this, a lot of them hated him too. But no matter how abusive he was towards the main character, no matter how many people he murdered, the readers still wanted him to end up with her. This resulted in me throwing up my hands to the ceiling (Dear god, why?!) and then killing him off, mainly out of spite.

I’m pretty sure Christine Grey could murder puppies, and as long as he looked smoulderingly mournful about it after, people wouldn’t care.

Seriously, Erin, you say, you’re going to give yourself an aneurysm. Chill out, they’re not real characters.

But how many young girls are dating abusive assholes, is what I want to know. How many teenage girls settle for guys that treat them like crap? How many cave in to the pressure before they’re ready, when some jerk they’re dating wants sex, because this aggressive, semi-rapey behavior is now depicted as normal, desirable even.

Am I saying that teenage girls are going to read this stuff and think, Gee, I gotta go out and find me a despicable asshole to date!  No, of course not. But if they’re already caught up in a bad relationship, and all they have to read about is these abusive “bad boys” who are depicted as heroes and love interests, then what’s encouraging them to make a change?

I really do believe that as YA writers, we have to write responsibly. Keep in mind how much of an influence  your favorite books were on you when you were that age. Heck, how much do they influence you now?

There’s a difference between an alpha male type love interest, and a character who is truly abusive. But lately, it seems like writers are blurring that line, and maybe we need to take a step back and think about it.


What do you think, should authors “write responsibly” or is it all just fiction? What’s the line between bad boy and abusive, and how much should you cross that?






photo credit: <a href=””>Hammerin Man</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a


9 responses to “Crossing the Line: Bad Boy or Abusive?

  1. Rant away!! I agree with this 62 gibillion percent! All aspects of your rant resonate within me and I struggle with these exact issues. I have a piece I’ve written that I’m being urged to publish, and though it is not quite the same strain as some of the current popular ‘bad boy’ love interest books out there, I feel that with recent shifts in culture that it would only be adding to the acceptability of these negative behaviours. I’m a survivor of abuse and people embracing these types of behaviour in the manner they have actually makes me sick, and angry.

    • I don’t think “bad boy” is right out (like something you can’t write about at all) but I do think it has to be handled carefully. People certainly shouldn’t stop writing about abuse (like that will make it go away or something) but the issue is when it’s portrayed as “sexy”.

      • There is a fine line to be walked. Awareness is critical. Romanticising it will compound the issue. I love a good romance that has a bad boy – but as mentioned, must be careful.

  2. I think it’s very important to write responsibly, especially when your work is aimed at younger readers like children and teenagers. The morals and messages in popular fiction can make a strong impression on people. I know they made an impression on me when I was younger, and they still do.

    I tried to twist the bad-boy thing around a little on one of my WP stories. My MC started off having a huge crush on a hot jerk, but I had planned on making him gradually show more and more of his true colours until she saw him for what he really was. I thought my readers would have to be eased into it because the bad-boy thing is so popular right now. I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case at all. Most of my readers–I would say about ninety percent–saw through the guy right away. I actually had to speed up having my MC coming to her senses because I was worried they would lose respect for her if I let things play out too much longer. And when she finally DID realize what a jerk he was they all but stood up an cheered. I was rather proud of them. 🙂

    • Isn’t it great when your readers react that way? I had some that were torn too. They know it’s bad behavior but it still fascinates them. Honestly, if I could be assured that was the case for everyone I would feel a lot better. I think MOST people can tell the difference between real life and books, and that real life shouldn’t imitate fiction in this case, but I’m always nervous about that 1% which might take the behavior they read in books and give an abusive boyfriend/partner a pass because of it. Not to mention, the more this behavior is normalized, the more that 1% slowly grows.

  3. THANK YOU for finally managing to put into proper words my exact thoughts. Particularly after the Fifty Shades of Grey series came out, I think I’ve recently realised how many people are now normalising abusive relationships, but I could never quite portray my thoughts as words. Thank you for posting this, every time someone asks me about my “problem with Fifty Shades”, I shall direct them here.

    • It’s especially after the 50 Shades thing, and I’m seeing more YA authors getting on board with this abusive bad boy thing, which is disturbing! I’m so glad you liked the post! And you are MORE than welcome to direct people here, I really appreciate that! 😀

  4. Erin…
    I seemed to start looking at this issue too. And I’m hitting walls, here. I really don’t get what the attraction is to abusive boyfriend stories.
    Yet some of us were talking about 50Shades. And I wonder. Does a first time reader (not us, we are old) have a different need when they read?

    I mean, I grew up with James Bond and guns. And I remember the exact moment, it really started to get on my nerves, this idea, that we all run around, mell-pell, shooting people. Like little boys playing cowboys and Indians.

    Weird thought here, but could dreaming about that ‘bad boy’ be a similar…hm… FOCUS? For girls? And they ‘intuitively’ understand it’s not real? Hm. *looks at you*

    Argh, but maybe.


  5. Thank you for this. This romanticising of abusive relationships just seems to be getting worse and worse, and it’s truly disturbing how many people don’t even seem to be aware that these relationships ARE abusive.

    I completely agree that YA writers do have a certain sense of responsibility towards their readers. Their books may be fictional but the relationships they glorify are the kind of hell that thousands and thousands of women across the world suffer through. Painting abuse in a positive light is spitting in the face of genuinely abused women. It sends the message that it’s not only okay for your boyfriend to manipulate, control, and abuse you – it’s actually desirable. It’s something that you should look for in a prospective partner.

    I can imagine the scenario playing out over speed-dating:

    Woman: Okay, you’ve got five minutes to tell me about yourself.

    Man: Well, I live by a caveman mentality. Me Tarzan, you Jane.

    Woman: Ooh, tell me more.

    Man: Well, my interests include controlling my women. I like to tell them where to go and what to do. I like telling them how they should dress and who they are allowed to associate with.

    Woman: How romantic!

    Man: I also like to act in an intimidating manner. My women should be at least a LITTLE afraid of me, otherwise where’s the excitement?

    Woman: *nods*

    Man: So what do you say we get out of here?

    Woman: I don’t know….

    Man: I wasn’t asking. You do as I say now.

    Woman: This must be love. I’d better get my coat.

    Me: Ummmm…????

    A good friend of mine started living with a man who shared a few characteristics with a certain Mr Grey. There was absolutely nothing romantic about that relationship – it was toxic through and through. It didn’t take him long to reduce a vibrant woman to a pale shell of her former self.

    If anyone is interested, Goodreads reviewer Tess Burton wrote an excellent guest post on this subject –

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