When is “bad” too bad?

This post was inspired by a book review I read for City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. For those of you who haven’t read it, Jace is the bad-boy love interest who kicks ass, takes names, and is occasionally prone to fits of extreme melodrama. In the review, the reviewer explained that they could barely get through the book because of how much they hated Jace. They thought he was rude, controlling, and a terrible match for the protagonist. I, on the other hand, think he’s delightfully witty and — while at times in need of a sharp whack to the head — an all-around decent guy.

This brings to mind one of my favourite quotes from my mother: Different people are different. 

It always baffles me that people can hate something I hold so dear. Thus, I posit this question: When is “bad” too bad?

The problem with this question is that everyone has a different definition of where “too bad” falls on the badness spectrum. I, for example, have a very high tolerance for some “bad” acts, and a low tolerance for others. I love reading about bad boys who have horrible, twisted, sordid pasts … so long as they’ve reformed and are trying to make amends. One of my favourite characters of all time is Anakin Skywalker — who, if you recall, did terrible things ranging from killing his own master to slaughtering dozens of Jedi younglings. And possibly causing his wife to kill herself? I never really understood that sub plot. Anyway, I’m totally cool with his various evil actions because I tend to forgive bad boys in books as long as they eventually seek redemption.

Others have a slightly lower tolerance for badness. I have a friend who, whenever a main character does something even remotely unkind, will get frustrated, say “That’s not pleasant”, and search for something else to read or watch.

What do you think? What’s that tipping point for you, where you say, “Okay, this character is now irredeemable to me”?


List these characters in order of “badness”: (explanations are welcome and encouraged)

  • Severus Snape (Harry Potter)
  • Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars)
  • Gollum (Lord of the Rings)
  • Christian Grey (50 Shades)
  • Edward Cullen (Twilight)
  • President Snow (Hunger Games)

Unrelated video of the day:

Prepare to have your mind boggled by the insanity.

Unrelated image of the day:

Source: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/severus-snape/forum/post/68241/title/countdown-6000-fans

Source: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/severus-snape/forum/post/68241/title/countdown-6000-fans
Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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20 thoughts on “When is “bad” too bad?

  1. My list:

    1. President Snow (pure, undiluted evil – cares only about power)
    2. Anakin Skywalker (pretty nasty dude – but also the Chosen One, so it evens out?)
    3. Severus Snape (total jerk to Harry)
    4. Edward Cullen (killed a bunch of people)
    5. Gollum (he’s just creepy)
    6. Christian Grey (although he isn’t so much “bad” as he is “vaguely unsettling due to the logical inconsistencies in his character)

  2. So Lee Writes

    Fantastic post- I laughed. I will respond to your question once my brain returns from night shifts. Until then, “bad” is not only necessary, but essential to a great protagonists soul. Rawr.

  3. This is hilarious! Yay fun game. 🙂 Let’s see….
    Okay, I was GOING to fill it out, but it was almost exactly the same line up as you, so I thought that would be lame. xD (Although I would switch Gollum and Edward, because Edward feels super bad about the people he’s killed, and Gollum is just… ew. Pathetic, but ew. Plus I’m sorry, but Edward Cullen is all kinds of my bad. <3)

    Anyway, on the subject, I'm not really sure. I tend to be able to read almost anything, as long as the violence/bad stuff makes sense, furthers the plot, or isn't done just to be vulgar and distasteful. I mean, I didn't have an issue reading the rape scene in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or anything. I live for sex scenes. And for the most part, writers don't make irredeemably bad characters–that just doesn't sell, and publishers know it. (Although I don't know, man… I would have to dig deep to feel bad for Anakin after all the crap he pulled, people/children he killed, worlds he blew up…. I think there's a limit, and he crossed it in there somewhere.)

    My grandmother, on the other hand, is like your friend. She can't get past anything even remotely unpleasant, ha ha, and has abandoned many a book for a more introspective read. I like books where things happen, but she tends to stick to the cerebral–less killing and violence and stuff.
    Although she did say she would read anything I publish, ha ha. That should be fun. I definitely plan to kill people and throw in sex and stuff. Maybe I'll highlight the 'sketchy' parts, so she can skip them? It's a thought.
    Long comment is looooong.

    • Awesome comment is awesome!

      Um, you should definitely highlight your book. You could even put little sticky notes at the tops of pages that you want her to skip entirely. It would be like an interactive novel – every time she reaches a sticky note, she gets to pull it off and stack it neatly on her desk.

      I put Gollum as low as I did on the charts because he’s not so much evil as just really, really susceptible to evil. He kills his friend to get the One Ring because the One Ring tells him to. And then all that other bad stuff he does is a direct result of him being corrupted by the One Ring. Magic tends to complicate morality. Can we actually blame Gollum for his evil actions, when he was being influenced and controlled by a far greater evil?

      I should write a post about that, lol.

      • Ha ha ha, random blogging side track! Gollum–evil, or just really really creepy victim of evil? I’d read it. :I
        And you’re right, I guess. Although I mean, he does that whole split-personality thing towards the end there, and that one part of him really IS evil, so… half-evil? Susceptible to evil because he had a lot of evil potential anyway? YOU’RE RIGHT, this is complicated. And I like the sticky note idea. xDD Totally using that. 🙂

  4. I like reading on bad guys and antagonists. I think they’re generally a lot more interesting than the good guys! One favourite baddie of mine is Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even though he was really sadistic and cruel at times, I felt it all added to his charm.
    I have one story where the main character is pretty bad, and my friend can’t understand how I can bring myself to write it. But I figure it’s just a fictional character. 🙂

    • Yes, exactly! If I were to actually meet someone like Spike or Anakin in real life, I would be freaked the heck out. I would probably run in the other direction. But in fiction? Bring it on 😀

  5. Edward Cullen is probably on the top of my list, followed by Christian Grey. Their obsessive behavior is a red flag for an unhealthy relationship. Also, in 50 Shades of Grey, there’s way more kinkiness going on in their discussions of his “contract” than there is in the bedroom. You know what, bump Grey up to the top of that list, for seriously misrepresenting that kind of lifestyle.

    Beyond that, I kinda like bad guys. Scarpia, from Tosca, is evil, and hot. He’s in the middle of a church singing about how he’s going to get a taste of Tosca, and that she makes him forget god. To quote Pam from Archer, “Splooosh.”

    • Hahaha I didn’t get any of those references, but I laughed anyway. And I would have put Christian Grey higher up the list, except that I haven’t read 50 Shades so I can’t really make an informed decision as to his evilitude.

      • I read it, and the entire time I was shaking my head, because it was bad. My husband was howling.

        Archer is hilarious, if you like drunken screwball spy stories.

  6. Unfortunately, I don’t know all of the characters on the list so I’m not even attempting that one. But you have to have the bad guys or what are the good guys gonna do?

    As far as making our heroes *too* bad, I worry about this with mine since they are vampires. I don’t like to take the bite out of vamps so there may be some who think mine are too bad.

    When I’m reading, I can handle a lot of badness from the hero, except when he’s controlling and nasty to women. That’s what crosses the line for me. He can be nasty as he wants to anyone else, but as long as he treats his woman with respect, I’m right there with him.

    Even if it’s not a romance, I can still handle a *bad* hero, but the fact that I love vampires may make this easier for me. They have to be bad on some level.

    • Very interesting! I totally get the respectable to women thing. When I read about a hero who’s a jerk to women for no good reason, I just can’t get on board with him, you know?

      And yeah, vampires make it tough. Because they are, at their hearts, blood-drinking creatures of the night. So they do have to be at least a little bit bad, or else they’d be super lame. I think the ideal “badness” for a vampire is somewhere around the Angel level (Angel, as in the vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He has a sordid past of mass murder and whatnot, but he’s changed his colours and now does everything he can to make amends for the evil he did.

  7. I have to defend Edward a little. All the people he killed were really bad guys, rapers and murders. He shouldn’t be on the list unless you want to get into the controlling stuff. Yet, I think Bella probably needed it. She has some problems on her own.
    I’m not familiar with the others enough to comment on them.
    Bad guys bring fun into the novel unless they rape or beat children, then I can’t read it anymore.

    • Yeah, rape is right up there on my “Hell no!” list for bad guys. Same with children beating. As for Edward … I honestly don’t remember who it is he killed. If it really was murderers/thugs/rapists like you said, then that’s pretty decent of him. I couldn’t recall if he went after miscreants or just random people.

      • In Midnight Sun, he states they were all bad guys. He was trying to make up for being evil by stopping those that were bad. You can get the partial on Stephenie Meyer’s website and read it. It’s really good. Explains a lot of why everyone is upset with him.

  8. Who’s running the camera in the video? Crazy stuff.

  9. Getting in on this one late but…
    I have to comment because I’ve had a fair bit of negative comment from my critique group about my main character, Herbert West. Two of the members find him totally bad; one says he’s dangerous but attractive. Okay, he has trouble telling the truth, and he’s done a few pretty bad things, BUT he’s elegant and charming. And most of the trilogy is about what caused his badness and how he becomes less bad.
    When judging one of these bad boys, It’s mostly about motivation and whether the guy enjoys doing evil. Looks and charm help too, which is why poor old Gollum loses out.

    • But Gollum is super handsome!

      And yes, I totally agree with you. If the bad character actually enjoys doing evil things, and gets a kick out of it, then he’s too bad. Well, not for a villain, but for a main character. UNLESS he enjoys doing evil things because that’s all he’s ever known, and then gets a reality check and wisens up to the evil of his ways, etc. etc.

  10. Pingback: Tall, strong, well-mannered hero? Yawn. Tactless, arrogant, misanthropic sociopath? Yes, please. « The Broke Bookworm

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