Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Day 6 and the Billionaire Bad Boy Scale

Writing update: 887 Words -- lower than I wanted, especially since I didn't do much yesterday.  However, I also made some breakthroughs that caused me to tear out some words, so I think I might be doing better than I thought.

The Billionaire Bad-Boy Scale

In the meantime, about a month ago, Kyra Halland wrote a series of post on her blog about the current fad for Billionaire Bad-Boy Bully heroes in romance and related fiction.  She decided to examine her own heroes against a scale of the three major qualities she saw in such anti-heroes: wealth, inner torment and jackassery -- with an added commentary about the bondage factor.

I'm not really particularly interested in the Billionaire Bad-Boy trend itself -- positive or negative -- but I'm always interested in looking at archetypes and qualities across genres.  What I don't like about a particular trend is not nearly as interesting as looking at the more universal aspects of those elements that make them attractive across genres.  What makes them work.

I mean, these guys are only one step away from the classic anti-hero.  If Batman and Iron Man were characters in romantic erotica, they'd be no different.

Today I'm just going to quickly mention the three qualities I see:

Wealth and Privilege

While billionaires of limitless, almost Super-Villain-like levels of power are in right now, that's not anything new.  And privilege even more so. Let's not forget that it wasn't that long ago that being phenomenally wealthy only got you a second-class ticket into the halls of power. 

Wealth and privilege -- separately or together -- have an emotional impact and have played a big part in literature, whether in something like The Great Gatsby, or in old melodrama movies like Foolish Wives (which featured "The Man You Love to Hate" Erich von Stroheim as a blue-blooded roue who went around ruining the wives of the nouveau riche).  It plays a part with heroes like The Scarlet Pimpernel, or even more interestingly, The Count of Monte Cristo.

In my own fiction (which is what I'll probably focus on) money plays a somewhat different role.  I have penniless heroes and I have very wealthy heroes, but they're all pretty blase about it.  For them, money is a tool.

Asocial Qualities

Yes, Jackassery is a great word for it, but I'm going to cast a somewhat wider net, including a range from a general prickilyness to dangerously defensive.

And I'm including the troubled past (inner torment) here because that's kinda the point of jackassery in a rounded character.  If a character is going to be interesting at all, then any jackass behavior has got to be there for a reason.  It's a weakness or a defense -- and occasionally it's a strength.

I'll give you to examples from recent TV shows:  Dr. House from the show House, M. D., and Dr. Lightman from the show Lie To Me.  These are two troubled and brilliant heroes who do great and wonderful things with their incredible jackass natures.  And Jackassery isn't just limited to male characters.  Some folks may remember Candace Bergen's iconic Murphy Brown character -- a female jackass if ever there was one.

I myself like to use this quality more in impact characters than in heroes.  (Though sometimes an impact character will be a romantic character, so I'll talk about it in that sense too.)  More often it's the villain-turned-impact character.  A jackass is always a great person to provide opposition and difficulties for the protagonist.

(And in that sense, very often those Billionaire Bullies are actually impact characters -- not a protagonist.


Drama is about characters in conflict -- about conflicting needs and goals.  And that means it's a struggle for control.  A worthy character is going to need some level of skill at control.  At the same time, the more power and control a character has, the more internal conflict exists over the ethics of the situation.  To be a good and ethical character, he has to be able to moderate his control and power too.

And dominance is not just a personal thing -- it's also cultural, political and social.  And it's also internal -- self-control is a factor. And that tends to be a major theme and issue for many of my characters.

Not sure of any schedule on these posts, but I'll try to be sure to interconnect them with links, top and bottom, as I post.  These are the sort of interesting discussions that could carry on longer -- talking about classic lit and old TV shows and more. (But I'm not promising or threatening anything.)

Next post in the series: a look back at the source of those Billionaire stories. And an index of the Whole Series.

See you in the funny papers.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Interesting. Is it trending? I know there's a lot of hoopla lately over characters on TV that share some of these characteristics...House of Cards (without the money, perhaps...not on that scale, anyway), and the Breaking Bad guy. I guess he's wealthy, but...

It's only natural that interest in wealth would be popular right now since we've all been living in austerity with the econ. collapse. And austerity gets boring after a while.

The Daring Novelist said...

She was talking about the "50 Shades of Gray" fad. There is, literally now, a whole romance genre about abusive billionaires who seduce young innocent heroines into bondage situations.

Not that there wasn't always some of that in romance.

But as you noticed, there is a wealth and power anti-hero thing going on right now, as there was in the 1930s.

Kyra Halland said...

Interesting take on this; I'm looking forward to your posts! For me, it was really kind of a fun way to take a look at my heroes from a slightly different angle. When you look at your characters in different ways, sometimes they surprise you.

The Daring Novelist said...

Absolutely! It's interesting on so many levels and from so many points of view. And we each bring different things to it and take from it.

I realized today that my series may well take 6-10 posts. (Or fewer really long ones.) I think I'm just going to do an update tonight, because I might as well get them more in hand before I start posting.

(Oh, and btw: I have decided that there IS no better term than "jackassery." So I'm going with it afterall, even if it means I have to explain more about it.)

Kyra Halland said...

Yeah, I think "jackassery" kinda says it all. It implies behaving like a jerk, being aware that you're being a jerk, and really not caring at all.