I’m Scratching my Head…

Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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While doing some belated research on my genre, or genres that approximate it, (since my series doesn’t fall into one tidy genre,) I’ve noticed something that has me honestly puzzled.

Young women, my target audience, seem to go wild over stories where the male love interest is is anything from ridiculously possessive, moody, rude, (and I don’t mean slightly-stuck-up-and-uncomfortable-Mr. Darcy rude, I mean really rude) to abusive. In other words, many wildly popular book characters would be terrible partners in real life, and some would hopefully be in prison.

So the question is, what is it in the young female psyche (Christian and non-Christian alike) that makes such characters attractive?

And can this draw/attraction be re-directed toward fiction with truly upstanding characters?
 
Jul 15, 2016
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I don't know, @Zee. I guess you would have to put it down to the "bad boy" syndrome that afflicts so many women, or the "bad girl" syndrome that afflicts so many males. It is curious, though. I'll have to think about how it could be re-directed. Thanks for posting this.
 
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Aug 10, 2013
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I've been trying to read romance, since there are elements of it in my Escape book. I can't get past the she-takes-one-look-at-his-tall-dark-handsome-built-like-atlas first impression and falls in love. And yes, often, the guy is at least a jerk. But he always comes around in the end. Maybe that's the attraction, the fact that he becomes what he should have been.
 

Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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You mean, a "Bad Boy?"
I suppose you could call them "Bad Boys," but that almost seems an understatement--makes me picture someone sneaking cigarettes behind the school gym and joyriding in his dad's convertible, not, say, kidnapping a girl and having her fall in love with him.

I'd initially chalked this attraction down to extreme naivete--girls who genuinely don't understand that in real life, these kinds of relationships always end badly--but now I don't think that's the case. I think while on some level they understand real life doesn't (shouldn't) work this way, but still enjoy reading about it and even refer to these fellows as "book boyfriends."
 

HK1

Oct 1, 2018
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Young women, my target audience, seem to go wild over stories where the male love interest is is anything from ridiculously possessive, moody, rude, (and I don’t mean slightly-stuck-up-and-uncomfortable-Mr. Darcy rude, I mean really rude) to abusive. In other words, many wildly popular book characters would be terrible partners in real life, and some would hopefully be in prison.

So the question is, what is it in the young female psyche (Christian and non-Christian alike) that makes such characters attractive?
I've noticed this too, and to be honest, the whole "book boyfriend" thing gives me the creeps. 😬
 

Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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I think every girl/woman wants to feel desired and protected, so if it's not happening in real life, it makes sense that they'd want to experience these things vicariously through book characters.

But that still doesn't explain why these longings are (apparently) best fulfilled through (to borrow Jeff Pott's phrase) Bad Boy characters. Perhaps it's an example of Too Much of a Good Thing...? Excuse the rambling, I'm kind of thinking this through as I type.
 
May 28, 2019
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Interesting discussion.

There is the type of romance story where the girl turns the 'bad boy' good but that is becoming old hat other than the Mills & Boons type novel or Christian redemption stories. Often the decent guy gets over look in stories until madam grows up and realizes that actually Mr Nice guy is - well a decent human being worth being with.

But I have given up reading romance stories these days - one of the things I like about your writing @Zee is your characters are very 3-D and so the relationships they have are turbulent just like real ones. Most of my stories have a romance subplot going on but it is often light touch. I think JUDAS is probably the most full-on between Jude and Cora (an earlier between teenage Juda and Frankie).

I do feel at present many books being published are very much about escapism for the reader - so reading about girls who go out with bad guys provides an escape in away. in real life you would probably get a lot of heat from friends and family if you went out with the local yob. In books there is no one to have a go.
Just my take. But yes, it is rather worrying.
 

Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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Interesting discussion.

There is the type of romance story where the girl turns the 'bad boy' good but that is becoming old hat other than the Mills & Boons type novel or Christian redemption stories.
Maybe that's part of the appeal of this genre convention, the thought that a Nice Girl really can reform a Naughty Guy, if only she's good enough and faithful enough and tries hard enough.

The first part of Preen's story, when she's still with Rama, touches on that theme quite a bit, actually. Not only is she literally trying to rescue him, she also hopes that by staying with him, she'll make him a better person. Like any self-driven attempt at redemption, it's going to end badly...

Thanks for the compliment, by the way!
 

Accord64

Write well, edit often.
Oct 8, 2012
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So the question is, what is it in the young female psyche (Christian and non-Christian alike) that makes such characters attractive?

After seeing this play out a couple of times around me in the past, and talking with some women about it, I've come to conclude that it's not really about being attracted to that type of man. Rather, it's what they think these men can someday be molded into. There seems to be an innate desire to rescue and change these type of men into the ideal boyfriend/husband.

Of course this rarely plays out in a favorable way.
 
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paulchernoch

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May 19, 2005
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No expert, but based on the few Jane Austen based movies I have seen, you can try the following. The love interest’s negative public image is based partly on slander or gossip wrapped around a kernel of truth. Use the misconception about the meaning of his actions, words and intentions to create tension, inspire fear in the heroine, and add suspense.

Part of the reputational problem will spring from things said by a publicly trustworthy high society person who conceals crimes or misbehaviors opposed by the hero. Of course the hero cannot reveal those things or risk harm to a friend or family member threatened by the high society member. In the end, willingly enduring opprobrium to save others is revealed as a strong character trait.

You can flip this around and have the heroine falsely believe the preceding dynamic is at play. Then she will fall for a true rogue and you have a different story.
 
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Feb 10, 2022
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I'm no expert either, but I did some research as I was trying to determine how much romance to include in my book, and particularly what women were looking for. Wondering if I could make my novel appeal to both men and women. Being an engineer nerd, I created a spreadsheet with 2 columns...column A showing the characteristics of the woman and column B showing the male character build. This was using romance novels as the baseline. Agree with the comment that there is a lot of escapism.

The woman is to be a well-established, successful person with minimal physical description. The reason given was so that every woman could relate and picture herself in this situation, instead of the female being a stunning model each time. There were only a few characteristics listed for the woman. The man had about 100 requirements, ranging from being a tall, dark and handsome hunk to being confident, ruthless in business and always knowing what to say in every situation. After making my list, I had to go read my Bible and remind myself my value in Christ, lol. Who can measure up? The man is instantly attracted to the woman. He can't get enough of her, but she isn't sure if he's the right one. So she toys with the idea of trying to "bring him around" while holding him at bay.

For the women on this site, don't hate me. These aren't my views. This is just what I discovered as I researched why romance novels were so popular. For the young female psyche, I really can't offer much. I had three boys, while my brother had two girls. His stories support the attraction to the "bad boy" but no idea why. Hope this helps somehow, and good luck!
 
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Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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Fascinating insights, @Crawdad. Thanks for sharing! The more I learn about the conventions, expectations and even cliches of the romance genre, the better I understand why my series hasn't "worked." I'm one of those people who has to learn by doing (i.e., the hard way) but the process has also helped me understand that I'm not cut out to be a romance writer...and I'm fine with that.
 

Wes B

Mostly Harmless
Jul 28, 2019
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While this may be a modern trend in stories that appeal to the "young female psyche," I would suggest that this particular psyche has been making the rounds, at least since back in my teenage years (a loooong time ago...) Not in all the ladies of course, but enough to have lots of guys scratching their heads, too.. I've had lengthy discussions with many, many of my wife's friends when groups of us go out, and have gotten a fairly consistent response.

I've heard roughly two dozen ladies point out that some women are afraid and want someone who makes them feel safe. Paradoxically, the nasty jerks will be nice to the lady at first, but seem to scare-off plenty of her other threats. (At first impression, it's mission accomplished...) As he starts acting more aggressively toward her, she clings to the fantasy that she can change him. (Now, the fantasy that the man can be changed is pretty much central to all romance stories, isn't it? I mean, it seems a lot like presuming in mystery stories that the detective will end up catching the right criminal; without it, there isn't much of a genre...)

Sadly, while the real-life detectives at least occasionally catch the right criminal, the jerks rarely change, and the women have a hard time letting go of the fantasy that they can change the guys. This is probably why there are and have been so many battered women's shelters.

Men and women both can and do change, but it's almost always because of an intense and consistent desire to improve. There are the occasional watershed events that cause sudden change, and they do make for a great story. Sadly, they make for such a great story because they're so uncommon in real life.
 

Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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No expert, but based on the few Jane Austen based movies I have seen, you can try the following. The love interest’s negative public image is based partly on slander or gossip wrapped around a kernel of truth. Use the misconception about the meaning of his actions, words and intentions to create tension, inspire fear in the heroine, and add suspense.

While I think that plot situation could make for a fascinating story, that's not the kind of love interest I'm specifically thinking of as I puzzle over this. The guys in some of these popular stories ought to have restraining orders on them in real life.
 

Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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Now, the fantasy that the man can be changed is pretty much central to all romance stories, isn't it? I mean, it seems a lot like presuming in mystery stories that the detective will end up catching the right criminal; without it, there isn't much of a genre...

I honestly never thought of that before--but I think you're onto something!
 

Wes B

Mostly Harmless
Jul 28, 2019
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I honestly never thought of that before--but I think you're onto something!
I might also point out that, while change can be made to happen, it's often not the change one was trying for. E.g., the person who tries to change someone by nagging will often get a change: in effect, the "naggee" stops listening to them...

I think that as Christians, we are at least exposed to the idea of striving for slow, consistent change, but while that's very profitable for all of us, it's harder to make into a gripping story. The "watershed event" style of change is more dramatic and interesting, but it so often appears contrived, because it is. Skillfully hiding the contrivance, and making the event and the change believable, that can make for a memorable story...
 
May 24, 2017
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What an interesting topic! Thanks for starting it, Zee!
Do we have a psychologist in the house? All writers are amateur psychologists, but it would be good to hear from a professional.

Eve thought she knew better than Adam. And God for that matter. She went with the ultimate "bad boy." Humans never change.

The level of "bad" has to continually increase in society. What was bad 50 years ago is tame today. The imagination is conditioned and desensitized and needs a greater dose to achieve the same high as before. I don't think there is any debate anywhere about this in our present time. We are degenerate.
At the same time, if we look at other empires - Roman, Asian, Aztec, Biblical, humans fall for the same immorality over and over again. The "usual suspects" are gluttony, lust, pride, greed, sloth, envy, and wrath."

Zee, I recommend you leave the world behind you. Write something beautiful and redemptive with characters like you have already written. There are people out there starving for what you write! Feed them biblical nutrition and keep searching for them!
 

Zee

Mar 1, 2019
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@Nicola, I think you have made great points—and to add to them, I’d say women are attracted to strong personalities—men who know what they want and strive for it—great qualities to have, but unfortunately easily twisted into controlling or abusive behavior.

Evil cannot create anything, it can only alter or deform something good God made, like a man’s protective spirit. The good is so powerful, even in its damaged form, it’s still immensely powerful and attractive.
 

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