In Defence of Good Guys


I was talking to a friend who’s a big reader, too, the other day and we came upon the discussion of romantic interests in several YA novels. I don’t even remember what books we were discussing but one thing became clear: she would always pick the bad boy while I rooted for the good guy.

And if you’re more into girls, I think this applies to them as well, though I think these two boy tropes (stock characters?) are more firmly established than bad/good girls or at least we love both of these while bad girls are rarely positive characters (hmm, there’s a discussion post somewhere in there…). I ended up listing mostly characters from YA though I suspect I could extend it to adult romances/fiction if I had the time.


good-guys-defenceNow, I think you know which types of characters I mean: THE BAD BOY runs hot and cold and is often rude but is very handsome, passionate, and ultimately madly in love with the heroine. He is usually bad for her and tells her that repeatedly, but cannot stay away (even if she’d be better off without him and he’s endangering her life – but hey, that’s love for you).

He is Raffe from Angelfall, Mycroft from Every Breath, Daemon from Obsidian, Cal from Book of Shadows, Edward from Twilight, Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, Will from Clockwork Angel, Ignifex from Cruel Beauty, Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility, Four from Divergent and Jess from Gilmore Girls.

THE GOOD GUY knows how she takes her coffee, is often grumpy but never downright nasty, holds her when she cries and (this just ticks me off to no end) sometimes has to wait patiently for the heroine to pull her head out of her butt decide he’s the better choice. He’s shy and doesn’t know how to go about telling her he loves her. He has a heart of gold and a great moral compass but isn’t above making tough decisions for the right cause. He may be just as mysterious about his life but doesn’t push the heroine away rudely. He’s strong and good-looking in a quieter way (you’ll find much less sharply cut cheekbones and sky-blue eyes here, that’s for sure) and he smolders rather than burns (can you tell I’m biased at all?).

He is Ziri from Days of Blood and Starlight (and also Mik, Taylor writes lovely good guys), Perrin from The Wheel of Time, Peeta from Hunger Games, Kell from A Darker Shade of Magic, Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility, Sam from Shiver, Chaol from Throne of Glass, Brand from Half the World, Jem from Clockwork Angel, Dean from Gilmore Girls, Park from Eleanor & Park, Sarkan from Uprooted, Sam from The Accident Season.


What I want to point out, most of all, is that while I like reading about bad boys sometimes, though they make me roll my eyes and cringe, I would always, without a doubt choose a good guy in real life. I mean – I already have, but THINK about it. Yes, bad boys are thrilling and exciting and swoony, but do you really, really want to deal with all that drama and angst in a long-term relationship? And I’m not saying that I disliked the bad boy characters I listed – I just sometimes wished they treated the girl better.

Ok so I know that I’m speaking from a very mature viewpoint of a 28-year-old, married woman (omg when did that happen??) but I don’t think my tastes were that much different in high school. Sure, I had a crush on a bad boy or two (Did I ever tell you all the guys I ever dated were musicians? Including my husband, that is. Not that all musicians are bad boys!) but I really preferred guys who had their head on straight.

This partiality for upstanding men (*snort*) translates to my love for good guys in literature, too. And let me tell you, I often want to shake the heroine and tell her that she should really look at the quieter dude because he’s a better choice for sure. But then they’re teenagers – prone to making bad decisions and being attracted to new, shiny things (and bad boys usually are that).


What’s your take on this VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION? Good or bad (guys or girls)? 

And do you find that most YA romantic interests can be stuffed into either category?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • Laura @ Half-Strung Harp

    Great post! I totally share your love for good guys instead of bad. When I read Clockwork Angel & Clockwork Prince I was like, whyyyy are you still obsessing over Will when Jem’s RIGHT THERE?!?! If you don’t want him . . . I’LL have him!! :D

    • Haha, Jem seems to be quite popular today! :) Yeah, I definitely would have gone for Jem in the end but I did like Will, too, on a certain level. I didn’t like how he treated Tess but he was pretty swoony.

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    Great post! While I love to read about a bad boy sometimes, I would no doubt choose the good guy every time. And I think that I haven’t read enough of that in books! Maybe I just read the wrong ones?

    • Well, you have a list of suggestions up in the post :) I like reading about bad boys, too, they’re safely tucked inside a book and can’t get out and mess with my life! :)

  • The bad boys can be fun, but ultimately you know they won’t be there when you need them!

    • Yep, that’s my reasoning, too. I’d probably try to change them, which would undoubtedly end badly.

  • This post makes me so happy! So much of the blogosphere is swoony over the bad boys, and I never really understood the appeal. Maybe it is because I’m 27 years old now. Maybe it is because I definitely dated a bad boy for six years and would never ever want to repeat that (it’s so exhausting). I think when I was a teenager, I flip-flopped on my preference, but now I’m definitely a sucker for the good guys.

    • :) I’m glad you liked it!

      Well I like *reading* about bad boys because it’s safe, it’s just books, not real life. But I often end up prefering good guys in books, too, bad boys are just too much work! I don’t think any of my past boyfriends counted as true bad boys but then I started dating my now-husband when we were 20 so there weren’t a lot of serious relationships before that…

  • I actually put Sarkan from Uprooted into the “bad boy” pile. But he’s definitely a tough one to classify. By all rights, I should have HATED him. I really despise the “romanticization” of the bad boy archetype which gets perpetuated in romance fiction (YA in particular) and I especially dislike the guy that treats the heroine poorly but still somehow has her eating out of his hand. Sarkan can’t go a chapter without calling the main character an idiot, which should have been a huge turn off, but I ended up book-crushing on him hard. He’s the exception though, and maybe it’s also because Uprooted is an adult book and Novik really is a master with her characters. Sarkan definitely felt more well rounded than some of the other characters listed here: Four, Raffe, etc.


    • Well, you definitely have a point there! Hmm… I won’t go changing the post but now that I think about it, I probably just loved Sarkan so much I overlooked everything stupid he did. Or maybe it was so unimportant because Agnieszka couldn’t care less what he thought of her? :) I think that typical YA heroines are rarely as solid as Agnieszka. Did you really read Uprooted as an adult book, though? I was sure it was YA… Hmm… I know it’s definitely a YA on the more mature side but still. I wish I’d read it when I was 18 or so. :)

      • Yeah, I categorized it as adult, but maybe because I associate Novik with adult novels on account of reading her Temeraire books? I can’t really see Sarkan appealing to a teen reader either (also my impression was that his actual age made him old enough to be Agnieszka’s father, even accounting for the fact he is a wizard with a much longer life span) but I can be wrong about that. Also that love scene at around 80% of the book was waaaaaay more than would be appropriate in a “mainstream YA novel” but of course that is also just a matter of opinion ;-)


        • Yeah, that’s true. But then Edward was something like a 100 and Bella was 17 so that no longer seems like an issue for YA!

          I thought that love scene was a really beautiful representation of sex, not exactly love, and thought it was enormously refreshing to read about sex like that in a YA novel instead of “fireworks” and “perfect evenings” which just makes me retch a bit. But then I *am* an adult and have different views from most 17-year-olds! :D

          In any case, in Slovenia, it’s been picked up as a YA translation :)

          • But Edward was still in the body of a teen, but for me Sarkan was more like 30 or 40? LOL I don’t even remember if they mentioned his “real” age but that’s definitely how I pictured him! ^_^

            I thought the sex scene was lovely too, the best I’ve read in any book in a long time, YA or otherwise. If you saw my review, I even had a little status update I included with my first impression *laugh*!

          • Well I always picture characters to be a bit older than what I’m reading – more like late 20s because I’m that age, I guess? I never really thought about this but I pictured Sarkan to be around 25, not older, but I’m not sure if his looks are mentioned in this way. I’ll have to check!

            Yeah, I read your review and remember your fangirly moment over Sarkan ;) He’s really one of the best love interests out there. I definitely had an urge to slap him sometimes but he completely won me over somehow!

  • Nicole Hewitt

    Like you, I almost always root for the good boy. So often the characters in books that these girls go for make me cringe when I think about what they would be like in real life. I won’t lie, though, there are definitely some bad boys who have won me over – but they have to seriously be that bad boy with a heart of gold kind of thing. If he’s just a jerk, I’m out.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    • Mm, yeah, that’s a good point. I can take a bit of mystery and hot-headedness but nasty behavior just puts me off. I like reading about bad boys because they’re safe inside the book but outside of books, I prefer good guys! :)

  • PREACH! You already know how I feel about bad boys I think, but I will rant about them more because I can! The worst part about “bad boys” is how BADLY they treat their love interests. Assuming they know what’s best for you, blowing hot and cold – and then getting pissy when you show interest in someone else? <– Red flags, so many red flags!

    I think part of the reason why bad boys appeal is their snark factor/banter/sensuality. For some reason the bad boys always seem to be described and characterized in a sexier way than the "good" guys. Obviously there are exceptions (Jem…swoon), but I definitely think that's part of it.

    Admittedly I have fallen for a few fictional bad boys (and men) in my time, but you're right to say that most people don't want that in real life. I could never be with someone who couldn't TALK about serious issues, and the bad boys never seem to do that. And there's no way I could handle someone being all controlling and weird about where I go and who I talk to. No thank you!

    • Rant away, I’m here to listen ;)

      And YES, I HATE it when the love interest just ASSUMES what the heroine needs in her life. Gah.

      Mm, yes, the sexual tension is definitely a huge part of bad boy appeal. I mean, bad boys (or men) are a staple in romance novels, too – you can’t really avoid “rogues” there. But they’re usually reformed, they fall for the heroine and worship the ground she walks on – whereas in YA, they’re just moody and awful sometimes. And good guys can be snarky/bantery, too, can’t they?? :o

      Have you read The Accident Season yet? There’s a great – sexy-but-sweet and swoony-but-kind – love interest there.

      Really, you swooned over Jem? :D Well, I guess so, but I thought Will was the swoonier of the pair. I’d definitely have picked Jem myself but he was also a bit too delicate sometimes (well, he *was* dying so there’s that…). Oh, the problems of picking a fictional crush! :)

      You know, I’ve been thinking about my past boyfriends and there have been so few actually, before I started dating A., that I can’t really say I was ever in a relationship with a real bad boy. I guess I just avoided them instinctively, even as a teenager! :) I think my inability to cope with assholes played a strong role in this, and I’m grateful to my teenage self now…

  • As a teenager and young adult, I would have automatically said: I go for the bad guy. I used to love the brooding, dangerous, bad-for-you-guy that you just can’t resist. Now that I’m in my thirties, I tend to get frustrated when the the heroine completely overlooks the PERFECT-for-her good guy to chase after an idiot who treats her like crap. How things change when we get older XD

    • Definitely! :) I would gladly open a consulting business for YA literary heroines – I’d tell them who to choose in about a minute ;) But can you imagine how it would sound: “Honey, I know he’s gorgeous, but do you really think he’ll be taking the kids to soccer practice two times a week when you’re 35?” Any teenage girl would RUN from that kind of advice (I know I would have when I was that age…)

  • Maraia

    This post made me laugh, because it’s so accurate. I’ve definitely fallen for a literary (and real) bad boy or two, but like you, realistically I’ll always pick the good guy. (<3 Ziri and Mik.)

    I think there are far fewer truly good/nerdy/kind boys in YA than bad boys, and it's disappointing. Most people can differentiate between fiction and reality, but I do wonder how many impressionable young readers get the wrong idea about what they should look for in a love interest. I know SO many girls idolize Edward, and I would call him a controlling, emotionally abusive boyfriend. I have enough nice guys on my favorites list to prove that it is possible to create an appealing, witty love interest who is also kind. I don't know if it's easier for authors to write about shallow bad boys than it is to write about a nice boy with a more complex personality or what the problem is.

    • Mm, yeah, I always wonder about the impact YA books have on teenage readers. I’m reading them as an adult now, I already have a formed opinion about these things, I’m grown up (as much as I’ll ever be, I think), so these things don’t affect me as much. I never read YA when I was of the actual age to read it – it just wasn’t a *thing* back then. I mostly read classics and adult books, I think, which must have influenced me in many ways.

      Well I wouldn’t want ALL the boys in the books to suddenly become good guys, that would kill the whole point of them, but yeah, I do wish more YA heroines would go for the guy who actually treated them right.

      • Maraia

        I did read a lot of YA growing up, but I also have two parents in a healthy relationship, lots of other positive adult role models, and strong, opinionated women in my family, so it was never an issue for me. I guess it’s possible that the kids who are reading in the first place are also the kids who can think for themselves. Now I understand why you missed out on Tamora Pierce growing up. :D

        Hahaha, no, that would be rather dull. But I think it’s possible to write a “bad boy” who isn’t an abusive asshole.

  • Great post!
    I’m exactly the same – I always prefer the good guys. Yours list of good guys is full of characters I really liked (Peeta, Chaol, Brand, Park…), and whilst I like some of the bad guys as characters, I really don’t like them as people. They are exactly the kind of people you wouldn’t even want to know in real life, let alone date!

    • That’s exactly what I thought – I like READING about bad boys as long as they stay inside the book! :) They’re safe to read about, after all, but I wouldn’t like to have a relationship with them in the real world.

  • Awesome discussion of this “very important question”! Your descriptions of the two types is really good! Hmm…. I’m not sure I have a steadfast preference. I usually prefer a more beta hero to an alpha but that’s not always equivalent to the bad boy-good guy labels. I do love the trope of the love of a good woman “taming” a bad boy though – i.e. earning a rake’s hardened heart, lol. And I do love Howl and Raffe. I think I’m officially conflicted:). Thanks for confusing me.

    • Eh, you know, this good-bad separation is really not 100% accurate. With a really good character, you’ll get a bit of both because that’s how real people are!

      And I love Howl, too – and other bad boys from my list. I just like them IN FICTION ;) Ooh, and I like the trope of a reformed rake, too, it’s very common in historical romance, isn’t it? :)

  • I love your discussion posts! But I’m kind of torn. I definitely don’t like the alpha male jerk bad boy thing that seems so popular nowadays. And I don’t like the good guys who become the male version of a Mary Sue and are too perfect. I love tortured heroes and brooding vampires (or humans, or incubi, or whatever my flavor of the week is) who think they’re monsters and therefore bad for the MC. But I also like the good guys, and my top favorite male characters are definitely good guys. I feel like I have actually read books with brooding, tortured guys who may sometimes do less-than-wholesome things when necessary but are still good where it counts, so that’s my choice lol.

    • Thanks, Kristen :)

      Well in any good character, you’ll get a bit of both – dark and light – because that’s what real people are like. :) And I DO like reading about bad boys, don’t get me wrong, it’s just I like them to stay on the pages of the book and I’ll keep my good guy in real life, thanks ;) Ooh, yes, bad boys with a good sense of ethics are always a nice change!

  • Now I’m catching up on comments, I totally agree that good guys are in reality way more sensible, and if written well very appealing in books, but I am guilty of being partial to a bad boy. I very practically realise bad boys in reality are not as fun as their bookish counterparts, but who can resist a bad boy? What I don’t get is I find them so appealing in books but whenever I meet someone who actually acts like a bad boy in reality I just can’t deal with them because everything they do raises the red flags that makes you run in the opposite direction.

    I think that too often the bad boy is just written in a more appealing way in books than good guys are so you aren’t interested in them as much. There are a few bad boys I am all over in books, like Chaol, and Kell and I was always team Peeta from the first book, but I’ve definitely realised bad boys are one of those things I know I should like but do.

    Thankfully my bookish opinions don’t translate into reality otherwise I would be continually exhausted from the drama that comes with dating a bad boy (not doing that again). Also, you have Gilmore Girls characters in there and it was always Jess all the way, do you not remember Dean’s personality change later on in the series? I could understand his appeal early on, but then he got so jealous and I hate jealousy, if you have such doubts you’re obviously feeling insecure about something.

    Awesome discussion, I’ve been saving this post to read when I had time to write a proper comment.

    • I agree, bad boys are usually a lot of fun in the fictional world. Don’t get me wrong, I adore some of these characters, they’re absolutely great (hello, Howl and Mycroft!) :) I always feel that liking bad boys in real life is a bit self-destructive – if you KNOW you’re setting yourself up for a heartbreak… I don’t like the drama. But then you can’t really choose who you fall in love with, right? I’m just lucky I fell for a good guy, I guess :)

      MM, that’s also true. The bad boys have the looks and the snarky, bantery attiude that makes them likeable/loveable. But I really like it when the heroine is just as snarky right back so she can hold her own agaist such a guy (not like Bella).

      Woo, you dated a bad boy? I’m all ears ;) (umm… eyes…)

      I’m watching Gilmore Girls for the first time now!! And yes, I have now come to the point where Dean is an asshole and has cheated on his wife but when I wrote the post (it was scheduled ahead), Dean was still good! :D Currently, Rory is quitting Yale and residing with her grandparents so I kind of want to shake some sense into her but we’ll see what happens (2 more seasons to go!).

      And thank you for the lovely long comment! :)

      • I suppose as long as we realise that fictional bad boys don’t translate well into reality we’re all good. And sadly you can’t, of you could choose who you fall in love with life would be a lot more convenient, it’s a good job you got lucky.

        And that’s true, bad boys are a lot wittier, but they are a lot more interesting when your heroine has a strong personality too. Poor Bella just had nothing going for her to make her interesting, turns out a lot of people enjoy that for some reason.

        And I did date a bad boy (or he was in comparison to my other boyfriends, so really he was pretty tame) and he was fun and a bit of a rebel and the life of the party, but try to get a bit more depth out of him and you got shut down. I eventually got fed up with him always being so uncommunicative, there is really only so much you can put up with right? I definitely know better now, I was young (18) and a bad boy seemed like an excellent idea.

        And I see, that does explain the not knowing Dean turned into an asshole. He was a sweet and adorable boyfriend to begin with, it just went a bit wrong for him. The last couple of seasons aren’t as good as the first few, but they are still good. I was never a huge fan of Logan’s though.

  • Fabulous topic – thank you! I pretty much always end up rooting for the good guy. And I find sometimes in conversations with friends the need to point out that the virtue of the stalwart hero isn’t a *bad* thing. So it’s nice that I’m not the only one who likes a good guy.

    But I do like the good guy to be strong – not passive. “Nice” guys are the passive good guys and I don’t like those much.

    Dean always over Jess.

    But totally the prince in Throne of Glass. I haven’t read those books in so long I can’t remember his name (oops!)

    Mal in the Grisha triology is the good guy. Totally the one I rooted for.

    Robin in the Scarlet trilogy (but, I mean it’s Robin Hood so that’s pretty obvious).

    And Four. Four is a good guy disguised as a bad boy.