Books

A Book About Writing Bad Guys that Has An Eye-catching Title

Book Review:

Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Page Morrell

Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Uses numerous examples from literature, shows, and film to illustrate her points
  • Decent as a reference book
  • Helpful charts

Cons

  • The way the book handles mental illness is not good
  • The author seems sexist at times
  • For a writer teaching about writing, her wording is not the greatest
  • Typos

Observations

  • Spoils a ton of books, shows, and movies
  • Not particularly useful for anyone other than very amateur writers

Review

I really wanted to like this book, but the eye-catching title did not translate into the great resource for writing villains that I thought it would be. Morrell makes some decent points, but most of them are obvious. That is pretty surprising since she explained that she had spent a lot of time reading to prepare to write this book.

I would say one of her main focuses is summed up in this statement.

In fiction, you toss your main characters out on a limb, preferably a limb that dangles off a steep cliff over a raging torrent of sea below, and that sea has bottomless depths.”

Morrell

Yes, writers often need to make their characters suffer to develop and move the plot forward. But Morrell’s phrasing here and elsewhere is awkward. “Over a raging torrent of sea below”? If something is over something else, do you really need to also use the word “below”? I know that seems nitpicky, but this is a writer claiming to be able to teach other writers how to improve their writing.

I wouldn’t have rated this so low if this was not a repeat issue, and if there were not numerous other problems. I caught typos; for instance “glace” instead of “glance”. She names cockroaches in a list of dangerous predators.

Villains are motivated by either malice or lack of malice to achieve their ends.”

Morrell

What the heck Morell? What does the above statement even mean? It’s completely pointless. It says nothing about the motivations of villains.

She calls characters “story people” at least twice, which just sounds juvenile.

Also, she seems sexist at times. An anti-hero man may be scruffy and is definitely immoral. For a woman anti-hero: “perhaps her slip is showing and her lipstick is smeared, she sleeps with men she doesn’t know well, and she cannot fit into traditional women’s roles.” She goes on to say that anti-heroes are “are always failed heroes or deeply flawed”. So a man is deeply flawed if he is immoral, but a women just has to step out of stereotypical gender roles and expectations in order to be deeply flawed? Plus certain character types apparently can only be filled by men, such as the dark hero or rogue. There is no need for those categories to be gendered, but for Morrell they are. Finally, she often makes generalizations such as “women like a challenge” (when it comes to their love interests). For all these reasons, the book comes off as sexist.

Also, Morrell subverts her own definition of anti-hero later on by making it appear as if any hero who is not completely flawless is an anti-hero–even people who are just oddballs. Such a loose definition is of no use to serious writers.

Furthermore, Morrell’s writing assumes all characters to be straight and cis, which makes her book somewhat lacking, since it could easily have been at least somewhat inclusive.

Morrell has a whole chapter on sociopaths that is insensitive, calling them the “worst-case scenario” for their families in real-life and that they necessarily must make almost all immoral choices. She describes them as dangerous and insists that they are all predators, and that every time they talk they lie. People with mental illnesses are not invariably evil. My god, it’s like this book was written fifty years ago instead of in 2008.

And as for that eye-catching title? Morrell talks about bitches and bullies as character types, but never bastards. Why not stick “bad asses” in the title instead, since it has the same alliteration and impact? She talked about bad asses at length.

In short, this book had many great examples from books, movies, and shows, but that was the only thing that kept me reading to the final page. It is ironic that the best parts of Morrell’s book are the snippets she borrowed from other writers.

I would not recommend this book for anyone, honestly. Even a beginning writer could be led astray by Morrell’s writing mistakes.

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