So You Want To / Write a Badass
There are many ways to a character Badass—just look at the amount of subtropes on that page. Yet, pulling it off is not always easy, in part because there are a lot of confusing images on TV and film that writers glom onto. Here are a set of guidelines—as always, not hard-and-fast rules—that can help you pull it off.
There are a few tropes that are absolutely necessary for a character to come off as badass. They will ultimately help you with a good start to your character's sheer awesomeness.
- The Ace: They've had experiences with so many things that it seems like they can do almost anything, and though there are some things they're unable to do (like everyone else) they will learn it if they want to. If they're in a group, they'll either be the prodigy of that group, or if the rest of the group is better, they'll catch up to them by their own determination and willpower. However, if you're planning on making the character believable, you might not want to make them good at everything. Just be sure they'll be talented at multiple things, and look cool while they're doing it.
- Determinator: Badasses just don't give up when it comes to what they truly desire, or they might do sometimes, but even there, they will find hope again quickly. People can tell them whatever they like about how their goals are '"impossible", but it does not shake them. No matter how hard there opponent is hitting, they will keep getting up from the ground (though they might want to back off to avoid trouble). They won't ever stop achieving their dreams. even when hope seems lost, they know that there is always another way, and they won't back down until they finally succeeded.
- We Do the Impossible: The point of badassery. They do what everyone thinks cannot be done. The word "Impossible" is not a word they know of, because they'll succeed some time or other due to their bravery and willpower. This is also another example similar to the Determinator above.
- Anti-Hero: They're neither a villain or a hero. They're their own, and don't take critic from that.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Have you ever heard "nice guys finish last"? Well, that's bullshit. If the guy is usually a nice, level-headed guy, yet takes no crap from no one, and will kick anyone's ass for hurting his friends, he's a badass. There's nothing cool about a Jerkass who likes being an asshole to people because they think they can get away with it.
- Good Is Not Soft: If your badass character is a hero, you should really use this. They don't mess with the hero because even though he's nice, they know exactly what's going to happen.
- One-Man Army: This will immediately get people to recognize your character as a badass. Why? Because if you ever see someone take down multiple opponents, that person IS a badass. This will also give people a good chance to see just how good of a fighter he is.
Characterization and Storytelling
A real badass never needs to advertise
The serious heavyweights never go looking for trouble. Trouble knows exactly where to find them at all times. A real badass often wants to avoid a fight because he knows intimately all the consequences of winning that fight (police involvement, assault charges, trips to the hospital or the cemetery, having to keep a low profile, possible injury, etc). The problem is that in any given place there are people who fancy themselves alpha males and who respond to the mere presence of a real badass as if it were some sort of personal affront. Real badasses never talk about how tough they are or show off if they can help it because they know from hard experience that it just causes too much trouble.
Talk is cheap.
One of the better indicators of whether somebody is a badass or not is how much they talk. Real badasses donít have to say much at all. They have better things to do than jibber-jabber about how tough they areÖ like stay alert for trouble. Besides, most real badasses have learned that there are very few questions that canít be answered with a cold, steely glare. If a badass does speak, his words are carefully chosen for effect and thus he tends to come off as being cool. Examples include Bruce Willis
in Last Man Standing
, Clint Eastwood
in just about anything, Wesley Snipes
, Jean Reno
in The Professional
, Chow Yun-fat
in The Replacement Killers
, and Kevin Klein
and Scott Glenn
This applies from a writing standpoint, too—the old rule of Show, Don't Tell
. If you talk about how badass someone is, but we don't see it in action, that's Informed Ability
(and if the character is female, makes her into a Faux Action Girl
Even badasses get the crap kicked out of them
The main difference between them and the other guys is that they always get back up
. Bruce Willis
has made a cottage industry of being beat to shit by the end of the movie. But if you want a classic example of the badass getting back up, watch Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven
. Just because the character is badass does not give him a license to invulnerability. In fact, when they take it in the pants, it sort of behooves them to do it stoically.
Coolness under fire is more desirable than speed or strength
, Gene Hackman has this long speech about the importance of coolness under fire as opposed to speed on the draw. This idea is absolutely true. Those who rely on speed or strength or funky powers in battle tend to get into a state of mental passivity. Unfortunately, mental passivity WILL GET YOU KILLED! Staying calm in battle is not about looking cool (although it does make you look cool), itís not even about staying cool so your troops will follow your example and stay cool too (although that, too, is a happy side benefit), itís more about keeping your mind active and alert for threats and opportunities. In battle, those threats and opportunities can present themselves and pass in moments.
Even badasses have their limits
In The Killer
, there are several scenes where Chow Yun-Fatís character has to have some impromptu surgery (read: taking the bullets out) done on him after the shootouts at the nightclub and the beach house. Those scenes can be rather painful to watch because he doesnít exactly take the pain of the procedure well. Doesnít make him any less of a badass, and in fact, he gains a lot more believability because of it.
Also, The Killer
is a good example of how you donít need to be one of those unemotional, cold-fish Clint Eastwood types in order to be a badass. Every badass should have something in his or her life that makes him or her lose his or her cool
A real badass never has a matched pair of anything
So many people, especially in online roleplaying, describe their characters as having a matched pair of silver katanas
or nickel plated Mac 10s or pearl handled .45s or some other foolishness. A real badass looks at weapons like a craftsperson looks at tools. They may have some that they favour, but they are going to use the right tool for the right job, and if the tools have to get left behind in the wake of trouble then so be it. It doesnít pay to get killed trying to get your left-hand sword back. Also, a heavily ornate weapon draws attention to itself and
marks you as an amateur to other pros. Style is all well and good, but most badasses prefer utilitarian weapons. The only real exception to this rule is Batman
, who's rich enough that he can easily afford to replace any of his toys that get broken or lost.
From a writing standpoint, you should be aware that if it takes more adjectives to describe your weaponry than it takes to describe your character, then your character is less interesting than his weapons. Special weapons are nice, but they donít make you more macho or capable.
A real badass doesnít have to be in charge
A lot of people equate being a badass with a license to push people around. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pushing people around creates more trouble than it solves. Experienced badasses know this. As a result, they try to avoid ordering people around as much as possible. Most are perfectly content to allow others to give the orders. Samurai
were badasses, but they usually served greater powers in exchange for privileges and payment. Look around you at the next LARP you attend. The guy issuing the orders is probably not a real badass. The guy who he issues them to, who just nods his head and goes away, IS a badass. Especially if it results in half a dozen casualties.
In the Five-Man Band
, The Lancer
is all too often the badass, for the simple reason that the leader is the only one with the charisma to keep them in line long enough to stop killing things for long enough to advance the plot between shoot-outs. The badass doesn't need much charisma when everything around them is dead within about twelve seconds.
Suggested Themes and Aesops
Set Designer / Location Scout
Looks aren't that important, as a real badass wears whatever he likes and doesn't follow trends, but it might help your character pay more attention to how cool he is if he also looks
like a badass while doing cool stuff. For example, it is long acknowledged that black and red are the universal colours of badassery. And a good quantity of leather never goes amiss. Denim can also work, especially in black or blue. Also, to give the viewers an impression that your character is may be a badass by looking at them, you might want to add something raw and punkish, like spikes. Then again, you should only give him these sets of clothes if your character likes
what he's wearing, or else he'll come off as a poser. However, Tsurime Eyes
are the most defined eye-shape of a badass, as it usually
makes it more obvious.
Like costume design, attitude is not that important. However, you might not want to make your badass character an unsympathetic Jerkass
. One thing is that the viewers will focus more on how much of an asshole he is, and not at the cool stuff he does, but being a jerk will also make your character come off as a wannabe. The only exception is if they have suffered a past that makes them act like they do, which is then fine, because people will sympathize with them, but you should then give them some Character Development
to make them popular, both for sheer badassery, but also for being a likeable character. Make sure not to make them one dimensional either, because badass characters are supposed to be interesting, for the most part at least.
However, rudeness in the character will not be good for the image the character is proposing. For example, Vegeta
is a badass, but his offensive and self-serving attitude makes people ignore his "badass" image. Piccolo, on the other hand, is much more noble and respectful, which makes him easier to acknowledge as a badass.
Even if they are villains, do not make them a Complete Monster
, because that will immediately be the downfall of your character. Every badass character should have a soft side, even if they're the Big Bad
. That being said, if you decide to make them an antagonist, give them at least one Even Evil Has Standards
Many of the actors famed for playing badasses maintain consistent personas across multiple roles. Here are some of them:
Sean Connery created the screen James Bond
, and has never really left him behind. He's suave and sophisticated, with a darkly ironic sense of humor. He is very competent indeed, and totally ruthless, but also extremely charming, with a strong moral code. He always takes his work seriously, and you never find him messing around or getting drunk. Most important of all, though, he is always scrupulously polite, even as he's murdering someone. There is never any excuse for crassness.
Chow Yun-fat: The Golden-Hearted Cynic
Chow Yun Fat is gritty, tired, and cynical. He knows the real world for the stinking mess that it is. He's perfectly at home with corruption, and has no time for his superiors, mired in politics or bribery. Despite this, he retains his sense of values. Deep down, underneath it all, he still believes in the good guy, and he'll do the right thing because it IS right
, regardless of whether or not he has hope
. He'd destroy the system to save one innocent soul.
Arnold Schwarzenegger might have been born to fit the word "implacable". No matter what obstacles are put in his path, he crashes right through them and keeps on coming. He does not give up, he does not let irrelevancies distract him, he does not give quarter, and he is not given to flamboyant gestures. He is here to fight, and that takes all his concentration.
Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rampant
Bruce Lee was one of the greatest fighters the world has ever seen. He was pure, dedicated to his art, an angel of righteous death. Always somewhat uncomfortable in everyday social situations, his reason for existence was the moment of battle. It was only when fighting that he managed to find peace. His skills were unparalelled, but he did not waste energy with the impossible. When overwhelmed, as he occasionally was, he would surrender—and live to fight again later.
The Epic Fails
Son Goku, from Dragon Ball Evolution
. Take what is one of the most beloved action heroes in manga and anime, and turn him into a loser who can't even fight right.