Fun Is Good, Part I: The Badass Factor

by J.D. Rhoades

Did you ever fly a kite in bed?
Did you ever walk with ten cats on your head?

If you never did, you should.
These things are fun, and fun is good.

           -Dr. Seuss

There are a lot of things that go into making a great book: plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, etc. Today, I’d like to talk about another, often-overlooked factor: fun.

Not a lot of people talk about what makes a book fun to read. That’s probably because it’s such a hard thing to quantify. But if a book is fun to read, people will keep coming back to it, and they’ll anxiously await the next one.

For purposes of these posts, I’m not just talking about books being funny. Certainly a book that makes you laugh is fun. But there are some “serious” works that are just a sheer hoot to read and/or watch. In my next few posts, I’ll be talking about some of the things that make a book or movie fun (to me at least).

First,  we’ll talk about one of my favorites:  the badass factor.

From Beowulf to Jack Reacher, we do love our badasses, those unstoppable, unkillable guys and gals who take a licking and keep on kicking,  right up till the end when l they either triumph, or in the case of badass villains, go down with their guns (and sometimes themselves) blazing.

One of the things,  for example, that makes Jonathan Maberry’s zombie-driven thriller  PATIENT ZERO so much fun is that its main character, Joe Ledger,  is a serious badass, and he knows it. It’s right there in the book’s dynamite first line: “When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”

That passage illustrates one of the things that makes a bad-ass a bad-ass (and thus adds to the fun):  an  extraordinary self-assurance, born of an uber-competence in the fields of  crushing enemies, seeing them driven before them, and hearing the lamentation of their women. Robert Crais’ Joe Pike, for example, adds a huge fun factor to the Elvis Cole books by simply being the absolute best at disposing of bad guys without hardly breaking a sweat or even taking off his shades. And the books featuring Pike (there’s a new one out-YAY!) are, yes, serious fun.

The writer should be warned, though. There’s a very fine line between the type of confidence that tickles the reader’s fun center and the kind that stimulates the eye-rolling nerve.

Another form  of bad-assery is the Sheer Stubborn Endurance kind, exemplfied by Bruce Willis’ John McClain in the frst DIE HARD movie. Blown up, burned, feet cut to ribbons, he just keeps coming after the bad guys. Another example: Inigo Montoya in THE PRINCESS BRIDE, who, though badly wounded, gets up, raises his sword,  and delivers his signature  line, over and over, until he finally does in the man who killed his father, after this classic exchange:

Inigo Montoya: Offer me anything I ask for.

Count Rugen: Anything you want…

Inigo Montoya (runs Rugen through): I want my father back, you son of a bitch.

Which brings us to the  Badass Moments, in which a character’s true awesomeness is exhibited, often through a single line or gesture. Example: the moment in the first episode of the TV series FIREFLY when Captain Mal Reynolds comes striding up the ship’s cargo ramp into the middle of a tense standoff,  sees one of his people being held hostage, draws,  shoots the hostage taker dead without breaking stride, and moves on to getting the ship flying.

Another type of Badass Moment comes when  someone who’d previously been the hunted  turns into the lion and starts whomping the  snot out of bad guys  right and left. Example: the moment in ALIENS when the hangar door opens to reveal Ripley, driving that giant exoskeleton and snarling “GET away from her, you BITCH!”

Rule of thumb: Any  moment that makes you want to leap up, pump your fist in the air and holler ‘Hell YEAH!” increases the fun factor exponentially.

LORD OF THE RINGS, (the book version) is  fun, in large part, because it’s  chock full o’badasses and badass moments, like:  Aragorn standing on the walls of the surrounded Helm’s Deep and telling the million or so nasties teeming about below him that no one’s ever taken that fortress and  that the ridiculously outnumbered defenders will let them live if they run away now; Theodens’ pre-charge speech and the  Ride of the Rohirrim, and my favorite, when Eowyn, after being warned by the Nazgul that no man can kill him, whips off her helmet and gives her “No man am I” speech (a Badass Moment if there ever was one). And let’s face it, when it comes to  Sheer Stubborn Endurance badassery, the name’s Gamgee. Sam Gamgee.

So tell me: who are your favorite badasses? And for future posts: what makes a book not just good, but FUN?

Next time: The Audacity Factor, or Oh, No, He Did NOT Just Do That!

37 thoughts on “Fun Is Good, Part I: The Badass Factor

  1. Laura Jane Thompson

    This is a turn-around for me because my favorite badass actually originated on television (Michael Westen, "Burn Notice"). I know that Tod Goldberg has been writing the BURN NOTICE series, and his style should bring the badassery to another level, so I need to get started on those.

    Others that come to mind are Lincoln Rhyme (you can't really beat a quadriplegic badass) from Jeffery Deaver and Travis McGee from John D. MacDonald.

    And, although not normally my cup of tea, Janet Evanovich does a great job with her no-holds-barred bounty hunter Ranger in the Stephanie Plum series.

  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    How about a potential one: a movie coming out next weekend looks like it's chock full of them: RED. Helen Mirren looks as badass as they come in the previews. Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and Morgan Freeman. I can't wait. "senior citizen" badassery.

  3. Todd Bush

    Not in a book, I know, but this one has to be mentioned. Everyone knows Val Kilmer's "I'm your huckleberry" line (as Doc Holiday) in Tombstone. But a less quoted scene happens later in the movie. When the villian, Johnny Ringo sees that it's Doc and not Wyatt Earp he'll be going up against, he freezes and you can see the fear in his eyes. Doc replies with a classic quote of bad assery: "Why Johnny Ringo… you look like somebody just walked over your grave."

  4. Debbie

    Dusty, loved Lord Of The Rings, read it twice and can't wait to read it again. Next month, my hubby is showing each movie from the trilogy over three weekends in his theatre. Wish you lived nearby to join us. 🙂
    Not exactly a badass scene, but since you took mine with Die Hard…Shawshank Redemption, the scene where Andy walks into the bank to transfer the money. Exhilarating moment of triumph.
    I have to add my fav scenes from Die Hard include, "Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho." and Alan Rickman's departure from the building! This however is my all time favourite. The terrorist who is put into the body bag, not only alive, but with a machine gun!That's so seriously f'd up in the best kind of way.

  5. Mark Terry

    I'm oddly fond of my own badass, Derek Stillwater–and I can assure you, as I'm sure you know, it's probably even MORE fun to write about a badass than to read about a badass. Very empowering.

    Now: Spenser, Painter Gray from David Rollins' books (as well as Commander Crow), Travis McGee, Lucas Davenport, Greg Rucka's Atticus Kodiak, Reacher…

  6. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dusty

    Why has nobody mentioned a certain Jack Keller…? In addition to those mentioned so far, what about Stephen Hunter's veteran sniper Bob Lee Swagger? Or Lord Vetinari from Terry Pratchett's DiscWorld series? Or Crow from the Robert B Parker Jesse Stone series.

    I could go on.

    I think Alan Rickman's baddie in Die Hard is the standard by which all others are set, but Tommy Lee Jones's bad guy in Under Siege runs him a close second ;-]

  7. Alafair Burke

    Hard to find anyone as badassed as Reacher. I'm reading Worth Dying For now (yes, you're all jealous, I know), and Reacher manages to be level headed and amusing while kicking butt. Books can also be fun for me, though, without a badass on the page. I either need a lot of depth of character or a very quick pace as a poor substitute.

  8. JD Rhoades

    "level headed and amusing while kicking butt."

    As good a definition of badass as I think you're likely to find.

  9. JD Rhoades

    Mark: I do love Rollins' books, but I have to say, I can't hear the name "Commander Crow" without thinking of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and giggling.

    Derek Stillwater, OTOH, is a great name for a badass.

  10. JD Rhoades

    And now I think I'll have to see RED. Helen Mirren is definitely badass.

    And speaking of female BAs….Charlie Fox, baby. Charlie Fox. Talk about someone who just will not be deterred…

  11. JD Rhoades

    "The terrorist who is put into the body bag, not only alive, but with a machine gun!That's so seriously f'd up in the best kind of way."

    That scene and that movie are so much fun, I'd seen it three times before I went, "hey, wait a minute…"

  12. Jake Nantz

    You already mentioned Pike and Reacher, who are 1 and 2 for me, so I'll throw in Bubba Rogowski. Jeff Somers's Avery Cates is pretty badass. Can't believe no one's said Indiana Jones yet, or Sarah Connor in T2, or Jason Bourne (films or novels). Then there's Christopher Walken (as anyone), and of course Captain Jack Sparrow.

    But the all-time badass line is actually a villain's. From Leon, The Professional, he's just wiped out a whole SWAT unit, and the corrupt cop (Gary Oldman) finds out about it downstairs, and says:

    "I told you. Manny? Bring me me everyone."
    "What do you mean, 'every–'"

  13. Louise Ure

    Favorite movie badasses? The previously mentioned Val Kilmer and Alan Rickman. Plus the enduring power of Clint Eastwood. "Are you feeling lucky, punk?"

  14. JD Rhoades

    Ah yes, Gary Oldman as Stansfield. My favorite line of his:

    "You're a Mozart fan. I love him too. I looooove Mozart! He was Austrian you know? But for this kind of work, he's a little bit light. So I tend to go for the heavier guys. Check out Brahms. He's good too."

    That's a great badass on badass movie.

  15. JD Rhoades

    Louise: Clint, of course, holds a special place in the badass Hall of Fame. So many great BA moments…who can forget his Sheer Stubborn Endurance BA turn in The Gauntlet?

    But what is it that makes The Outlaw Josey Wales such huge fun and Pale Rider (which is almost a remake of the same movie) not as much?

  16. Lorena

    Huh. Now I have to go read that book … what a great first line. Second the motion on Rollins' Sigma books, although I think they're all badasses, not just Painter…Monk, for example — sheer badass for his unwillingness to die the half-dozen or so times Rollins has tried to kill him! But aside from his grit, just…that whole team reeks of "you're going down and then I'm going to dinner" bad-assery.

    Anita Blake in the EARLY books of that series.

  17. Jake Nantz

    I'll also throw in a plug for the BAs in my two WIPs, Max Quarry and Dylan Videtich in the first, and Ethan Locke in the second. Hope they can make it on someone's list some day.

  18. Lance C.

    TV Tropes (one of the great time black holes on the Internet) calls badass moments "crowning moments of awesome":

    (The opposite, BTW, is a "crowning moment of suck".)

    One of my favorites: Molly Weasley (plump middle-aged mother of Ron Weasley and multiple other red-headed children in Harry Potter's orbit) getting her inner Sigourney Weaver on in a final, climactic battle with uber-vixen Bellatrix LeStrange: "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!"

  19. Gar Haywood


    Badass begins and ends with Inspector Harry Callahan. Everyone remembers "Are you feeling lucky, punk?" and "Make my day," as his best lines, but his best line by far actually came in DIRTY HARRY.

    The Scorpio killer has hired a street thug to beat the living crap out of him so he can lay the blame on Harry for reporters in the hospital, and the Chief is buying it and giving Harry hell as they watch a replay on TV. Harry pleads innocent, then, as he's leaving the room, glances at the Scorpio killer's bloody and bandaged face on the TV screen and:

    HARRY: Besides. Anybody can see I didn't do that to him.

    CHIEF: Yeah? Why's that?

    HARRY: Because he looks TOO DAMN GOOD, that's why.

    Now THAT is BADASS!

  20. Dudley Forster

    Wow come late to the party and find a lot of the bad asses are taken. First TV, I’m going to go back, way back, Emma Peel on the Avengers was definitely bad ass and one of the few woman bad asses at the time.

    Other bad asses include Bobbie Faye (or maybe she’s just nuts); Jane Rizzoli; Hawk (Spencer was mentioned); Virgil Flowers(John Sandford’s other series); Harry Dresden; Rachel Morgan from Kim Harrison’s series; Kitty Norville from Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty series; Pug and a whole bunch of others from Raymond Fiest’s Magician and Krondor series; Gabriel Allon; Isaac Bell, yes it’s a series by Cussler, but it is his best and Bell is so bad ass, if you haven’t read it pick up THE WRECKER; John Corey (Nelson DeMille); V.I. Warshawski.; Mercy Thompson from Patricia Briggs’s series. Did anyone mention Harry Bosch? Can’t forget Lisbeth Salander. There are so many more.

    I’ll toss in one movie reference, Martin Riggs from the Lethal Weapon movies.

  21. Dao

    Badass lawyer in a Michael Connelly story? I have to give it to Mickey Haller in "The Lincoln Lawyer." He's full of badassness and he got me hooked on Michael Connelly as well. I can't wait for the movie to come out but I don't think Matthew MCConaughey is badass enough to play him.

  22. CarlC

    Can't believe nobody's mentioned Myron Bolitar's sidekick Win, from Harlan Coben. He's SMOOTH, which makes him more of a badass.

  23. JT Ellison

    LOVE this!

    One of my all time favorites is from GI Jane. Demi Moore as the first female in SEAL training. When they go off for their SEER training, she's taken prisoner by her commanders, and Viggo Mortenson kicks the beejesus out of her to make a point to the MEN what happens when a WOMAN is in combat with them, and how they can be used against them by the enemy. He rolls her out in front of her comrades, tells her to seek life elsewhere, and she, bloody, beaten and handcuffed, gets up on her knees, stares him straight in the eye and says "Suck. My. Dick!"

    Crass, yes, but damn effective. She wins the respect of the whole cast of characters with that one line.

  24. kit

    when I read this…I mentally went through my list of favorite bad-asses.

    Repairman Jack…F.Paul wilson
    Louis and Angel…..John Connelly
    Agent Pendergast…..Preston and Childs…'a friend calls these "Pentergasms"
    Earl Lee Swagger….Stephan Hunter (PALE HORSE COMING)
    "Bob the Nailer"….Stephan Hunter (Black Light)

    Sunshine ….Remember the Titans( *On the Quaterback???!!!) when the opposing coach suggested a penalty.

    Axel F….Beverly Hills Cop ( sheer fun, and brings out the ya-hoo in people around him.)

    Riggs…..Lethal Weapon (also, for the sheer fun of it ……taking down the glass house, having DG's charactor flap his arms and act like a chicken, shooting the guy with DIPLOMATIC IMUNITY, biting the dog's ear)

  25. Allison Brennan

    Terrific post! And you already identified many of my favorite bad-asses (Joe Pike? Hell yeah. Any Crais book with Pike in it takes good to fabulous.)

    Eve Dallas and Roarke, both bad-asses at times, in JD Robb's series. Eve Dallas is probably my favorite female fictional character.

    I totally agree with those who mentioned Clint Eastwood in the first DIRTY HARRY, and Bruce Willis in DIE HARD (my favorite Christmas movie, after the original GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS 😉

    Sark from Alias had his bad-guy bad-ass moments.

  26. Eika

    There's actually a character in Watership Down who embodies badassery. Bigwig. Which is ironic, because he's a rabbit.

    He starts off as muscle, the only muscle who agrees to leave with the rest of the rabbits when fiver, who has visions, says they need to leave. And then he almost gets strangled alive in a rabbit trap, and keeps on kicking. And then he challenges a fox, and outruns the fox, and uses the fox to take out a bad-guy (though it's debatable whether that was on purpose). Then, there is an all-out rabbit fight, and he's bleeding in several places, with the rabbit equivalent of broken limbs, I think an ear's torn off, and he stares the bad guys in the face and almost mocks them. I love Bigwig.

    For that matter, I also love Hazel, whose plan is, 'Facing a force of rabbits ten times larger and more prepared than ours? Great! LET'S LURE OVER A DOG!' I was in awe of that.

    I think it's even better when it's coming somewhere unexpected, though. Half the reason this story's so great is, you don't expect badass rabbits. But they are.

  27. Zoë Sharp

    "Half the reason this story's so great is, you don't expect badass rabbits. But they are."

    Reminds me of the killer rabbit scene in 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. All you need is a holy hand grenade of Antioch…;-]

  28. Marie-Reine

    Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber in Diehard, "'And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.' Benefits of a classical education."

    Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien, "Why don't you just fuck off?"

    And of course Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme… too obvious, but heh.

  29. Catherine

    I think Brett's Jonathan Quinn is pretty bad arse.

    I also would include Peter Temple's Jack Irish as Australian bad arse.

    This is from BLACK TIDE

    "The woman doctor who cleaned the wound looked like Ava Gardner in Bhowani Junction. She wasn't impressed with the injury.

    'Call this a gunshot wound?' she said. 'I've seen worse from knitting accidents.' She pointed at my old scar. 'Now that's a gunshot wound. Are you a dangerous person?'

    'This blaming the victim.' I said.'The people who shot me are dangerous."

  30. KDJames

    I love this post and I love these comments and I love the idea of badass rabbits (LOL!). But most of all I love badass characters.

    Making notes of more books to read…

  31. Doug Riddle

    Chili Palmer and Indy…..Chili when he punchs the guy for stealing his coat, doesn't say anything, just hits him……and Indy when he shoots the swordsman in the marketplace

  32. Marianne Plumridge

    Exceptionally badass post! Oh, ALL of the above… In the first Firefly episode it was Mal casually kicking a bad guy into the space craft engine near the end of the episode. 😀

    Wolverine from the X-men movies. Hugh Jackman with muscles and an attitude….

    Dirk Pitt and Al Giordano from Clive Cussler…oh, those one liners and kicking butt.

    James Bond!

    Havelock Vetinari, DEATH, JIm Kirk from Star Trek. Candice Fusco from the Psychic Eye mysteries by Victoria Laurie. Eddie G. and Jerry from the Rat Pack murder mysteries by Robert Randisi.
    This is fun.

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