Characterization: Bad-boy Riders

Motorcycles can be aesthetically pleasing to the eye just like a ’68 Shelby Mustang. The deep baritonic rumble vibrating through the muffler can make a dreamer and wanna-be adventurous girl like me grow weak in the knees.

Marlon Brando-The Wild One

Marlon Brando-The Wild One

For years, motorcycles, right along with demin jeans, boots, pristine white-Ts and leather jackets represented the iconic bad boy.  And for good girls wanting a taste of the wild side, it represented a sense of adventure and perhaps a taste of that forbidden fruit. For the protective papa I’m sure those two-wheeled beasts were like their worst nightmares come alive to steal their daughters from beneath their noses.  Marlon Brando and James Dean were before my time but I can imagine all the swooning young girls and the closed-lip shotgun holding fathers as Mr. Motorcycle circled the block.

Growing up, my dad almost always had a motorcycle. Since I’m not well versed in brands and motors, I have no clue what he had, but I can tell you something: Dad was nothing like Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli aka Fonzie.

Ahhhh does that name produce a particular image? He wore his leather jacket and motorcycle like a suit of armor but inside he was softy. Have you ever read the back story on his character? If not, check it out here and scroll down to character traits and development.  Pretty interesting, huh?

Of course if you were a fan of Happy Days you know the chicks fell all over him with a snap of his finger. Kind of funny when you think about how he was portrayed as a womanizer, but was very likable. Guess I never thought about him that way before. Probably because the screen writers did a good job of giving him likable qualities, that’s something important in characterization.

Now let’s look at a little bit of a twist, something unique, at the time, from the sweet innocent girl batting her long lashes at Mr. Leather.

At the risk of giving away my age, I was barely eleven when Grease 2 hit the movie scene. It probably wasn’t as popular as the first Grease, but boy howdy did it fill my young head with all sorts of fantasies. I recall standing on an end table pretending to be Michelle Pfeiffer belting out “Cool Rider”. I do believe this about the time I started wearing Harley Davidson T-shirts and paying close attention motorcycles, or at least the guys riding them. Oh yeah, and I had one of those satin jackets similar to what she wore.

Okay, so what’s the twist you ask? Well, Michelle’s character Stephanie Zinone is a “bad girl”. She dresses differently from all the “good” girls, smacks her gum and hangs with the bad boys. Zinone he wants a bad boy, too. Well, at least, what she considers to be a bad boy wearing leather and riding a motorcycle. When Michael, played by Maxwell Caulfield, crushes all over her, she thinks he is nothing but a ‘sweet’ guy, a nerd. He’s totally off her list, but Michael is smart. He exchanges his argyle sweater for leather and learns to ride.  Of course, she has no idea who he is. If she did, she’d no doubt walk away. But he tempts her with motorcycle and leather. Her lures her further with romance and kindness.

We all know what happens, she finds out the truth and although stunned and maybe a little angry she realizes she’s in love. And as it turns out Michael isn’t the only one who changed through the course of the movie, so did Stephanie. She finds out not all guys wearing leather and riding two wheels are the same.

20130220_174304Obviously this blog post isn’t completely about motorcycles. Honestly, I don’t know much about them. I’ve ridden dirt bikes, Hondas, Kawasakis and even a Harley or two. That’s me with Uncle Lance after our ride. I was at an awkward age, had awkward hair, but loved every minute of that motorcycle ride.

I know how it feels to fly over the different terrains, how it feels to have the wind tug at you, the high scream of crotch rocket, the deep rumble of the Harley. Outside of a few episodes of American Pickers, I know absolutely nothing on the history of these unique machines.

What is this blog post about?


When you read James Dean, no doubt a particular image formed in your mind. No doubt the girls mentioned were wearing poodle skirts or peddle-pushers without me having mentioning those words.

Fonzie left you with another image, as did my retelling of Grease 2.

When you write, your words need to paint pictures. I don’t need James Dean or Fonzie to give me a mental picture. I need to feel the motorcycle, to hear it, to feel, to experience the elements. As John said in an earlier post, “When you ride a bike, you view the world from inside the world. Not as a spectator but as a participant, with all the associated risks.”

Make that bike come alive, just as you would its rider, because in essence, the bike is an extension of its owner. It represents something in the rider’s life, history, rebellion, sorrow and a sense completeness.

Writing Prompt:

On Monday, John asked you to write a brief character sketch for a motorcycle rider. Why does he, or she choose the type of bike they do? What do they get out of riding?

I want you to dig a little deeper, bring the motorcycle alive. Give it a bit of personality to match it’s rider.

*Marlon Brando picture is from public domain. The photo was taken between 1923 and 1963. The copyright was not renewed.  For more information on this photo and copyright go here.

3 thoughts on “Characterization: Bad-boy Riders

  1. Great Post! Loved the part about Fonzie’s backstory. Of course, as a kid, I never considered the backstory of television characters that were popular when I was young. But his story seems very well developed and interesting. As you infer, it is all about characters. Do your homework and write detailed backstories for your characters. When you do, they will respond realistically when confronted with anything.

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