Today’s character archetype is a modern trope normally associated to the teen or child. The Brat has an interesting pedigree, and has gone from a totally negative stereotype to one which can be used as a basis or starter archetype for a heroine.
“I deserve it all…now!”~ Brat motto.
Whilst normally perceived as a minor villain type, you may be surprised to find that the [spoiled] brat features quite predominantly as a start position for the protagonist in many movies targeted to tweenage girls. It seems that the spoiled brat with a hidden heart of gold may have a redemptive arc.
Signs of the Brat
- has a huge sense of [unjustified] entitlement – believes the world owes them everything incl. constant on-demand attention, and/or materialistic things, maybe even love
- whiny tantrummy behaviour to wear down somebody not giving them what they want
- confident they are right
- pig-headed, manipulative and underhand, but not stupid
- runs with a pack or entourage of enablers including other royalist archetypes like Queen Bees
- snobby, discriminatory or bullying behaviour towards those worse off
- materialistic wealth (often inherited); has the latest and greatest, always
- weak-willed and guilty parents who give in to demands
A Bit about Gender and Wealth
Brats are normally – but not always – girls. Previously the bully archetype was more often applied to boys. This is changing also, but the two have an association – the brat (as female) was a softened way of showing a bully. After all, the brat at home often uses bullying tactics to get what they want from weak-willed parents.
The motivation behind the two is different however – bratty behaviour comes out of a sense of entitlement and high self-esteem, whereas bullying comes from a lack of self-esteem and a need to appear bigger than themselves.
Brats are often associated with wealth, being a metaphor for the old lesson that we should always be grateful for/never take for granted what we have. Fiction doesn’t really provide many nice rich people, in my opinion.
Although normally applied to the rich princess types, the brat archetype can also be useful in other settings – there are several brats found in educational and technology settings, for instance – this is the geeky smart student who has always got A’s and believes they are entitled to all A’s but then throws a tantrum when a new teacher grades them with a B+. Or the brat in business – the son of the CEO who has expectations they will take over the empire without working their way up the chain, and already acts like the chief. Or the school mum who has always headed up the school’s Parent Group efforts, and finds she has a new mum on the block as competition for her popularity. Or the Pageant Queen who expects to date and marry the best looking boy / wealthiest boy around because they are the best match together.We’ve seen brats everywhere, but take care as many of these examples are now overworked stereotypes.
The key to making a proper brat is consistent and repetitive bratty behaviour. A brat is not found in a one-off temper tantrum out of frustration or just pure anger, which can often be found in toddlers – in supermarket sweet/candy aisles. The brat displays repetitive examples of their sense of entitlement from the world.
Examples of the Brat
Molly Ringwald’s character from The Breakfast Club (which also featured many actors from the 1980’s “Brat Pack“); Draco Malfoy and Dudley Dursey in earlier books of the Harry Potter series; Veruca Salt of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory; Edmund of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; Catherine from Wuthering Heights.
Many current examples can be found in Disney movies with princesses or high school girls all needing to stop bratty behaviour to become a better self and therefore heroine. And in rom-coms, the brat as adult is the long-standing girlfriend or boyfriend who will be dumped (although often is the dumper) once the hero comes to the realisation that there is somebody much better out there.
Other Names & Associates
- sub-tropes: heiress brats, princess brats, snobby brats, spoiled princess, little rich girl
- not the same: golden child, although if a character suddenly made golden starts to act brattishly, then also a brat.
- similar: queen bees, jocks, popular girls, bullies and other teenage tropes
- shadows – brats are common shadows for characters with other archetypes, particularly in YA, or rom-com genres or fiction works with corporate settings. If you have a story which deals with a group of wealthy or privileged characters, odds on you will find several brats among them.
Part of 2016’s Character Archetype Series (A-Z) @ Hunter is Writing.