Thursday, January 05, 2012

Feisty, Sassy, Snarky, or Just Obnoxious?

I recently read a paranormal anthology that I won’t name because I’m going to say some negative things about two of the stories. In both of them, the kick-ass werewolf heroine has to work together with the hero in a crisis against her wishes. In each case, the heroine takes an instant dislike to the hero and shows it with outspoken rudeness. These reactions appear motivated only by snap judgments based on first impressions. In the first story, the hero is a vampire and the heroine doesn’t like vampires in general; in the second, the woman’s aversion comes from a quick decision about what type of man the character is. In other words, the characters’ initial dislike for the heroes springs mostly from prejudice, not an attractive quality for a protagonist to exhibit. The guys might actually be arrogant jerks, but we see no real evidence of that hypothesis before the women preemptively jump to that conclusion. Any not so gentlemanly behavior displayed by the heroes could just as well be a response to the heroines’ hostility.

Of course, the “slap, slap, kiss” motif (as labels it) has been around in romance since at least Shakespeare. Sparks flying in a spirited argument often ignite sexual sparks. Also, the feisty heroine who stands up for herself to everyone, including the hero, has become one of the most popular character types in current romance fiction. Few readers would accept a timid, submissive heroine these days. But there’s a difference between feisty or “kick-ass” and plain insufferable. To me, a character who goes out of her way to pick fights with a man she’s just met comes across as the latter. Hostility between hero and heroine needs to have a believable motive. That’s a case where “show not tell” is vital—the author should demonstrate in action that there’s a good reason why two sympathetic characters we’re rooting for nevertheless interact like the proverbial cat and dog.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. I can't say this type of heroine is very appealing to me. In fact, just the opposite. This type of obnoxious immature behavior usually will create a wall-banger. I think what it comes down to is the authors make the character 'fiesty' thinking it makes her seem tough and independant when in fact the opposite is true. I think these type of annoying knee-jerk heroines are anything but confidant characters. At times they can come off as insecure bullies who act obnoxiously and have chips on their shoulders...

  2. I agree with you, Margaret. I don't like knee-jerk heroines, either. Especially if they jerk their knees into a man's crotch.

  3. Margaret,

    Great article.

    I love a story with plenty of conflict between the heroine and hero IF it is believable and adds to the tension of the plot and the story. It can be soo much fun.

    I do not love reading a heroine with an obnoxious attitude that makes me want to throw the book and the heroine across the room.

    That makes the heroine a victim of her own immaturity, and that's just painful to watch.

    Cathryn Cade

  4. Wanted to add: I tend to call these characters the 'argue couple' and for me the HEA- Happily ever after is in doubt, if the characters can't get along for half the book or respect each other enought to treat eachother like human beings. At times these types of character can seem almost verbally abusive and the 'reconcilliation' usually towards the end of the book is too long in coming and feels artifical.