• Sheila & Swede

Romance Fiction Heroines: Snarky vs. Vulnerable

In this post, the Sheila and the Swede face off over the best kinds of heroines in romance novels.


What's your favorite type of romantic heroine?

The Swede


I love snarky heroines, for which the Sheila should count herself lucky as she very much fits that description once she gets to talking about pet peeves. Now, if you ask the Sheila, she’ll probably describe me as snarky in general. I do enjoy a touch of sarcasm in my writing, and it’s often part of my humor. Maybe this explains why I enjoy a snarky heroine. On the inside, I have awesome snarky comebacks, but I’m repressed and rarely let it out, leaving me frustrated. So reading about a snarky heroine allows me to live vicariously through her.


The Snarky Heroine obviously needs to grow and change throughout the story. She works well with an Alpha who needs his overinflated ego popped. Some examples of awesome, snarky heroines in fiction:

  • Elisabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, challenging the proud and prejudiced Mr. Darcy.

  • Veronica Mars in Veronica Mars, hiding her insecurities and deep scars behind her snarky wit, with the epic love match Logan Echolls to challenge her.

  • Min Dobbs in Bet Me, filled with insecurities but equipped with a sharp tongue to keep Cal Morrisey at arm’s length.

Now, if we look at vulnerable female characters in Jane Austen’s books Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, they aren’t that exciting. We care (somewhat) what happens to them because it affects the heroine, but on their own, I for one wouldn’t be reading about Jane and Bingham or Marianne and Brandon.


When, then, does the vulnerable heroine work?

  • Paired with a Beta hero in a slow-burning romance

  • Circumstances have made her vulnerable, but her spirit is still strong or at least recovering

  • In the guilty-pleasure Alpha romances where the hero blackmails the heroine into a liaison

  • In Historical romances, including bodice-rippers, where being snarky (at least in public) would land the heroine in big trouble

When I searched for books that readers had listed as having a “vulnerable heroine”, I found a book I’d read years ago, and one I was thinking about just the other day, wondering what it was called. This novel features an injured heroine recovering from an accident meeting a guy who is also injured, so maybe that’s why it’s on the list. I can’t remember that the heroine was vulnerable in an emotional sense, but I remember I enjoyed the slow burn of their romance.


The Sheila


I’ve read many reviews in which readers waxed poetic over how awesome the heroine was because she was snarky, ‘sassy’ and sharp-tongued. I too can appreciate a snarky heroine, but it depends on the circumstances.


For example, I appreciate a snarky heroine when:

  • The hero is an ass and needs to be taken down a peg or two.

  • Someone is disrespecting the heroine.

  • The heroine has had a really tough time, and she uses sarcasm and a smart mouth for self-defense.

Kat Stratford from 10 things I hate about you and Veronica Mars are two of my favourite heroines ever.


But if the heroine is simply snarky and bitchy for the sake of proving her mental acuity, she reminds me of the mean girls in high school who liked to show off how awesome they were by tearing others down. Sarcasm has the potential to damage the self-esteem of others and is a roadblock to effective communication. Which is why I don’t find it attractive in my heroines.

Make love not war.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s dull to be courteous, considerate and kind.


That doesn’t mean I believe a heroine should be perfect. A great heroine is never flawless. I love heroines who flirt with their darker side, embrace their personal power, show strength and determination. I don’t mind a temper, either. But the moment a woman starts slinging insults because it’s ‘funny’ – the moment she stops caring about how someone might feel because she’s too busy using her words to tear others apart, I start asking, “why do you have to be so mean? Can’t we all just get along?”


So, I prefer a more ‘vulnerable’ heroine. But what does this mean exactly?


When I say vulnerable, I’m referring to a heroine who is self-aware, honest, emotionally bold and courageous, and above all - authentic. And she nurtures the most important relationship in a romance novel – her relationship to herself.


She is NOT a doormat. She is NOT meek, inhibited or reticent. She’s the bold and courageous woman who communicates like an adult and puts her heart on the line because she realises there’s a strength in being vulnerable. She doesn’t throw out roadblocks to communication by quipping inappropriately in the middle of an adult conversation. She’s someone who can stand up for herself and assert herself without walking all over other people’s dignity.


Take Gigi Phillips in He’s Just Not That Into You. She’s a little lost when it comes to the opposite sex, but she sees her ability to be hopeful and open to love as a positive thing by the end of the movie. She’s vulnerable, yes, but this same vulnerability is also her strength. And when she gets hurt, she isn’t snarky, guarded and rude in response, she’s honest and real. This is the kind of character I adore.


What kind of heroine do you adore? Is she snarky, sweet, downright bad-ass, or something else entirely? Tell us about her in the comments section below.


#sheilavswede #heroines #amwriting #amwritingromance #amreadingromance

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