At least, they should be in a romance book, right?
Mine are. Sort of. And I like it that way.
I can hear you now, demanding, “Cathy, have you lost your mind? That’s not true. Don’t you know the old saying? A romance reader should fall in love with the hero and want to be friends with the heroine. How can she be friends with a sometimes mean and – gasp! − snarky heroine?”
I get where you’re coming from. I do. But I’m going to argue with you that a romance book is truly good only when there’s a strong romantic conflict between the hero and heroine, one with big emotion at the core. He abandoned her in the past, and she’s afraid he will again. She lied to him, a big lie, a long time ago, and now he’s discovered the truth. She’s on the run for committing a crime, and he’s the private investigator hired to find her. He’s a werewolf, she’s a vampire, and their species are sworn enemies.
The character should respond to both to the romantic conflict and the undeniable attraction they feel toward the other one, creating a constant push/pull that, for the heroine, often manifests itself in the form of snarkiness. I think that’s reasonable and very human and makes for good reading. If he hurt her in the past, she may try to keep him at a distance (and stop herself from falling for him all over again, thereby not putting her heart at risk) by bristling and saying some not so nice things. The reader will accept this behavior as long as she grows and changes and heals during the course of the book.
On the other hand, readers are far less tolerant when it comes to the guys being bristly and not so nice. Like you said to me earlier, readers want to fall in love with him. It’s hard for them to warm to a hero who is unlikeable. Even if he changes, the reader’s feelings for him are slow to follow. They respond better to the book when they like the guy from the first few page. It’s okay if he has a hard exterior, as long as they see his gentle, softer side when no one else is looking.
That’s not to say a heroine can be mean and a jerk for no valid reason. She’s a fiery redhead with a temper, she’s the oldest sibling and naturally bossy, the hero bears a striking resemblance to her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her. Those are personality traits or circumstances, not genuine romantic conflicts. Fear. Distrust. Obligations. Guilt. Protection (self and of others). Betrayal.
I say bring it on. The more emotionally wrenching, the better. And if my heroines are a little snarky now and then, all the better!