Friday, April 1, 2011

How Do You Feel About Love Triangles?

I was rereading one of my favorite contemporary YA books the other day, Scarlett Fever, and it has a love triangle,* and that got me started thinking about love triangles in books in general.

I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I like them.
First, let’s define a love triangle. I’m talking about REAL love triangles. Not a genuine love interest and then some sort of relationship red herring, or a jerk who is being forced on the heroine, or so forth … for instance, once I was reading this review for the movie Titanic (it was part of some series where the movie critics reviewed uber-famous movies they’d never seen, which was why I was reading a review for a movie from the 90’s in like 2009, anyway, I digress) and the critic spent a really long time talking about the “love triangle.” Okay, hold up. That was not a love triangle. Rose most certainly didn’t love the douche bag. (The critic even went on the bemoaned countless plots where the girl can't wake up to the fact that the guy’s a jerk. I was like, did you watch the movie?) Another instance... Wickham in Pride and Prejudice is just a red herring. That's not a love triangle. I don't think anybody was rooting for that relationship to work out.

No, when I say “love triangle” I mean a character is genuinely torn between love, or at least attraction, to two other characters, both of whom have a legitimate chance of being chosen in the reader’s mind.

Now, I was thinking about all this, and about the plethora of romance-related geometrical shapes I’ve seen lately in YA in general, and I starting wondering.

What is so popular about them?

1) I think the easy answer is that, at least when it’s a girl and two guys (and the reader is a girl), it’s a very powerful ego trip if you’re vicariously living through the character and she's got two men fighting over her. Which is kind of funny too, because honestly, the situation really sucks in real life and you would not want it to happen to you. I was stuck in a so-called love triangle for about six months when I was in college (Long story short, it was awful, and I got accused of all sorts of things, including just stringing them both along for the attention, which I was NOT doing). Real life love triangles suck.**

2) But then on the other hand, they have TONS of drama involved, and drama drives books. So there’s that. Love triangles give you endless potential for stories surrounding the relationship, I suppose.

3) But the other thing, which occurred to me the other day (and I’d never thought of it this way before), is that a genuine love triangle actually shakes up the expectations a little. You know the drill. Love stories are fun, but predictable. Two characters meet, fall in love, overcome obstacles to be together. Nice, but you know what’s coming. With a love triangle, there is some genuine guessing going on as to who the character will end up with, and maybe people dig that. (Although SOMETIMES it's pretty obvious, and people are deluding themselves).

I think I lean slightly towards the “dislike” side of the spectrum when it comes to love triangles, for a single reason. I almost always favor the wrong couple, and it SUCKS! I get very emotionally invested in the cathartic payoff of this fictional relationship, and then … nope. Nada. Nothing. (Although to be fair, I didn’t read Hunger Games for the love story. That was tangential for me. So I didn’t mind too much that she went with Peeta … I expected it. Plus Gale was sort of a dick in the third book). I don’t even like the winning*** guy best in the love triangles in MY books! (I only have two books that have anything approaching a love triangle, and in both cases I came to prefer the guy who I knew would not end up with the girl, for character/circumstantial reasons. I was totally powerless to change it, too…)

Maybe I’m just a sucker for the underdog. Okay, I KNOW I’m a sucker for the underdog.

So at the end of the day I sort of dislike love triangles, because no matter what happens, a portion of the fans are going to be disappointed. As a writer, that upsets me. I want to make everyone happy (which is probably a huge weakness, but I digress). I know I can’t make everyone happy. But still. And as a reader … well. I’ve almost started avoided books with love triangles because seriously. Every. Stinking. Time. 

I'm a bit of a hypocrite, however, because I still totally write love triangles. Sometimes. It's not my general habit, but it happens. They can be fun, if you favor the winning duo, so to speak.

What do you think about love triangles, and why?

*I am VERY worried about the Suite Scarlett series, by the way, and the outcome of that love triangle. I don’t like Eric very much at all, and I adore Max. And I have a terrible track record when it comes to these things.

** Some people get really critical about it and accuse the person in the triangle of nasty things, like just being a slut, etc. Having been in the situation, I can attest that it's a really difficult place to be and I think people are way too hard on the character sometimes. But yes, it's easy to get annoyed about it if you've never been there. Or even if you have.****

***Winning is said slightly tongue-in-cheek. I realize it's not about winning (silence, Charlie Sheen!)

****Also I feel like there's more judgment against a female with two males interested in her than against a male with two females interested in him. Hmm.


  1. i don't know. i can't say a lump statement of being pro or anti love triangle or any plottable point on a spectrum. i guess it always comes down to the individual story and how true the author is to their characters. i have one story with a love triangle in it... and that wasn't intentional- sometimes my characters have more say than they should... anyway, the thing i like about that particular love triangle-which could be said for most in ya, i believe- is that the two suitors bring out two different aspects of the mc's personality, and being a teen and in the middle of a plot arc, she isn't certain who she is or wants to be - so to know who she wants to be with in the end is a struggle for her... i don't know. it feels right to me. but i don't like anything to be written purely as a plot device- i think it's good to understand when you use plot devices and such- but i don't like characters thrown in for no other reason than the plot is fumbling around... does that make sense?!?! speaking of fumbling around- this is one rambling comment! :P

  2. @ aspiring_x No, I get what you're saying completely. And like you, my love triangles are NEVER intentional, haha! There's just a character, and then he and my MC start making eyes at each other, and I think What?? ... Okay, guess I'll go with it, although she already has ... oh well. Fiiiine.

    These things happen :-)

  3. @ aspiring_x I do concede to you the point about 2 suitors bringing out different aspects of the character's personality while she's at a particular point in her life. That's very true.

  4. tee hee hee! those rascally characters! sometimes their so bad, i just want to tell them to go get a room! but then i think- nonononononononoNOONONONONONOOOOOOOOO!!!!
    that would ruin the whole story!! yikes!

  5. egad. they're not their.

  6. @ aspiring_x That's okay ... it's Friday.

  7. Apparently I like them... I have one with a triangle, one with a "herring" and one with a definite triange.

    I like reading them, though, too. For the same reasons you mentioned :)


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