I am a fan of love triangles.
Not just because I’m avid ‘shipper (relationshipper, aka someone who inexplicably cares which character the MC ends up with–yup, I don’t understand it either, but it’s my flavor).
Not just because love triangles add conflict and tension to stories (although different types of attraction generally do and I am so excited to share tips about using attraction to amp up story lines as a chapter in my WIP characterization book).
And no, it’s nothing to do with the fantasy of having two guys fight over you. I actually enjoy two girls and one guy love triangles equally as much when they are well done. Personally, having two people in your business trying to get your attention sounds like a hassle–like I said, it can add tension. 😉 Tension is the author’s friend, used judiciously.
But a main reason I dig love triangles is how, properly done, they can make people grow. Passionate emotions do this. A lot of times, we focus on the hard, negative ones, but ‘positive’ ones like love can do the trick just as well and better. Romantic love is one of those ridiculous little bothers that can throw everything for a wonderful tail spin and mess up an MC’s world, not to mention the worlds of the characters who are into the MC.
In a love triangle, there are always the losers. Like in school games, they’re the person who didn’t get picked. And I’ve found that the measure of a good love triangle isn’t just how “OTP” (One True Pairing) the intended couple are. It’s where the “loser” ends up. That’s the measure of how much an author is willing to invest in all of their characters and have the overall story mean something. Is the “destined loser” a distinct possibility? If not, why? Why do they bother pursuing the MC at all? What’s their agenda? What space in their life/heart/soul are they trying to fill with the MC?
In short, make the love triangle loser a well-rounded character who has their own reasons, agenda, and purpose beyond just making the MC’s life difficult. Yes, this takes more work, but it also makes for more satisfying reading. Plus, who knows? You could put the loser in someone else’s life in the future. Or not.
A great example of a subtle love triangle is actually in The Lord of the Rings. Eowyn crushes on Aragorn for solid reasons. She’s a powerful, independent noble woman who’s stuck in a rotten situation with a creepy guy, Wormtongue, coming after her and an uncle who is under the thrall of said creepy guy. Aragorn is a fantastic way out. He’s strong, brave, intelligent, caring, the whole package and as the heir to a kingdom, not only are they on pretty equal footing, but he’d know how to rule. Now, Aragorn is already entirely devoted to his OTP Arwen, but Eowyn still holds a candle for him because really, she’s not surrounded by many qualified candidates here and she’s in the same company as Aragorn.
Yes, Eowyn is the “loser” here – but she still goes on to kick the butt of the Witchking of Angmar, and she finds Faramir in the Houses of Healing. She gets the characterization boost of moving beyond Aragorn to conquering life on her own. To top it off, she ends up with a guy who is well-suited to her (and who embraces her in public, which is a great touch for a woman who was stuck in the shadows of those around her).
Of course, the loser could be a loser because they’re a psychopath. But even if that’s the case, use the creepiness to your advantage–to push character growth and plot. In Amy Brock McNew’s Rebirth, it’s pretty clear from the get-go that one of the two guy options is just a little too good to be true. The fact that the MC goes for him anyway, and the reason this loser is after the MC in the first place, play pivotal roles in both the MC’s character arc and the overarching plot.
For this reason, I totally get why people get sick of love triangles, especially love triangles in YA. Because there are books that just toss two hot supporting love interests in the story in order to add to the sexy or steamy or escapist fantasy effect. The characters, especially the “destined loser,” get short-changed so that the OTP can sail off into the sunset.
But think about what this says about the MC. After all, the MC is the one who is dealing with both of these love interests and the MC’s choice and reasons for getting stuck in this situation ultimately further their own characterization.
In short, if the is MC tempted by shallow idiot #1 vs. shallow idiot #2, what is that saying about the MC? What does that say about the MC’s choices or decision making ability, much less their general taste? If the MC is inexplicably stringing along the “destined loser”, why can’t the MC make up their mind? And why the heck is this the MC’s decision, anyway? Who put them in charge–and if it’s the love interests, WHY did those love interests decide that they were both okay with going for the same MC? What makes the MC so special?
All fantastic questions that allow for much deeper characterization, plot work, and world-building (if you’re writing speculative fiction). Which means fans like me can happily invest in a ‘ship that will actually go somewhere and lock us into the story.
So go ahead. Read and write love triangles responsibly. And don’t be afraid to write good losers.
Weigh in! What do you think about love triangles? Any favorites? Can you think of other “good losers”?