Many of you made great contributions to the conversations (go read them if you've not yet), but I want to call out two in particular.
First, Deva said:
Second (and I think it was author RJ Anderson who said this on her blog) that the really good love trianges are actual *triangles*. As in, there are connections (not necessarily romantic) between all three people involved. Like Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot, or Buffy-Angel-Spike, or even Elphaba-Fiyero-Glinda. I would agree that triangles like that, where everyone is making some sort of choice and risking hurting someone they love, are much more interesting and compelling.
And I so agree with her. Look, here's the thing. If, in the love triangle, the only one who risks getting hurt is the third wheel, nothing's at stake really. It becomes a simple equation: 3-1=2. And we all know, simple doesn't make good literature. Complications make good literature.
Let's use the example Deva gave: WICKED. I'm going to keep it fairly general, but there may be some spoilers involved, so be warned!
The love triangle in WICKED involved Elphie, the green witch, Glinda the white witch, and Fiyero, the hot guy. Glinda and Fiyero become the beautiful couple, and its a very expected romance. But when Glinda becomes best friends with Elphie...and when Elphie and Fiyero start to fall in love...and when Elphie's quest for justice overshadows her desire for love...and when Glinda questions what it means to have a perfect life...and when Fiyero must break free from what people expect of him versus following his heart...well, see how complicated that can be? It's not a matter of two girls loving the same guy and the guy just picks. There's consequences on either side of his decision--and there's consequences for both girls, too.
More than that, though, is the fact that this storyline utilizes dynamic characters. All three of them change as they grow. Elphie learns that she's loveable. Glinda learns that good can be ugly. Fiyero learns that true love is more important than appearances. And--and this is what's crucial to the triangle--by changing who they are, they change who they love.
Let's look at another example. Yesterday, Tricia said:
Fascinating post and discussion. I like the point Deva brought up about the best triangles having real connections between all three. I think that is vital, because the stakes are higher and usually have more depth. In Tristan and Isolde, there is also Marke, the king. Tristan falls in love with Isolde before she is wed to Marke. There are strong connections between all three, and it ends tragically when Tristan takes the noble route of protecting his king and losing his love.
There are many different source legends, but the basics are as follows: Tristan is the nephew of King Mark, and Mark sends Tristan off to Ireland to collect his arranged bride, Isolde. Isolde isn't exactly looking forward to marriage and her maid whipped up a love potion--which accidentally causes Tristan and Isolde to fall in love in transit to Mark. Mark and Isolde get married--this is the Dark Ages, and arranged marriages stick. Despite Tristan's devotion to his uncle and despite Isolde's allegiance to her husband, they carry on an affair that, of course, doesn't end well.
Here's what makes this love triangle work (as Tricia points out): both parties are acutely aware that their love will cause someone they love to hurt.
This is what makes love triangles all to often not work for me. I intensely dislike it when the main character is aware that two people like him or her, and don't seem conscious of the feelings of both parties. In a love triangle, someone is going to get hurt. That's the nature of the problem. And that's fine--that is the logical outcome of any love triangle.
But how can I like a character who doesn't consider the feelings of the guy or girl who loses out? That's just cruel.
But in the case of Tristan and Isolde, both of the other parties truly care about the third part of the triangle, Mark. That's what makes the story so tragic--not just because they have doomed love, but because their doomed love leads them to hurting someone else they love.
OK! I feel like I talked enough, and you guys proved yesterday that you're smarter than me. So, you tell me: what's the single most important characteristic of a love-triangle that makes them work? Or, what's a better example of a love-triangle than the ones I gave here?