Thursday, April 22, 2010

Love Triangles, Part 2

OK, guys? You are all seriously awesome. Seriously. When I posted about love triangles, I had no idea how awesomely you guys would comment. Because honestly? Those were some freaking cool comments.

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.
I am so glad Tricia reminded me of Tristan, Isolde, and Mark. This is an excellent example of a love triangle that works--and is also, by the way, possibly the source of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle.

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?

28 comments:

Myrna Foster said...

You are so not convincing me that you don't like love triangles. ;)

Caledonia Lass said...

See, while I will agree that the Tristan-Isolde-Marke triangle "works" it still is heart-wrenching in the fact that they KNOW someone is going to get hurt.

In Twilight, Bella *knows* Jacob loves her and what gets me is the fact that she goes to Jacob! She uses him to replace Edward, whom she thinks she can no longer have.

Which is better? The Tristan-Isolde-Marke route or Jacob-Bella-Edward? Someone is going to get hurt, everyone wants to root for the underdog but it always seems that the underdog loses out. It's like the line in Scream 2. They ask the geek how he would make his movies different. He says, "I'd let the geek get the girl."

How often does the geek/underdog actually get the girl?

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I know this is kind of unrelated, but the thing I always think of is 'Love Conquers All.' I agree, but what exactly does it mean?
People die in wars, love doesn't conquer that. People get married to please their families, love doesn't conquer that. People choose loyalty over romance, love doesn't conquer that.
What I mean by 'love conquers all' isn't that everything works out all right in the end. When love conquers, sometimes you wish it wouldn't. The tears and well-tended flowers by the grave, the blown kiss out the window before returning to a spouse's bed, the knowledge that you will never, never fall in love again, because love has conquered you utterly and completely, and will not release its hold.
To me, the best love triangles are the ones where it doesn't necessarily work out. Not just because it's deliciously tragic, but because you can see the love so much more clearly. Sometimes, loyalty or platonic love is deeper than romance. Can I love a character, root for them, when in the end they make the ultimately selfish decision because 'love cannot be denied?' Maybe, but I'll like them less in the end.

Bish Denham said...

A thoughtful post. I wish I had something brilliant to add to the conversation. But I'm feeling rather ignorant at the moment.

Matthew Rush said...

Tristan und Isolde - what a great opera! Incidentally isn't this also the opera that the wedding march music comes from?

Anyway I love your in depth analysis of this topic Beth, and you're right it is so much more interesting when the stakes are high for all 3 points of the triangle.

I have to agree with Myrna though: "You are so not convincing me that you don't like love triangles." LOL.

Today's guest blogger is Michelle McLean!

beth said...

Myrna! No!!!! Noooooo!

OK, actually...yes. As long as they are done well.

Candyland said...

From experience...(not really) I'd have to say tension between all 3 characters is most important. Like they all know who loves who, but no one talks about it.

I don't like characters like Bella who "use" Jacob, knowing his feelings for her, but I do like when the girl is completely torn and absolutely loves 2 different people.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm with Candyland on the tension. Plus it's got to feel real, not thrown in for the sake of having a triangle.

Cheree said...

Great post. I'm definitely learning a lot about love triangles (perhaps that's what I need to add to my story).

I think tension and a common conflict is needed in all triangles, after all, it's not just the girl choosing which guy she really loves, but it's also the tension and conflict that builds between the guys... the best ones always have a common connection between the two guys.

NotNessie said...

Are you sure you don't like love triangles? I think you might just be in the closet on this...

Great post!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Beth, this is such excellent discussion. I would add that the depth in Tristan and Isolde includes more than the love affair. Tristan and Mark are linked by blood, history and the desire to make their homeland stable. For Tristan to weaken Mark is to weaken his country. And Mark loves both Tristan and Isolde, so he is not only hurt by discovering their actions, he suffers for hurting two people he cares about. Isolde, too, is torn between loving one man with passion and the other with respect.
So the story works because it is about more than passion, it's about real love and honor and what that means beyond the scope of their individual lives.

Sheri Larsenッ said...

Wicked it so awesome!! Just had to say that. I love this discussion.

Robin L said...

Okay, first of all, thanks to Deva for pointing me to this great discussion!

I think the point made about everyone involved in the love triangle needing to be aware of the pain they will cause those they love is absolutely essential. There needs to be an emotional cost to their choices.

Another thing that I think makes love triangles work is when the choice of who to love or end up with echoes the protagonist's own internal journey and mirrors the the two selves she is choosing between as she moves toward the end of the book.

That's why I think the Dale/Peeta choice works so well--who Katniss ultimately chooses will reinforce or cement her internal decision on who she is going to be and what sort of world she lives in. A world where love is hard and often silent, or a world where love is front and center and costs much. The choice of who to love also reflects a fundamental decision on who she wants to be.

If that makes any sense...

JEM said...

Wow, I never even thought of it this way. Reminds me of Hunger Games when Gale says "It would be easier if I could hate the guy." It does make it really interesting when there is that added layer of pain that no matter who chooses what path, someone will still get hurt. Heartbreaking, but we can't turn away! Why are humans so good at hurting ourselves?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! Just wanted to say thanks for stopping by, commenting, and becoming a follower.

Congrats on your debut novel, I'll be one of the first in line when it comes out.

Chantal Kirkland said...

I don't usually weigh-in on this kind of thing, but I feel like I should. Jamie Harrington over at www.totallythebomb.com made a good point the other day about love triangles not really being triangles at all. But, really, I think the issue here, for both you and Jamie is that you like REAL love triangles, not the love-V's that we see sometimes. It's all in the depth of the story and the connections between characters. That's what makes a love triangle a triangle and not a point. Or a bow-tie (ask Jamie).

Karen Lange said...

Interesting stuff. I don't know the answer to your questions, but one thing that stands out to me if the tragedy of it all. Deception comes to mind in certain instances too, but I'm no expert!
Have a good weekend:)

Patti said...

All such great points and I totally agree that the triangle works best when they all have a connection with each other.

I also think that a book needs more than just a love triangle there has to be a lot more plot than just that.

Caledonia Lass said...

Well, I do have to add, I hate to see the struggle. I know it truly exists, not just in books, but it does have to be done right.

If there is a right way, I'd have to stick with Tristan-Isolde-Marke. Isolde truly does love Marke and Tristan, but she is torn between duty and her heart.

Susan Quinn said...

Darn you! Ya'll are totally making me re-think my love triangle in my current WIP. For the better, I might add. I was so wrapped up in my MC's trauma, and one of the lover's trauma/evolution, I forgot to make it a well-rounded threesome.

Hmmm...must go ponder this....

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great post again! I love the Tristan and Isolde story. I seriously need to think about love triangles some more...to my bookshelf! lol.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I keep coming back to read what others are commenting, because this is a thread that's fascinating. I like what Robin says about the echo of the MC's internal journey, the choices that will be made in that story arc. It makes a lot of sense to me that the choice made in the love arena is going to mirror other aspects of the character's life.

Guinevere said...

I'd say likable main characters for all three participants in the triangle -- otherwise you're rooting for one of them to lose out anyway, and that takes away all the tension and pain as a reader. I think that's one of the things that makes the "love triangle" so effective in fiction.

I hate the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot triangle, but perhaps only because my first name is Guinevere, and that whole story ends in nothing but tears (and a nunnery for poor Queen Guinevere, in most traditional versions).

Paul C said...

What makes love triangles work? Yearning, longing, flirting with established mores? Congratulations on your published work.

Susan Quinn said...

BTW, I'm bragging about your book deal on Twitter #SciFiChat today 2-4pm. Actually, I'm bragging about you NOW! Chat comes later. :)

Demon Hunter said...

Beth,

You gave great examples in the love triangle arena. Speaking of arena--Team Peeta! :-D

**side eye**

Ahem. Um, anyway, thanks for discussing this because it will help me tweak some things in my current WIP. I didn't intend for there to be a triangle but it kinda happened as I wrote it, so we'll see what happens.

Dominique said...

I think the key element is true love. Too often you see stories where it's a triangle of "You're hot. I want to get with you," against "Dude, she was totally with me first," paired with the reaction "Well, you're both really great guys, and I'm totally into you all being into me, and I just don't want to make up my mind." I love good love triangles, but there should be love in there or it's meaningless.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

that the one n the middle feels a bit guilty and truely loves both