Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Love Triangles

All this talk about THE IRON KING has got me thinking about love triangles.

I don't like them.


Because, honestly, it feels that usually the love triangle is tacked on by the writer to create tension. It's a way of purposefully throwing in a problem for the main character, build angst, and--more often than not--give the writer a chance to be Mary Sue.


Some love triangles are really well done. And when they're done right, I adore them.

Love Triangles Done Right:
  • THE HUNGER GAMES: Katniss-Peeta-Gale
    • What makes this one work? Because we, the reader, understand perfectly why Katniss is torn between both guys. She exists in a world where love as an emotion is honestly not valued--she can't afford to love. Although Peeta's love for her is true, it's based on emotions, not survival instinct. 
    • Would Katniss recognize the love triangle around her? Yes--but she wouldn't revel in it. She doesn't want to make this decision. It's another constraint of the world in which she lives.
  • THE IRON KING: Meghan-Puck-Ash
    • What makes this one work? Because there's no conflict of emotion. Meghan is physically attracted to Ash, Ash is attracted to Meghan based on his relationships in the past, and while Puck has grown to love Meghan, Meghan justifiably doesn't notice that love because she thinks of him as a friend.
    • Would Meghan recognize the love triangle? No. She legitimately does not see Puck's love for her.
    • What makes this one work? Because Mary lives in a world where marriage is not an option, and the selection of her husband is not up to her. While she loves Travis, she cannot go against her society when her marriage is arranged with his brother Harry. Additionally, both Travis and Harry are good men, making the love triangle more angst-y.
    • Would Mary recognize the love triangle? Yes, but her world dictates the terms.
  • EYES LIKE STARS: Bertie-Nate-Ariel
    • What makes this one work? Bertie loves Nate, but Ariel's obsession with Bertie gets both of them in trouble. Bertie may have some physical attraction to Ariel, but she doesn't love him emotionally and prefers Nate despite Ariel's creepy stalker-ish-ness.
    • Would Bertie recognize the love triangle? No--to her, there's Nate, and Ariel's obsession with her isn't mutual.
    • PS: Doesn't the cover of the sequel, PERCHANCE TO DREAM, look awesome? Seems like the love triangle will be a huge influence in this one...

  •   A love triangle works best if the triangle exists because of world constraints (i.e. arranged marriages) or when the love triangle is not conscious of the main character. If the main character knows that two guys are totally obsessing over her (*cough*Twilight*cough*), then the love triangle doesn't work (at least for me) because then I feel that the main character is basically playing the other characters, stringing them along and soaking in the attention. 
  • When there are world constraints, a love triangle becomes believable. It also becomes a part of the plot--it's not an excuse for angst, but a driving force in the plot of the novel as a whole.
  • When the main character is not conscious of the love triangle--and this must be done in a believable fashion so that the main character doesn't look gullible--then the love triangle is not essential to the plot, but does build on the characters. For example, in EYES LIKE STARS, Bertie's dismissal of Ariel and devotion to Nate is an essential part of her characterization--which leads to the plot twist when Bertie must turn to Ariel for help and Nate must pay the price.
So, what do you think? Do you like love triangles, or hate them? What are some done right...or done very wrong?


Unknown said...

I think gave a great list of love triangles that work very well. I'm not much of a fan either, I do think you have something going though with the whole different world aspect.

Even with Twilight they aren't exactly different worlds but in a sense they are. I'm not saying that love triangle works, in fact I don't know a whole lot about twilight but I do know they are from two different walks off life and in that respect it could work better than your normal "teenage" love triangle!

Great post!

Slamdunk said...

I usually don't see them too much in the parts of the library that I haunt, but I do like your examples of what works in them.

India Drummond said...

In life, I'm not such a fan. It implies that one or more of the people in said triangle really don't know what the f' they're doing.

In books... well I'd like to see some that were well done. I recently read a fantasy novel in which a character took 3 wives, even though it wasn't normal in their society any more than it is in ours, and it did add a certain dimension to all the relationships.

I will have to check out your examples

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Great way to make us think, Beth, and I really like your examples. I agree with Jen.

Anna Staniszewski said...

Awesome post, Beth! Like you, I'm not a big fan of love triangles, but the ones you mentioned worked for me too. I hadn't thought about why certain love triangles bother me so much, but there definitely is a level of manipulation to them that irks me. Also, I can't exactly sympathize with a character who's saying, "Poor me. I have two guys fawning over me and I don't know who to choose." As you pointed out, the conflict has to be much deeper than that.

Candyland said...

Well said Beth. I agree 10000%!

Matthew MacNish said...

Argh, I haven't read any of these books!

I better get on it I guess.

Deva Fagan said...

I'm also in the "I only like them when they are well done" camp. But love triangles certainly seem to be all over the place! I particularly like the Hunger Games example, and what you say about it rings very true.

Whenever folks talk about love triangles I always think of two things:

First, someone (can't remember who) pointed out to me that it's kind of weird that everyone's all about "Team Boy1" and "Team Boy2" -- like, where's the "Team Katniss". I was lucky enough to read Lisa's Perchance To Dream in ARC form and one of my favorite things about it was how she brings this very aspect into play and asks the reader to consider why the heroine is being defined by which boy she choses.

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 although I am on Team Katniss, I am also rooting for Peeta :-) )

Unknown said...

You gave great examples of love triangles. They are very common at the moment. It seems like if there's a romance in a story there also has to be another vying for the heroines affection as well.

I can't think of any that hasn't been done well at the moment (even though there have been a lot). But, I can only read them if they're well done and they don't seem cliche.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I do like love triangles, though it's frustrating to read at the time. I've liked all of your great examples. Even the Twilight saga I liked (it seems vogue to trash this series, but I enjoyed it.)
Dead-Tossed Waves is one I think that worked even better than the first book.

Bish Denham said...

Great post. I'm only familiar with one of the books! And that one didn't thrill me. So I guess I'm not a fan of love triangles.

Elisa Dane said...

Ooh! More books for my tbr pile!

Anonymous said...

This is a great list of love triangles that work!

I'm in the camp that intensely dislike love triangles, even when they work and when I know there's a plausible reason for them. They're frustrating to read -- which, I suppose, is part of the intention. Part of the reason they bug me is the failed expectations.

Being a staunch romantic, I also cannot help but root for one of the guys, and well, let's just say that if Katniss ends up with Gale instead of Peeta, I will be throwing MOCKINGJAY across the room no matter how well-written it might be. In fact, I still haven't finished CATCHING FIRE because (spoiler) I can't seem to get past the part where Katniss decides that it's Gale she loves.

Maybe I'm just overly emotional. :)

Marcia said...

Very thoughtful analysis! Even if the MC is aware of the triangle, I can see it if she's drawn to each guy by a central trait and those traits represent paths of life she's trying to choose between. That would make the love triangle a part of the "who am I?" conflict. A love triangle doesn't work for me when her motive to love both guys isn't equally strong, or she's being stupid about one of them and I just want to smack her. :)

Janet Johnson said...

Food for thought. In life I hate them (having been in one), so I would guess that unless well done, I'd not like them in books either.

But I'm feeling behind on my reading. Always love recommendations!

Theresa Milstein said...

I agree that love triangles have to be done well. They also shouldn't be the sole focus of the story (cough, Twilight).

That said, I've used it in two different manuscripts - one was the third book in a series, but didn't begin until halfway through the book. The current manuscript I'm working on is only a temporary triangle. For the series, it raises a larger question of what it means to be compatible. For the standalone, it tests a friendship, but there are bigger issues, so when the triangle is resolved, the friendship isn't.

Crystal Cook said...

I think you've brought up some really great points. I really like the Hunger Games example, but as a reader I'm just so torn!!

And I did like Twilight, I usually like love triangles. Oh, sappy me :)

Kristie Cook said...

I'm not a big fan of love triangles. Like you and others have said, they're usually thrown in for added tension or focused on so much that it seems the MC does nothing but whine about the choices or becomes manipulative. Of the examples you provided, I've only read Twilight and The Hunger Games. At least in The Hunger Games, it doesn't feel slammed down your throat and you really do become Team Katniss. I don't know Gale enough to see the deep attraction, but Katniss does and you really just want her to be at peace, whichever way she goes. However, I still secretly hope it's Peeta. :)

From a different perspective, my 17 yo son hates triangles. He calls the girl a variety of not-so-nice names because she likes more than one guy. Is that just his perspective or do all guys think that way? Hmm...

Sherrie Petersen said...

You are so good at deconstructing this. Must be the teacher in you :)

Patti said...

I think that lately they've been over used.

I think they really need to be orginial in order to work, like the examples you've given.

Unknown said...

That was exceptionally well put and I so agree!

Lindsay said...

Great post. I think the examples you've given are excellent. I don't mind love triangles but it must be done properly.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

Usually I hate them, but the ones you mentioned work (I havent' read Iron King yet though). I agree that the when the character knows both guys are fighting for her it's annoying and she's like hogging all the boys-and one boy will get hurt because she was leading him on. And why is it always two guys after one girl-why is it never girls after a guy?

JEM said...

My biggest problem with Twilight is that there was never any tension in the triangle. Never at any point did Bella entertain the notion that Jacob would be better for her than Edward. So a lot of the "tension" was really boring.

I love love triangles (oh hahaha, I'm hilarious). I love the tension they add, especially when people have to fight for someone's attention. I think you chose great examples, if only because Suzanne Collins is my current author crush and I'm angry that I read the first two books MONTHS before the third one comes out.

Lydia Kang said...

I'm pretty neutral about the triangles. I think if it's forced and seems like it's trying too hard, then it doesn't read well. I like your examples! Great post!

Heather Zundel said...

This is an excellent post, Beth. One of the best you've written in recent memory. You make a lot of really good points, thought I really like Deva Fagan's comment about how in the best scenario, they are not just "love triangles" but full triangles, in the fact that there is some relationship to whatever degree between all of them. It is not just connected by one person.

Which was why in Catching Fire, I actually liked Gale more when he said to Katniss something to the effect of "It would be so much easier to hate him, but he's just so darn genuine and nice." Even Gale and Peeta have a relationship, basic and distant as it is, and it isn't just connected by the girl they love.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

I like a good love triangle as much as the next girl, but I have to agree with you, it gets annoying if the MC knows everyone loves her. I like it when characters act, not just sit there doing nothing.

Carolyn V. said...

I think it depends on the book and how the ending is handled. Love triangles can be fun, but sometimes drive me crazy too. *sigh*

Katharina Gerlach said...

I'd say it depends. In a WIP of mine the heroine loves a man at the beginning who changes so much over the course of the novel that she no longer understands him. At the same time she begins to see her brother's best friend with different eyes. It's a question of growing up. When she realizes that she loves both men (close to the end) AND could have a good future with either of them, she struggles a lot to get to the "right" decision (of course that isn't truly a right or wrong question).

Since it's a historical novel and the love story is based on facts, I had to go with it. Usually I do not much care for love triangles either but sometimes, life just is that way.

Elana Johnson said...

I have to say that I love them. Obvious ones, ones that don't work, all of it. I like writing them, I like the wrestling of emotions the characters must go through.

You have great examples!!

Eric said...

Great post, Beth. Oh, and I almost spewed Diet Coke when you mentioned Twilight. Thanks alot for almost ruining my monitor :)

Myrna Foster said...

I didn't even think "love triangle" when I read "Eyes Like Stars;" it was so well done.

Is it a love triangle, if there are other people involved? Say for instance, one of the "devoted" fellows is cheating on the MC. Real life is usually more complicated than a triangle.

I liked your examples, by the way. You had me panicking for a second there that I might have a love triangle in one of my stories, but three girls and two boys don't make a triangle. ;)

Dawn Simon said...

Great post! I do enjoy reading love triangles, but I get frustrated if I think one character is playing with another character's heart. I like the way you broke things down. :)

Mel Chesley said...

I agree with you. I'm not much for love triangles. I absolutely dislike it when the character (male of female makes no difference) is the the one that has to make the decision. If they're not aware of the third interested party, that is fine. But when they are aware, it seems like they have a choice. More often than not, they torture the third party. They get close and offer up false hope and to me, that just isn't ... right, I suppose is the word I am looking for.

Great post though! I love it.

Tricia J. O'Brien 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.
Thanks for this discussion. There is much to chew on.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Thanks, Beth. I have a love triangle in my book, and although it's contemporary fiction, I think there are world constraints. But your post made me think about it. This is a great food for thought! Thanks.


Julia Karr said...

Very interesting! I'm on the "love 'em" side of things - if they are well done. It can't just be plot convenience, there has to be a believable reason for it.

C.R. Evers said...

Great insights, Beth!

I'm going to have to read the Iron King.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I thought about what I hadn't seen in love triangles before, and I wrote a YA fantasy, THE MOON AND SUN AS HIS BRIDES - where a 15 year old human male finds himself married unknowingly to a fae and a soul vampire at the same time. The bulk of the novel is the young man's attempts to handle this impossible situation with humor and wit.

I had fun. Now, to sell the thing! Roland

Christina Farley said...

What a great discussion! I think what makes the Hunger Games triangle work is that Peeta and Gale are truly likeable characters and the circumstances have forced the triangle into place. Now that's some fantastic plotting and characterization.

Kelly Polark said...

I agree with Christina in her comment about the Hunger Games love triangle. Another interesting aspect of this triangle is that Katniss may not want to be paired with anyone and will choose herself. She states that she doesn't want to be married, so that makes the reader really wonder what will happen next.
Love the examples you gave!

Vanessa said...

Great post! I just want to let you know that I mentioned it on my blog.

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