Literary Tropes: The Love Triangle

Alright folks, it’s time for some real talk about a literary (and tv/movie) trope that seems to get people hyped up, which often results in some not-so-nice comments toward the creators of said works.

Now, I’m the last one to say that your comments are unfounded because you are definitely 100% entitled to your opinion – ’tis the way of the free world and all. BUT I don’t think it’s fair to be quite so mean in the delivery of said opinion – I’m just sayin’.

Granted this post is more rant than anything, but hopefully it provides a little more insight into why writers use this trope and why it’s useful.

WHY LOVE TRIANGLE’S ARE USED:

1. To show character development.

I think Alec Baldwin’s character Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock explained it best in episode 4.20 “The Moms” when he said, “They both give me different things. One connects me to the man I was. The other inspires…”

For those of you who don’t watch 30 Rock, in the later part of season 4, Jack is confronted with two love interests: his high school sweetheart, Nancy, and a younger, spitfire reporter, Avery. This love triangle comes at a point in Jack’s career where he can either sit back and lazily fall in line with his new parent company or he can continue to fight for innovation. I [speculate] the 30 Rock writers included this love triangle to draw parallels between Jack’s professional and personal decisions. When Jack does end up challenging Kabletown (the new parent company) to innovate and expand, he also ends up making the decision to choose Avery over Nancy.

2. It can provide plot depth & potential twists.

Okay, so this is where we start jumping into opinions. Personally, I have no real issues with a love triangle, provided it’s done well. I have a small obsession with Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, so I’m surprised this is my first reference to these books . . .

In this series, the protagonist Alanna trades places with her twin brother, so she can become a knight. Throughout her adventures, Alanna combats a plethora of issues and evils, but one of her personal hurdles is choosing between three [I guess that makes it a love quadrangle?] handsome and noble[ish] men. As the plot thickens and stakes are raised, we readers get to watch characters overcome personal opinions and frustrations to achieve larger goals. Each love interest provides a greater understanding of Alanna’s world but also challenges Alanna’s perceptions (and the perceptions of her other suitors).

WHY THEY GO HORRIBLY WRONG:

So I have my own list of love triangles that I really just didn’t enjoy reading/watching, but instead of going down that road, here’s WHY I find myself getting annoyed with this trope. Hint: It has nothing to do with the trope itself.

1. Characters aren’t fully developed.

If you’re going to write a love triangle, there NEEDS to be a reason for these characters to throw themselves into it. No sane person would put his or herself in the ridiculous position of falling in love with two different people, so why should your characters? You need to provide a reason why your MC would gravitate toward his/her separate love interests.

2. The love triangle is the main plot.

I have a hard time accepting this specific trope as an actual plot. It’s just very shallow and doesn’t really speak to real character growth. My recommendation: use it as a subplot to help move the main plot along, but please don’t make your story all about “oh deary me, which handsome prince will I choose?”. Just don’t. Please.

3. Your female character has no agency.

Quite a few blogs have been touching on the subject of female characters and their ability to affect plot, and there’s a reason for this: IT’S IMPORTANT! Seriously, if your female protagonist has no say in her story, there’s really no point in her even being there. If you have a female protagonist as the center of a love triangle, the subplot of her decision needs to be based on her decision, not how macho her suitors are.

Well that’s my rant on love triangles.

Happy writing & reading, everybody!

3 Tips To Making Your Romance Subplot Stand Out

Apart from the actual genre, romance remains to be one of the top subplots in fiction. Readers love to route for couples, plus romance lends itself toward numerous opportunities for tension. But before you go creating a love interest for your MC, I have a couple recommendations . . .

SIDE NOTE: Before you read on, note that I write YA Fantasy and most of what I read is YA, Fantasy or Sci-Fi. The comments below are geared toward these genres though most of it also applies to fiction in general.

1. Know your main character.

This may seem obvious, but so often writers create a love interest that would be perfect in any match, not specific to their MC. When creating the love interest, that character should undeniably be meant to end up with the MC.

Let’s look at Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew for example. Do you know anyone else who could possibly be a match for Katherina other than rambunctious Petruchio? Or who else could survive Petruchio’s antics other than tenacious Kate? Shakespeare creates a match for Kate that not only tames her but also fills the loneliness she hadn’t realized she had.

If you haven’t read/watched Taming of the Shrew, do so! For a filmed version, I recommend the taped stage version by the Broadway Theatre Archive staring Fredi Olster, Marc Singer and Stephen St. Paul. You can find it on Amazon.

2. Don’t make your love interest perfect.

This is just piggy-backing off #1. First off, a too-perfect LI makes for a boring story. Second, even if it manages to not be boring, a perfect LI can make your audience stop caring about the MC.

For this one, I’m turning to the Disney Classic, Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs. Does anyone actually remember the Prince is this movie? I have too many bones to pick with Disney’s rendition of the original Grimm fairytale to fit into this one paragraph, so I’m just gonna stick with the topic at hand.

Apart from the dwarves and the Evil Queen, there is little to no real characterization for Snow or Prince Charming. Snow’s love interest is literally just meant to look handsome and kiss her in the end. DON’T DO THIS! THIS IS NOT A LOVE STORY!

  1. Remember that love is a journey.

Even though we’re writing fiction, I think it’s important that we remember that as writers, we’re supposed to make our characters jump off the page and become as real as possible for our readers.

Because you can’t write an article of literary romance without mentioning Pride and Prejudice . . .

The reason none of us ever forget the romance between Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy is because the characters had to overcome personal and social hurdles to find their love for one another.

Just like in real life, nothing worth having is easy. So when writing your romance subplot, make your characters work for it. Whether it’s “love at first sight” or a “friendship that grows into something more”, making your characters go through hell to get what they want will make their romance that much more memorable.

Happy Writing!