Monday, July 29, 2013

In Defense of Love Triangles

I am not a romance writer; the amount of romance in IN THE AFTER is very little, and the small amount that can be found is very subtle. But I have a confession…I love love triangles, especially in YA lit, which I read almost exclusively. I know some people feel very strongly (and very negatively) about them, but before you unfollow, unlike, block, and write me off completely, let me explain my affection for the much maligned YA love triangle.

Choices, Choices – Choice in YA lit is not a bad thing. Teens may not feel like they have a lot of say over their daily life, but most teens can decide who they date (or if their parents are strict, at least who they want to date.) Portraying teens as in charge of their own life, and as having choices when it comes to something so important, is a positive trend.  

Having a character choose between two or more love interests can also be a great plot device. It can keep the reader interested in a love subplot or rooting for one character over another…but it goes beyond plot progression. Why is heartthrob A better than heartthrob B? How do their traits differ? What makes one a better choice than the other? A character reveals a lot about themselves through the choices they make, and choosing between love interests can round out an MC. Of course, this can be done poorly. Two supermodel-esq teens fight over an MC who isn’t very interesting or dynamic. I’m not saying simply having a love triangle will make a story, but it can definitely enhance it when done right.

Love (Un)Interest - When you have an MC that is kick-ass, smart, hot, and interesting, who wouldn’t want to date them? If the MC were dull, they probably wouldn’t be the MC…they’d be the best friend or the tertiary character stuck in the background. When there’s an awesome MC, I think it’s completely realistic that there would be multiple guys (or girls) chasing them and perhaps these suitors are less than ideal. It would be equally realistic that they would try to avoid the attention of the shallow/jerk/meathead/overbearing character.

I personally have never had to choose between two equally wonderfully perfect guys who each pursued me with a passionate fury…but I’ve had plenty of unwanted weirdo creep attention. It’s just part of being human. Someone you wouldn’t give the time of day to will like you, while you like someone else who doesn’t know you exist. Yes, it’s harsh, but it’s also high school.

Crushed - The definition of a crush is: a temporary romantic attraction, especially in teenagers and young people. Though they are not always lumped in with the love triangle, crushes are a huge part of YA lit…and with that comes crushes on multiple characters. I think this is great.

Not every attraction ends in meeting your soul mate and results in a lifelong relationship. It's normal for teens to crush on someone one week and lose interest the next, that's why it's called a crush and not love eternal. It's also normal for teens to have multiple crushes at once. My high school guy friends always had at least three or four girls they were interested in at any given time. That many crushes in a novel may be unwieldy, so I can see why some stories stick to the two crush scenario, which gets them put squarely into the love triangle category. (Ha! Squarely into the triangle...never mind.)

And yes, sometimes along the course of a novel a crush develops into love and can result in breaking an MC’s heart (See love (un)interests above) but that’s just another part of growing up. And when the crush character doesn’t break the MC's heart? The progression from crush to relationship can really drive a story. And let’s be honest, an MC’s early crush on the "wrong" character also makes it all the more satisfying if they do wind up with the "right" character at the end.

That’s my take on love triangles. I love any YA lit that realistically portrays teen emotions and all the depth (and sometimes the shallowness) that comes along with finding yourself and growing into adulthood.

What's your take on the love triangle in YA lit? Love them? Hate them? Feel free to rant…I love a good rant!


  1. THANK YOU, Demitria!

    A properly done love triangle should be about choices -- and yes, seeing that a temporary attraction is not the same thing as love. It's especially important for teenage readers to see this.

    The only kind of love triangle that really irritates me is the one designed to manipulate the reader's emotions, rather than simply provide a dilemma and learning experience for the protagonist.

    For that reason, I've been reluctant to finish the "Clockwork" series, because in Book 2, I saw myself being manipulated more than Tessa.

  2. I'm generally not a fan, but then again, I'm not a romance reader/lover either, in books, or real life.

    Perhaps it's just the specific YA books I've read, but whenever there is a triangle, it's always the eye-roll-inducing *good-boy* vs *bad-boy*. Rarely have the characters been fleshed out to the point where they could feel like actual human beings. I think the triangle (of the YA books I have read) that worked best for me was the one in 'Catching Jordan'.

    The other problem I find is, if it's an action-type story, often it becomes more about 'picking the guy!' than 'saving the world'! I read 10 books in one week, and 7/10 pretty much kicked the main plot to the side in order to give more words to agonizing over 'boys' and clothes. I'm not going to list titles, but they were all famous/highly selling/popular ones.

    I'm up for suggestions, if you have them :)

  3. I'm not a fan of love triangles for the sake of it, and even if I know that for a teen sometimes their life can revolve obsessively about their crushes and the rejections or not... I'm not old enough to have forgotten my own ;) Sometimes I can't find myself interested enough in the story they bring about. But frankly, it is not so much about the love triangle but how the story works around it or what it brings or doesn't bring to the story.

  4. Great points! I should add that I'm more likely to like a love triangle scenario (or any romance) if it is secondary to a larger plot and doesn't overwhelm the story. Or maybe that's just me, as someone who doesn't read full blown romance. :)

  5. I'm okay with love triangles except when the person who is caught in the middle is way TOO perfect and everyone falls instantly in love with him/her - that just annoys me. So yeah, the caveat would be "by all means, do the triangle thing, but do it well!"

  6. I like love triangles! (I grew up reading Archie Comics, soooo...kind of inevitable, haha.) The only time love triangles annoy me is when it's completely obvious who the protagonist will choose in the end. It makes it seem like the writer included the second love interest solely for the sake of drama...

  7. Now if we could see a situation where the one in between says, "You know what? I choose neither of you two..."

    Ah, if only....

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