In any genre, there are common threads holding them together even with unique marker provisos. Even the box office releases multiple films of the same story in a year (the only that immediately pops to mind is the Snow White story with Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror), albeit with unique DNA to each one. One of the elements the YA marker is saturated with –
good, bad, tiresome, happy or anywhere in between, it’s there – is the “Love Triangle.”
Because of its dominant presence in the market, one must wonder: What is it that “hooks” authors to use the thread?
Admittedly, I’ve forgiven its presence when I’ve otherwise loved the book, but by and large, it does seem to overshadow romances that could be akin to a love like Beauty and the Beast – unconditional.
Today I want to take a closer look at this trend and ask, “What is it so popular?” As with everything, this trope has its appeal, and
that’s fine. Readers all enjoy something different – thank goodness! Fortunately for all of us, there are a host of authors willing to tell a host of different stories. Among them is the perfect book DNA to suit every reader.
As a reader, I have opinions on this topic. As someone who’s talked about it in passing in other memes or posts, and on Twitter, I
thought an open “discussion” post was overdue. Read on for some of my specific thoughts on the common thread that holds together so many stories.
Be prepared: a loong post is ahead.
BOOK DICUSSION: THE LOVE TRIANGLE EFFECT
WHEN IT DOESN’T WORK
By and large, the Love Triangle doesn’t work for a simple reason. Instead of authors focusing on one really (really!) good romance, they complicate things with not one but two men. (For the purpose of this article’s scenario, our equation is made up of two guys and a girl because that is the most prominent trio I run across.)
Though this trend is subject to every readers preferences (we forgive it willingly sometimes; others we’re rigid), there is one
overreaching element that glares in a bright read NO sign. This is the plight of the wishy-washy girl.
This is the one ploy that makes me adamantly disagree with it. When the girl goes back and forth in her feelings from one book to the next – sometimes from one chapter to the next. This annoyance is often insurmountable. When you have a heroine that unsure it makes her less likable. But then on the other end of the spectrum, the fact that these characters are still growing, changing and hopefully maturing might beg for a little grace.
(And in the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that The Selection series is one of my favorite series. Its favored theme is
shifting America’s opinion from one guy to the next – sometimes in the space of a paragraph. Or it seems like it.)
WHY DOESN’T IT WORK | This common emotional flip flop doesn’t work because it does nothing to endear the heroine. True she has other attributes that help to erase this, but it still doesn’t remove from the equation that her wishy-washy feelings are a stumbling block. It undermines her as a character. And it undermines us as the reader.
I’ve read books that have the heroine shift opinions in the space of a heartbeat. And sometimes it’s over possible pros that aren’t really important building blocks to a relationship.
Exhibit A. Guy A.
His eyes were brown. But not an ordinary brown. No, they were like a deep chocolate hue, color that a girl could get lost in. And he LOVES ME! ME!
Exhibit B. Guy B
He put his arms around me, reminding me who he is. [Insert Name] has always been there for me. He’s seen me at my worst,
at my best and still, he stays. I’ve loved him since I can remember. He shows me in a million ways that he loves me. It’s [Insert Name] who really, truly knows me…
And thus continues the shifting (stacked on top of one another) girls opinion on the guys vying for her affections.
WHEN IT DOES WORK
Don’t misunderstand, sometimes this trope does work. Here are two that I found interesting.
Downton Abbey (ITV Series) | Ok, maybe most don’t consider this a “viable” Love Triangle, and that’s fine. In the first season, we all know Matthew is smitten with Mary from the moment she bustles into his house. But do you remember that Edith also became smitten with her distant cousin? Yes, she does. It doesn’t last long, but it’s there.
I coin this a kind of “love triangle” because a. it involves three people, and b. I am of the firm belief Mary is in love with (or close) Matthew long before she breaks and admits it.
Unblemished by Sara Ella | Sara’s first novel flirts with a love triangle. But in Unblemished it works because it’s not so much about the angst as it is a feeling of safety. El has been sheltered her entire life, but feels a sense of “safety” in Joshua’s presence. He’s her North Star, the guy she’s loved since she can remember, the guy whose true identity she doesn’t know.
Because of this, she doesn’t know his true nature, and when she learns part of it (still not everything), she begins to question everything. Ky’s presence isn’t an immediate “I LOVE YOU!” meeting. All this to say nothing of the fact that it’s because of Joshua El
feels like she could truly be loved (she suffers disfigurement).
WHY DOES IT WORK | Why do some love triangles work? Aside from the skill of the author or the voice of the character, sometimes they do work. In the cases I mention, they work for a simple reason.
For example a, Matthew is never interested in Edith. Beyond treating her with kindness, he never leads her on. In Example B, I don’t mind it because El has a more (especially in comparison to most heroines) intuitive, emotionally complex connection with
Joshua. This may or may not (won’t say for sure because spoilers!) be a feeling both parties share.
In the end, it’s up to each individual whether or not they like this ploy. Some authors and stories do it very well. Some heroines master it like a pro – without annoying!
Why do authors use this trope? I haven’t a clue. My best guess is to create tension and fall into the dreaded trap that unless there is
a lingering will-they-or-won’t-they tease throughout the series, readers (or viewers) won’t hang with the story. THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE! At least for me it isn’t. I’ve watched many shows or read books in which the couple is “together” and instead of break ups or complications like exes returning, other things interrupt their lives.
In no way does this ever shatter the tension nor does it affect the pull of attraction and flirtatious banter between them. Or I’ve yet to experience this.
That to me informs of one thing. Intelligent romance can be achieved. Interesting romantic entanglements – even with complications, are within reach. Even love triangles can work. It just takes a little more artistic smarts. Fortunately, all stories start with the same thing: A blank canvas waiting to become a masterpiece. ♥
STORIES with LOVE TRIANGLES: Austenland; The Hunger Games; The Philadelphia Story; Shatter Me; Throne of Glass; Twilight; plus lots more! (Tell me about them below.)
What about you: When do you like or dislike the Love Triangle effect or trope? Have you discovered stories that it works in? Stories that it doesn’t? Comment below with all of your thoughts, preferences and opinions on the subject. I’d love to chat all things bookish.
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