Lately, more often than not, love triangles make me roll my eyes. I wish I could say I hated them, but honestly compels me to admit that there have been many, many books that I have read solely to find out which love interest the main character chooses (including an entire series of books, each about a different girl, that had covers featuring the main character standing torn between two boys). Also, you can’t watch as many K-dramas as I do without gaining an appreciation for a love triangle done right.
But how do you do a love triangle right?
First of all, there is no requirement that a story, even a YA novel, needs to have a love triangle. So if you don’t want to have a love triangle, don’t put one in your story. There are times, though, where a love triangle is a natural part of the plot/character development (Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch is a good example of this) or maybe you just want to explore some different avenues of growth with your main character. In that case, here are a few differences I’ve noticed between love triangles that annoy me and love triangles that tangle me up, torment me, and leave me desperate to know its conclusion:
(I know that there can be other love triangles besides the girl trying to decide between two boys, but since the majority of love triangles follow that prototype, I’ll refer to the main character as a she and the love interests as he.)
1. Both love interest have to have a chance at winning the main character’s heart.
This is one reason why I would say that the Edward-Bella-Jacob dynamic in the Twilight series wasn’t, in fact, a love triangle. Oh, sure, Jacob wanted it to be a love triangle, but he really never had the chance. Bella was always, always going to choose Edward (much to the sorrow of those of us who liked Jacob best).
2. Balance the time spent with each love interest.
The love triangles that work the best keep the reader guessing which boy she’ll choose by having a positive interaction with Boy A, but a negative encounter with Boy B. Then the reverse happens and something goes wrong with Boy A, but she’s really clicking with Boy B. Keep that going and you’ll keep your readers as torn and conflicted as your MC.
3. Each love interest appeals to a different side of the main character.
Maybe one love interest constantly challenges and encourages the MC, pushes her to be better, to try harder, but the other is more easy-going and accepts her for who she is, flaws and all. Both traits can be good in a romantic relationship, but the question is: what does the MC want? Or rephrased a bit, who does the MC want to be? Does she want to be strong and tough or does she want something more nurturing? Both are good options, but she has to choose.
One of the reasons that love triangles are so prevalent in YA literature is that the teenage protagonist is still trying to figure out who she wants to be, whether it’s a doctor or a poet or a star basketball player or whatever. For good or bad, love interests can be a big influence on a teen and that’s part of why the decision between them can be so engrossing: the MC isn’t just deciding who she loves. She’s deciding who she wants to BE.
4. Give your main character (and your readers) a reason to fall in love with both love interests.
Think about the good characteristics of each love interest. What makes him interesting? What makes him fun to be around? What is he passionate about? And then find ways to show that to your reader. Being brooding is all well and good, but I, for one, never fell for Darcy or Mr. Thornton or even Edward Cullen until I saw their good attributes. Darcy’s love for his sister, Mr. Thornton’s concern for the well-being of his people, etc.
Some love triangles that I think were done quite well:
The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
The Raven Ring by Patricia C. Wrede
Pivot Point by Kasie West
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
What other differences have you noticed between love triangles you like and ones you don’t? What are some love triangles that you think were done particularly successfully?
Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving