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Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Discussion | The Love Triangle Effect


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 wanted 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.


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 now 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.

In 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 do it very well. Some stories carry 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 StoryShatter Me; Throne of Glass; Twilight; plus lots more! (Tell me about them below.)
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What about you: When do you like or dislike the Love Triangle 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.

Thank you for visiting Finding Wonderland

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Rissi
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20 comments:

  1. I love that you used a photo from The Philadelphia Story. It's one of my favorite movies!

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    1. Mine too, Brittaney! In fact, I'm looong overdue for a re-watch.

      So glad you stopped by. :)

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  2. It's funny you should mention love triangle because I am currently in the middle of writing a story which has a love triangle. My main character has this long unrequited love for a woman who is already in a relationship. The reason why I chose to do a love triangle was to challenge myself. I wanted to create two love stories that were both strong, where it would be hard to pick who should be paired up together in the end. I also wanted to explore the idea of love and what things people would do to have love.

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    1. Interesting concept, Carlyn. I like that the subject of your main character's love is already in a relationship. I HAVE read that before too, but depending on how the subject feels about the person they're with, I don't mind it.

      My greatest issue with it are the wishy washy emotions. And of course, I respect that everyone likes something different. I think if you feel your characters and you are being challenged, that's ALL that matters. As a writer, you SHOULD write something that will grow complex characters and challenge YOU. That's all a part of the learning curve. Bravo to you!

      Best of luck with this story - and thanks for sharing! :)

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  3. I don't mind a good love triangle, done well.

    Unfortunately, sometimes it's obvious from the first chapter which two characters are going to end up together i.e. the two viewpoint characters.

    I think that's why the love triangle in Twilight worked - because both male characters got pretty much equal time (that's the most positive thing I can think of to say about Twilight!).

    And there are other times when I don't enjoy the love triangle because I wanted her to end up with the *other* guy! The best example of this is Karen Kingsbury's Bailey Flanigan series. Yes, I was Team Cody.

    But the worst is when both guys are lovely, and you know she's going to break someone's heart no matter what the choice. The movie Sweet Home Alabama springs to mind ...

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    1. Iola, hi! So nice of you to stop by. :) Thanks!

      As with everything, there are exceptions. I freely admit I 100% excuse the love triangle in 'The Selection' series because I LOVE THOSE BOOKS. Other than them being my "guilty pleasure" reads (which I don't mean negatively - another discussion post is in the works there), there is no real reason why I enjoy them. That said, I think most often, it's an authors way of keeping the "meant to be" lovers apart.

      I never read Twilight, but from what I did read (about the films/books, etc.), I probably rooted more for Jacob. ;) Why? Because unless they're a jerk, I tend to root for the new guy. Weird I know.

      It made me happy Bailey ended up with the newbie. But that could have been because I was SO sure it was Cody she'd wind up with.

      Aw... I love Sweet Home Alabama. Like you I get a little sad every time she chooses Jake (even though we "know" that's who she'll pick from the start). But her fiance is a REAL gentleman and the way he takes it makes US feel better. Plus, I love that the writer's gift us the little "epilogue" to show he's ok. :)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Iola. :)

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  4. Ahh, this was such a good post. Loved reading all your thoughts! Ugh, Twilight was one of the worst love triangles (IMO) because all it did was make me extremely annoyed with Bella, with all her affection-toying. The only good thing about it was that it was clear from the start who she was going to choose. *But* if done well and tastefully, I'm all for it! I love your use of Unblemished as an example. I am so darn curious about the second book. I just preordered on Amazon (darn you, Amazon Prime and all your amazing book deals!!!). Sometimes though, I end up hating love triangles, because I tend to like the guy who loses more.

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    1. Thanks, Bekah - of course as SOON as I posted it, I thought of a gazillion other points/things, or ways to say this. *sigh* Makes me want to go back and reread what I've read and add to/say something differently. Ah, well. There's always a potential "part 2" idea. ;)

      Girl, I love your term: "Affection-toying." That sums up my annoyance with the heroine's to a T! I'm so annoyed when the girl is so, "Oh, today I love X" only to then turn around and shift to old boyfriend and on the cycle goes.

      I agree! It can be down with class and to the "right" effect. Unblemished is working (really well), and like you, I cannot wait for book two. (RIGHT?? We finally tried Amazon Prime last year, and I'm loving its 2-day shipping perk. WAY TOO MUCH.)

      I tend to always root for the newbie. Why I cannot say for sure. :)

      Glad to have you stop by with your thoughts, friend.

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  5. This topic deserves such a detailed discussion post!!!! I think love triangles are OK if they are done well... like with Unblemished . That is one of the most believable (if I can use that word to describe fantasy ;) ) triangles because of all of the external complications and built-in secrets concerning how El is connected to Joshua. It is one that leaves the reader's loyalties switching back and forth, too, though I have a definite preference after the very, very end of book 1.

    Another well done love triangle that comes to mind was in Susan May Warren's The Wonder of You . I recall it being obvious that Amelia would choose/end up with Roark, but her lingering feelings and questions concerning her former boyfriend felt plausible because of the way Susan realistically portrayed her emotion.

    AUSTENLAND! That one worked because of the half-truth filled, playacting environment at the mansion.

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    1. Bravo! As everything can be. When something is DONE well (no matter how cliche), it can be magical.

      I'm really impressed with the spin Unblemished puts on this concept. So far, this story has done a really good job, and it makes me happy. I'll confess I don't remember every little detail about this one because it's been too long since I read the book, but I do remember being unbothered by it.

      Aw, I loved The Wonder of You! And see, there's another I "forgave" because the story is magical. Loved Amelia as a character for sure.

      Austenland is perfection for its own unique DNA. 'Nuff said. :D

      So glad you came by and shared - thank you, Courtney.

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  6. I could not agree more with the reasons for your annoyance regarding love triangles.
    It's especially hard with books, when you kind of usually already know who the person in the middle of the triangle is going to pick based on whose name is mentioned in the blurb on the back-cover, and like Iola mentioned, when only two viewpoint characters are chosen. I also agree with Iola about it being really hard to read a book with a triangle where both contenders are really nice people, as you don't want to see either of them heart-broken.

    However, though I usually try to avoid books with this trope, when it comes to a situation where the two potential love interests represent marrying for either duty on one hand, or love on the other, those are the love triangles I usually don't mind so much, as it gives a plausible and sympathetic reason for any wishy-washiness that might occur. Examples of this can be found in Follow the Heart (Kaye Dacus), Making Waves (Lorna Seilstad), and Within the Veil.

    Anne, Roy, and Gilbert also spring to mind as one of the first triangles I came across in my reading journey, with some other classic examples being Elizabeth/Darcy/Wickham, and Jane/Edward/St John.

    One particularly brilliant example I can think of where multiple love triangles in a single book actually work really well is The Frontiersman's Daughter by Laura Frantz. Deeply nuanced, beautifully handled, and both emotionally engaging and satisfying on all sides, it helps that the book was written entirely through the viewpoint of the female lead.

    Now when it comes to TV shows and films, I actually have less tolerance for some reason for having to endure a love triangle, one prominent example being Poldark where you have Ross/Elizabeth/Francis, and Elizabeth/Ross/Demelza. In this case, I've never really liked either, as Ross is absolutely so much better with Demelza than Elizabeth.

    It's interesting to think about the fact that whether something involves a love triangle or not is really based on the character's point of view. A love triangle could still exist even if the person in the middle has no feelings whatsoever for one of the contenders, as that contender has feelings for them, such as in the triangle you mentioned between Edith/Matthew/Mary.

    This was a great post; thanks for providing a forum to discuss such an interesting topic.

    Kind Regards
    Eleanor Rose

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    1. Eleanor, thank you for your considerate and lovely comment. I always enjoy reading your thoughts. :)

      You bring up some excellent examples! And I love them.

      Jane/Edward/St. John: I've never really pegged this as a love triangle. Perhaps because when Jane meets St. John, it's without the presence of Edward. Or perhaps it's because I don't ever see her (in the films since I've not read the books) as "liking" him in that way. Each portrayal of her character remains steadfast to Edward, and it's lovely as a result of this.

      I don't blame you for tolerating this trope more in books than film. The former can be nuanced (as you describe Laura's book, which I don't think I've read) whereas the latter can too often be ANNOYING!

      Poldark: OHMYGOSH! I detest Ross even thinking about shifting his emotions. Ugh. Demelza loves him so fully and beautifully. He loves her (right now - I have to finsih S2) so fully and completely. Having him change? Cliche. Cliche. Cliche.

      And that's when I don't mind a love triangle - when the person being pursued is "sure" of their emotions. For example, as I said, with Matthew. He NEVER cared for Edith in that way. And I applaud writer's for this. While it was riddled with more cliches, even in the later love triangle with Matthew's fiancee, I still felt his heart was totally Mary's.

      Thank YOU for reading and taking the time to comment. I'd love to write more discussion posts, so hopefully I'll keep up this pace and offer more like this in the future. :)

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  7. Oh, the dreaded love triangle! Like you, Rissi, I'm not a fan but yes, they can be done well, albeit rarely. Lori Benton's Burning Sky is an excellent example and one that didn't make me cringe.

    Like you, the vacillating heroine annoys me, but so does the obvious dud of the two love interests. When it is obvious to the reader who the heroine will end up with from the beginning of the book, to me that's a failed effort. In those circumstances, I'm annoyed at the heroine because she is the only one in the universe to be clueless about the "right" guy.

    Then on the flip side, when it is done well, I'm usually heartbroken over the guy who missed out...sigh.

    Great discussion, as always :)

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    1. So many mirrored thoughts here, Rel.

      When done right, this concept can be magical. When done wrong, for me, it reads as cliche and that's annoying. So much storytelling falls into that sad state. I don't mind if writer's use it so long as they make the heroine "sure" of her affections - or at the very least not a character who "falls" in love with both (sometimes separated by only chapters).

      Like you, I always feel bad about the guy left behind. Especially if he's a good one. :)

      THANK YOU, as always, for making a stop over here. Always value your thoughts, friend.

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  8. I'm okay with the "triangle done right" if it surprises me in the denouement.
    The absolute BEST TRIANGLE RESOLUTION IN ALL THE EVERS is in A. G. Howard's SPLINTERED series. Oh. My. Word. The best. It didn't end like I'd hoped, but neither did it end how I'd feared. It was SO MUCH BETTER. Perfection. �� But if I'm reading a triangle and I feel compelled to roll my eyes, yeah... I'm out.

    Great post, Rissi!

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    1. If it surprises... I love that, Serena. That's precisely my thoughts too. If it follows a path we don't usually see, I say, bring it one!

      AHH! I've been wanting to read the "Splintered" books. Thanks for the suggested. I'm glad it's perfection. Makes me all the more curious. :)

      Thank you for coming by and visiting. I appreicate it. :)

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  9. I'm actually a fan of love triangles, because to me, it ups the suspense/surprise factor. I like being surprised when I read! One series that had a love triangle going on was Joanne Bischof's Cadence of Grace series. I felt a little in love with both heroes--which to me, says it's done right (like Twilight). I like where you get to the point in the story where you're OKAY if she chooses the other guy, because he's also great (like Toby in Cadence or Jacob in Twilight--yeah, I was Team Jacob anyway b/c I liked their friendship).

    I also have a whisper of a love triangle in my novella, The Distant Tide, that's in The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection. I won't spoil it, but I felt it worked out the way it should (although I'm wishing I could give the one who didn't get the girl his own story someday, too!).

    Fun conversation! Other love triangles--Scarlett/Ashley/Rhett in Gone w/the Wind, Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin (sort of!); The Great Gatsby, Little Women. :)

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    1. Nothing wrong with this, Heather. Like I said, I am fully aware that, if invested or maybe even when I'm a fan of the author, I forgive it all. :)

      I love being surprised too. Always wondering, "How's this all going to end??" I think a big "issue" for me is I often "know" who the girl will end up with, and the Love Triangle often feels like a reason to keep the couple apart.

      Great thought! When you love both heroes, there is something good going for the effect.

      *high five* I haven't seen or read the books, but confess, from what I have read, I tended towards Jacob. :D

      As an author, that's part of the beauty of writing what works and what doesn't. Someday, down the road, you can always give that "forgotten" character their own story, and that's an amazing thing.

      Thank you so much for joining in! I loved reading your comment. :) And yes to Little Women. That one works very well!

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  10. I love this discussion post so much! So many great points <3
    Megan @ http://wanderingsofabookbird.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Thank you, Megan! I appreciate you reading and stopping by. :)

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