Love triangles have been at the centre of what’s wrong with YA for a long time. An undoubted cliche. This isn’t because love triangles are a terrible story component in themselves but because they are usually written poorly. In this article, we’ll be talking about the good and the bad of love triangles in fiction and how you can learn from them.
Perhaps the success of stories like Twilight and the Hunger Games that featured love triangles have influenced their prevalence, but there are a variety of reasons why love triangles exist. They create much needed conflict to the story and an additional subplot while focusing on developing characters and relationships. More important than that, something that makes them specific to YA, is that YA focuses on issues that are relevant to teenagers like the uncertainty of love.
Both love interests need to have distinctive personalities.
The two interests that the main character is torn between, have to be very distinct and different. In Twilight, Bella’s relationship with Edward has only ever been romantic, her relationship with Jacob was built more of friendship, one was a vampire and one was a werewolf. In the Hunger Games, Katniss was torn between Peeta and Gale, caring Peeta and Gale who was more headstrong like her. There needs to still be a clear development of the characters. The main love interests in the Selection are equally as different but Maxon seems to represent the caring side of love whereas Aspen only represents the physical side. If you have two options for your main character, the reader needs to back both of them, and a choice between love or sex isn’t really a good way to do so.
Which leads me on to the next point.
Your reader has to be as torn about the two love interests as your main character is.
If your reader has already made up their mind on who they want your main character to be with from the first book, then you’ve failed. How can you expect the reader to understand why your main character is so torn about who to be with, when they’ve already made their decision? This was one of my biggest problems with the Selection, from the start Aspen offered nothing besides a hook up in a treehouse. Even Twilight succeeded in splitting thousands of girls, separating “Team Edward” from “Team Jacob.” If your readers aren’t arguing about which love interest that your character should pick, then you need to fix that. If you’re feeling ambitious, mix it up. Reveal bits about your love interests so that the readers, and your character, constantly get new information that changes their mind.
Give your interests a personality beyond their love for their protagonist and even more, make them interact.
Your main character shouldn’t be defined by which boy she picks, but at the same time your interests shouldn’t exist solely for her either. In Twilight, both Edward and Jacob’s lives solely revolve around Bella, the conflicts they face are all about Bella. Just because she is the main character doesn’t mean they should exist just for her. In Throne of Glass Celaena’s two love interests have a relationship outside of her, they don’t spend the story pining or fighting for her affection. In fact they respect her decision when she chooses the love interest that isn’t them. This is in itself something refreshing to see in a love triangle, instead of jealousy and competition, they don’t let Celaena come between the friendship they had long before they met her. Your love interests are people too, don’t forget that.
And above all else.
Make the outcome unpredictable.
I have never picked up a book with a love triangle and not guessed the ending. We all knew Bella would pick Edward from the start, I’m already 100% certain who America will be with at the end of the Selection and I’ve only read the first book. The Hunger Games does a good job at keeping the reader uncertain who Katniss will be with. It’s very clear through the books that Katniss loves both Peeta and Gale differently but just as much as each other. It wasn’t until the third book that I was confident with who she would chose and when it comes round to her making her decision, it’s understandable, considering the circumstances, why she hadn’t picked the other person. The Song of the Lioness Quartet is a personal favourite of mine, both characters are introduced in the first book and her romantic relationship set up with them in the second book. However, it doesn’t feel like a love triangle. The quartet is set up to last several years of Alanna’s life, as she goes from a girl to a woman and through that time she has relationships with three different men and spends time alone between romances. It’s one of the most realistic portrayals of romantic relationships I have read in a book series.
But the way to truly make your love triangle work.
Give it something that makes it special and unique.
Red Queen, a 2015 release tried something very unique with it’s love triangle. It added a twist at the end that completely changed the foundations of the triangle. The love triangle that seems to be set up in the Half Bad series is even more distinctive, in that Nathan’s two main love interests are Annalise, a girl who he knew when he was younger, and Gabriel, a boy who he meets in the later half of the book. Don’t just follow the obvious formula of a love triangle because if you do, your reader won’t care. We’ve seen hundreds of love triangles, you need yours to stand out.
Writing a love triangle will always run the risk of scaring off a lot of readers who have become bored of the craze since Twilight popularised it, at the same time, that doesn’t mean you can’t make yours work. Like with any story element or cliche, we have seen them all a hundred times, yet people still keep writing them. There’s a reason why they work. If you can make your reader uncertain of who they want and who they think the main character will end up with and add something unique to your love triangle, you can create a truly engrossing and interesting conflict.