The Perils of Love Triangulation

Nov 2, 2011

By Lisa T. Bergren

I just finished Julie Kagawa’s The Iron King, in which she sets up what I assume will be a long-term love triangle. And I just watched this YouTube video, in which a hard-core River of Time fan expressed her dislike over the fact that I introduced one of my own. Hang out among the young adult novel reviewer crowd for long and you’ll see that people are pretty clear on their preferences. Which surprised me. Until I started reading YA, and writing it, I’d never really thought about it before. I took it on a case by case basis. How about you?

In the Twilight series, Stephanie Meyer did a great job of delineating why both Jacob and Edward are winning heroes, attractive in their own way. In Hunger Games, it’s Peeta or Gale. In Kagawa’s series, it’s similar…two handsome guys, both good, but with their own unique issues/drawbacks. Both clearly interested in the heroine. (Note: If a book/series has “teams” there’s probably a triangle. Have you grabbed your Team Marcello/Team Greco/Team Luca button??)

In Cascade, I introduced Lord Greco, never really thinking he was anything but a fantastically handsome, mysterious enemy. But he kinda took over, and became a fascinating distraction to Gabi in Torrent. Voila. Suddenly I had my very own love triangle.

Which people either loved or really didn’t care for. And I understand either side’s rationale.

Love Triangle vs. Classic Arc

Here’s why I think authors should be careful about using the handy-dandy tension device of a romantic triangle…(Caution—spoilers for those who have not read Cascade or Torrent.):

  1. It begs the question: How true/loyal is this character? In my series, what I hear is that Triangle Haters question the character of both Marcello (who turns away from his arranged marriage in favor of love) and Gabriella (who is drawn to Lord Greco, despite her deep feelings for Marcello). It’s a fair question, I think. I strived to work in the “processing” for both. The struggle. But we’re all human and susceptible to weakness, so I think it was honest. For Marcello, he’s discovering love, really for the first time; how could you ignore that? For Gabriella, she’s never had a boyfriend, let alone two amazing men interested in her; how could she not be at least a little bit tempted/intrigued? But I understand why people wonder.
  2. It goes against “The One” philosophy: A lot of people are drawn to this romantic ideal…that The One is out there, and we just have to find them. So when you introduce #2, it flies in the face of that. I personally don’t think that there is just one person out there for each of us—there are many, but it takes a combination of emotional health, openness, timing and blessing from on High to come across one of the great ones. That said, there are certainly better men for each woman (and vice versa). I’m really glad my first love broke my heart (and boyfriends 2-5 were nothing but passing things), because my second love was my long-term hero. But if a reader hasn’t come to that same conclusion, you’re not meeting their romantic ideal.
  3. In a classic romance, it robs scenes between the hero and heroine. Can you weave in a different source of romantic tension and obstacles, other than a possible Bachelor #2? I think that’s a good way to go, most of the time. Because eight times out of ten, all that interest and intrigue and passion and draw is best reserved for the hero and heroine. And all readers love to better understand why your hero and heroine are falling in love with each other, so why not use that word count for them?

What do you think? Are you a fan of love triangles or not? Why?