Let's Talk Love Triangle Dudes

Inspired by the lovely Linda's post on YA Romance Pet Peeves and poked into actually writing something by Krispy, I shall use this Wednesday to talk about YA love triangles.

Linda says that "two guys = double the angst"; I refined that formula a tad and came up with the following:

love triangle = 1 mysterious guy + 1 childhood friend guy + 1 girl = angst^n

Math was my least favorite subject in school and if not for the fact that my cell phone has a calculator function I would be more mathematically incompetent than a retarded jellyfish. Even so, I dislike the aforementioned formula because that's what love triangles have become—a formula applied to a story like a band-aid to cover up the gaping wound left by lack of chemistry and/or character development and/or plot.

A typical basic YA love triangle includes a hot new boy (often styled as a bad boy) with the heroine's childhood friend as a rival. She loves her childhood friend but at the same time is swoonily attracted like an iron filing to the dark magnetic mystery of the new guy.

The guy who is almost always the loser and is also the one usually strung along is the childhood friend. The new/mysterious guy wins nine times out of ten—or maybe ten times out of ten, actually, in YA. Why? Naturally what is new and mysterious is intriguing and more interesting than the familiar, which is safer and therefore boring.

A generally fatal flaw of childhood friend role is that the heroine has known him for a long time, so the reader usually doesn't get to know him as well. Which makes sense, of course, that the most time would be spent on the mysterious new guy, because that's where the interest and excitement of new discovery lies. Unfortunately that means that the childhood friend almost always gets the short end of the character stick.

A slightly better but still all-too-frequent scenario is when the childhood friend does get more character development and an actual personality, but still pales in comparison to the mysterious new guy who elbows his way front and center and gets the lion's share of everyone's attention. The childhood friend is safe, familiar, and ; the new guy is unknown, possibly dangerous, mysterious and therefore intriguing.

I like tofu, but it is pretty bland by itself. Just sayin'.
 Of course, not all love triangles involve a childhood friend. It could involve two (childhood) friends or two new mysterious guys.

Side note: Let us not forget that hair color is absolutely critical in a love triangle. The two males must have different hair colors. If they do not, your love triangle will be a failure. Eye color should be different too, although this is less important since I barely remember anyone's eye color except for Edward's because of how many times Bella driveled on about how topaz they are.
Ideally, a typical YA love triangle would feature two guys whom the heroine is torn between because they are equally attractive (though this can be in different ways—intellectual, physical, charismatic, etc.), and it would not be generally pretty freaking obvious whom she's going to end up with. Ideally, I the reader would also be torn between these two awesome guys instead of thinking the heroine is an idiot for various reasons.

A good love triangle is dependent upon character development, relationship tension, and believability. The crux of a good love triangle is the girl. What does she see in these two guys? Is it just that they're equally hot and equally interested in her? If so, that's lame, and the Alz fails to approve.

I expect exploration of emotions, character depth, confusion, questioning, maybe some guilt—in short, I expect to empathize with the heroine. There are these two different guys and it's because of their differences that I am torn between them! Not their similarities—so they're both hot, or they're both supernatural, or they're both smart—so what? I want to see two guys who are awesome in their own unique ways but also have flaws that the heroine is capable of seeing.  I want to learn more about the heroine through her consideration of the two guys and her ultimate choice.  I want to see growth on the part of all three characters, dammit.

Krispy's Addendum: In the comments of Linda's YA Romance Pet Peeves post, Linda and I had a brief conversation about what makes a good love triangle or at least how a love triangle would better serve a story, and I liked the point we circled in on.

A love triangle best serves the story when it isn't just there as a romantic plot point. It works when the two guys represent more than romance for the heroine. As Linda said, "Like, if the choice between two guys was actually more about what kind of person the heroine wants to be and what kind of life she wants to live."

The two guys should serve as foils to the heroine, helping and hindering her, and thus revealing different aspects of her character. [End Addendum]

As a final note, I do not necessarily recommend all of the following books.  They're simply the ones I was thinking of when writing this post, with suggestions and brainstorming help from Krispy:

Fallen by Lauren Kate
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Matched by Ally Condie
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers
Possession by Elana Johnson
Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer

Now some questions for you folks: Do you like love triangles or do you hate 'em? Do you like knowing who the girl's going to end up with or would you prefer it not to be obvious? Got any good recommendations, bad recommendations, so-so recommendations?


Merc said...

I know better than to read a post and be drinking at the same time, to spare my screen. :D I ADORE the drawings!

I'm generally not a fan of love triangles because, as you mention, so often they seem obvious from the get go and it just gets annoying if there's no honest development/tension/question about who she (always she?) will pick.

(Maybe if it was three girls in a love triangle, THAT I'd like to see.)

'Course, this is not helped by my general dislike of romance in my fiction (romantic subplots - okay once in awhile). Established romantic relationships or established relationships that change, that is what I love to see. (Because there's a lot of room to explore things beyond 'fall in love with new hot person' when people interact.)

Also, the slogans on the dudes' shirts in your drawings are MADE OF WIN, Alz. :D

Great post.


Lori M. Lee said...

Great post :D While I like love triangles, I am getting tired of them. Namely because they tend to overtake the plot to the point that it BECOMES the plot. And then everything else gets squeezed in at the end like an afterthought--oh yeah, and we're supposed to be hunting a killer, CLIMAX. And then I facepalm.

linda said...

Yay, it's here! Awesome post! (And not just because I got to be mentioned a bajillion times XD)

I LOVE the illustrations. I saw the first one and was like "wait... is that...?" and then I laughed my head off for two whole minutes. Seriously.

Great points about the importance of character growth! And what you say about the different hair/eye colors is so true and brilliant, haha.

And now for the answers to your questions: 1. Not a fan of love triangles. I was ok with the one in The Hunger Games since it wasn't the main focus, but other than that I can't think of one I really enjoyed. 2. I actually like it better when I can tell who the heroine will end up with so I can try to avoid cheering for the wrong guy, because I hate that feeling. (I'm the kind of person who doesn't mind spoilers. :P) 3. Hm... there are a couple more love triangle books that come to mind, but I didn't like them, so no recs from me.

But yeah, great analysis, and your drawings are SO AWESOME. :D

Connie Keller said...

What about love triangles with one guy and two girls?

Ariana Ferrone said...

Hahaha your illustrations are fantastic. I read somewhere that love triangles are a good way to create instant conflict but I wish I was surprised by some of the 'final couples' in YA.

Tere Kirkland said...

Ugh, I hate it when the tofu kid is just about to declare his love when hot'n'spicy swoops in. You already know the poor neighbor/friend doesn't stand a chance against the new/undead/badboy.

I love writing romance as well as the next person, but I take it as a challenge to write a unique, unpredictable story about issues aside from romance.

The "just add badboy" triangles always seem to be in "lust stories", where the heroine places a greater importance on finding out whether a guy likes her, than on finding HERSELF.

So I enjoy a triangle where the love interests are really symptoms of a greater issue: that the MC is in the midst of becoming an adult, making choices that will define her as an individual.

Great discussion!

Sophia Chang said...

Man you guys are such HATERS! LOLOL I'm going to have to hate on something relevant to your lives over our next boba :P

I already emailed Linda about this, we'll have to discuss at our next cheese fries event.

Though I have to say Alzie, your points of what a good love triangle requires is well put. So you've done more than just hate with your black black hearts.

Angela Perry said...

Hahaha, that's so true. I'm not a huge fan of love triangles. They are always obvious and oversimplify reality.

In real life, I've managed to balance as many as a dozen crushes at once. Oddly enough, most of them didn't return the affection, while some people I didn't like at all were crushing on me.

And you know, once I gave a guy the brush-off, he wasn't usually masochistic enough to keep chasing me. But then, I'm not an undead/pheromone-drenched/modelesque girl either ;)

Alz said...

Merc –Thanks! Hmm, three girls in a love triangle—now that'd be interesting. Have you read Melinda Lo's book Ash, or Huntress? Krispy is reading Huntress but neither of us has read Ash. I don't think there's actually an all-girl love triangle in either, but they do focus on two girls in a relationship.

Lori – Those are my feelings too! If you're want to write a story focusing on a love triangle, go ahead and do it but don't try to throw in a token plot—and if you're NOT writing a love triangle story, then don't let that triangle overtake the plot.

Linda – Glad you like my doodles. :D I've heard from Krispy how you don't like being on Team Loser, so I can appreciate why you'd want to know from the get-go who's going to be sitting sadly solo by himself in the end. At night. In the rain. While tears trickle dramatically down his face, but ah! You can't tell for sure, maybe it's just the rain… AHEM. I've never actually read a love triangle where I didn't know who the heroine was going to end up with, now that I think about it.

Connie – I tried to think a love triangle example with one guy and two girls, but couldn't come up with any off the top of my head. I'm sure I've read some, and I'm also pretty sure that they weren't YA. I think I've read a few trashy romance novels from that angle. Have you got any good YA recs?

Ariana – Thanks! Love triangles are inherently conflicting, but it's also sort of meh because there's only one end: two of the people pair off. It'd be interesting to read a love triangle where the girl decides to hell with these two guys and stays single…or where the two guys realize they're much better suited to each other and pair off, leaving the girl behind.

Tere – Definitely agree on the bad boy triangle usually happening in the lust stories—with the additional caveat that he's not REALLY bad, he just acts that way. Like how Patch in Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush is all bad boy, stalkerish and wearing black and cutting class and hanging out in a pool hall where he…drinks Sprite. Uh-huh. Sure.

Sophia – I am a hater on some things. I fear it is a symptom of my masochistic literary nature where I end up reading terrible books because I'm fatally curious. I like how I have more than one black black heart, as this must mean I have two hearts and am therefore probably a Time Lord. Fantastic!

Angela – I hear ya! I often cry foul on fiction for not being real enough, even though I’m fully aware that it IS fiction and therefore not real. But if you're going to pitch a book at me as being romantic/suspenseful/a coming of age story/full of zombies, then I expect a certain level of realism and connection to the story in order to enjoy it. Zombies want to have their brains and eat it too—er, I mean, I want my books and to be able to enjoy them too.

Kate Avery Ellison said...

Great post! I wanted to point out a fairly famous book with a love triangle where the girl picks neither guy in the end.

Since this is a big spoiler, I will just say it's one of Amanda Hocking's series.

Anonymous said...

Ha, great post! Different hair color is a must. I mean, if both guys are [X], aren't they basically the same person?

I'm a fan of love triangle...I like the tension. Although, if I'm cheering for you, sorry, you're destined to be the loser.

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