In defense of love triangles interests

I’ve been thinking about love triangles ever since YALSA’s BFYA Teen Feedback Session at ALA Midwinter. More specifically, ever since these two tweets, paraphrasing what one of the teens said during the panel, showed up in my feed:

bfya_tweet1

bfya_tweet2

Many tweets followed, all seeming to confirm that teens are love-triangled out.

Now I’m not trying to discount the opinion stated in the above tweets. Nor am I questioning that readers are tired of love triangles. But I was rather perplexed by this idea that a character should have one main love interest and one only, because in my opinion (this post is going to be highly opinion-based, so take it with a grain of salt) it seems the opposite happens in real life. Not always, of course, but I think if you ask most people, they will say they flirted with/crushed on/dated one, two, a dozen, maybe more people before they found The One.

So I started wondering what, exactly, might be rubbing readers the wrong way when it comes to love triangles? Is it any story in which the character has two potential partners? If so, why? Because it’s not convincing? I’ll admit it’s difficult to write a solid, believable, and unpredictable love triangle, but they do exist. Cynthia Hand’s UNEARTHLY series is a fabulous example of a triangle done right. (Again, my opinion.)

But more than anything, I’m starting to wonder if it’s a mislabeling of the term that’s the issue for backlash. Lately, I’ve heard “love triangle” applied to almost any novel that has more than one potential love interest, and I think this is unfair. A triangle, at least by my personal definition, is one in which the main character is equally torn between two love interests. Both bring out different sides of the main character, and said character is deciding who they want to be, which in turn, often dictates who they choose as a partner. (Carrie Ryan wrote about this ages ago but it is still relevant and wonderfully stated.) Similarly, both love interests tend to be fighting for the main character’s affection while he/she makes that final decision.

So what are some of the books I feel have recently been labeled incorrectly? Let’s take a look. (Be warned, very light spoilers exist in the following list.)

  • Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi, because a gal shows up mid-way through and tries to seduce Perry
  • Prodigy by Marie Lu, because Tess has started to develop feelings for Day which she makes known
  • Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, because Celaena grows close to two different men while trying to win the title of King’s Champion
  • Shades of Earth by Beth Revis, because a secondary character is crushing on Amy
  • Something Strange & Deadly by Susan Dennard, because Eleanor falls for Daniel while her mother tries to force her on a suitor

These stories have multiple possibilities—branches that would lead to very different outcomes—but no equally weighted “triangle.” In my opinion they are “webs.” Even still, I’ve heard the above described as love triangles by marketing departments and/or reviewers/bloggers. Is this doing the book a disservice? I don’t know. I think so. Maybe. As the teen reactions at the BFYA panel show, a love triangle has become an undesirable trope recently, and so it seems that applying the term incorrectly could be dangerous. There’s a bit of a negative connotation there, which could skew reader perspectives before they even pick up the book. (Not to mention how mislabeling things a “love triangle” dilutes the meaning of the term itself.)

But negative connotations aside, I still love a well-done love triangle, and even more than triangles, I love complex “webs.” I think they are the most natural sort of romantic tension, because they so wonderfully mirror life and human nature. People grow, hearts change, desires/dreams/expectations shift. Sometimes we are tempted. Sometimes we lust. Sometimes we are completely honest and true to one person, and other times we think we know who that one person is, only to meet someone else later who makes us question everything.

The truth is that love is complicated, just as the original teen hinted at in the above tweet. Finding The One can require detours, wrong turns, mistakes, backtracking, and the navigating of a very, very complex web. Or, if you’re lucky, the route could be a relatively well-marked, one way street. I love stories that effectively capture both.

In the end, I guess I’m saying I support love triangles, lines, quadrilaterals, webs, you name it. I also support temptations and doubts and inner turmoil on the main character’s end. So long as the romantic tension feels natural in the context of the story—honest and real to the character’s emotional state and growth—I’m a fan.

And this is the kicker, right? Because it’s all subjective. How we identify romance and potential love interests will vary from reader to reader. (For more on reader perceptions, don’t miss this fabulous post by Zoe Marriott about instalove.)

But what about you? How do you feel about triangles and how do you go about defining them? What do you think about the “web” examples I listed above? I could discuss this stuff all day, so please leave me your thoughts in the comments!

  

69 Responses to In defense of love triangles interests

  1. Biljana
    Biljana Feb 19 2013 at 7:24 am #

    Love this post, Erin. My friend and I used to joke that for there to be a real love triangle, one person has to be gay, so that it’s a terrible terrible cycle of unrequited feelings instead of just one person being torn haha. But joking aside, I really appreciate this post. Love IS complicated, and I personally think the mislabeling sucks. I feel like it contributes to the general thing around YA where topics are dumbed down as if teens aren’t real people who experience these things. Granted, reading the book will make it obvious that the labeling is wrong, but I think jaded readers are more likely to roll their eyes and toss it into the “generic” pile with all the other tired tropes of the genres than to give it a chance….which really sucks. I can’t pretend I’m not guilty of that, either.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 8:19 am #

      Now I sort of want to read that straight-straight-gay triangle with the feels just spinning endlessly in a circle. Those poor souls!

      And thanks for the kind words. I was a little nervous writing this post bc it seems to be such a hot-topic issue lately, but one that needs to be discussed before suddenly a love triangle is always bad, one interest is always good, with no middle ground in between.

  2. jeffo Feb 19 2013 at 7:45 am #

    Great post, Erin, and one that’s causing me to kick a lot of thoughts around in my little brain about the whole thing. Maybe I haven’t read a good–I mean, really good–love triangle in a while, but part of what I don’t like about them is they turn main characters into waffles layered with too much artificially-sweetened syrup. And maybe that’s the point of the triangle, particularly in YA, where the choice of love, as you point out, is really a symbolic choice of self-identity. (and that says a lot about us right there, doesn’t it?)

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 8:26 am #

      Thanks! I hope you find a really good love triangle read in the future because I completely understand how draining all that artificially-sweetened emotional whiplash can be if not done well and/or becomes the sole focus of the story. 😉

  3. Laura M Kolar Feb 19 2013 at 7:56 am #

    This is an awesome post, Erin! I like love triangles, but I’m also a hopeless romantic.

  4. Lauren@The Housework Feb 19 2013 at 8:12 am #

    I love this post, and totally agree with what you’re saying (I even wrote a blog post on it a few months back). I admit, I used to be firmly in the “I hate love triangles” camp, until I took a step back and realized they’re not nearly as common as we tend to think they are. And when they’re done well, I rather like them, because as you say, they mirror real life. Especially in YA. I can’t remember a second of my high school experience where I was not interested in more than one guy, because teenage hormones are crazy. That didn’t make any of my relationships triangles. It simply meant I was a teenager, with hormones, who saw romantic possibilities everywhere.

    I think the danger of the love triangle is when they become, instead of a realistic choice a teen would be faced wtih, the ENTIRE PLOT OF THE BOOK. Because there’s only so much drama to be found in “OH NOES WHO WILL SHE CHOOOOOSE???” But honestly, most books with real love triangles, done well, don’t do this.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 8:33 am #

      Lauren, I want to hug your entire response. And your blog post! (I just read it and yes! Yes to everything!)

      I think you make a great point when you address how much of the plot of a story hangs on the love triangle. Is who the MC chooses the whole point of the story? When I think of some of my favorite books featuring love triangles (eg: UNEARTHLY series), the answer is typically no. Because as you so brilliantly point out, the drama of that one choice isn’t usually enough tension to carry a novel’s entire plot. (Oh, and your comments about HS days and hormones and seeing romantic possibilities everywhere? Yes again.)

      Like I said, I want to hug your entire response. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and linking to the blog post you did. Great stuff!!

      • Lauren@THCW Feb 19 2013 at 9:19 am #

        And now I need to go read the UNEARTHLY series. I haven’t done it yet, but you’re making me really, really want to.

        • Erin Bowman
          Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 9:21 am #

          Oooh, you must, you must! It is truly one of my favorite love triangles. It fits the definition to a T, but yet it feels so natural and possible and REAL within the context of the story. Happy reading 😀

  5. Rae Feb 19 2013 at 8:36 am #

    I am firmly in the ‘I-hate-love-triangles’ camp. Most people might have to go through several partners before finding The One, but in my opinion, that’s not what happens in most YA love triangles. Instead of going through a linear succession of partners, most LTs have a main character who is introduced as being a ‘completely normal teen’ who has not the slightest dating history and suddenly finds herself at the center of two (usually attractive) guys’ interests. What’s more, the reason is sometimes suspect, which makes the chemistry between the characters feel contrived. If the MC has any particular reason to be involved with these guys (romantically or not), then it would be fine, but mostly it’s used as a plot device to try to make the MC seem likable/interesting, and that, in my opinion, is kind of a cheap trick to pull instead of actually attempting character development.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 8:52 am #

      All good points (about plot devices, chemistry feeling forced, etc). It really does all come down to reader opinions and how they interpret the relationship happening on the page.

      Sometimes I wish the term “love triangle” didn’t even exist. The label can deter readers from picking up a book (sometimes a mislabeled book, at that!) and my story-loving soul cries for both parties (the reader missing out on a fabulous book, and the book missing out on making it into the hands of a potential reader.) Wah! :`(

  6. ellie M Feb 19 2013 at 8:50 am #

    Awesome post. I’m such a sucker for all kinds of love. I think the thing that teens have grown tired of is when some stories seem to try and FORCE a love triabgle by inserting another boy there just to tempt the MFC. If the relationship seem natural and legit, then I’m all for it.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 8:53 am #

      Agreed! It all comes down to if it feels natural vs forced. (So again…reader perspectives and opinions. No wonder the label is a hot-topic issue!) 😉

  7. Marie Lu
    Marie Lu Feb 19 2013 at 8:53 am #

    I love this post so much, Erin! Like you, I can understand people being weary of love triangles but I also think love complications are soooo common in real life. I don’t know anyone, actually, who hasn’t at one time or another had 2 ppl crushing on them. It’s so natural! Anyway, love this! <3

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 9:13 am #

      Thanks, Marie! I think people are wary of “love triangles” because as you point out, love complications are far more common. (Tess’ feeling for Day, for example!) It all makes me wish we could just throw the term “love triangle” out the door. It seems like a dangerous, misleading label.

  8. Megan Shepherd Feb 19 2013 at 8:58 am #

    This is brilliant, Erin. Love triangles are so tricky, and readers’ reaction to them really surprised me. It seems a lot of readers consider a love triangle to be anything outside of a strict girl-guy (or guy-guy, girl-girl) romance. And I just find it way more unrealistic for teenagers to discover the one true love of their life at 16, then to be interested in more than one person. My god, when I was in high school, my friends and I were interested in or attracted to or curious about a different guy every week.

    I can’t say that I either like or dislike love triangles. It’s a little like saying I like or don’t like stories with multiple POVs. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but the issue can’t be simplified that easily. Love triangles or webs or what-have-you vary so greatly in each book. I think the problem is when love triangles get lumped together and books are dismissed as falling into this trope, when it might be a relatively minor part of the story, or maybe it’s the main part of the story but it’s absolutely fabulously done (like how LEGENDS OF THE FALL is a romance with a love-square and it’s heartbreaking and sad and romantic and great).

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 9:16 am #

      “when I was in high school, my friends and I were interested in or attracted to or curious about a different guy every week.” <-- HA! Me too. Oh, the hormones. "I can’t say that I either like or dislike love triangles. It’s a little like saying I like or don’t like stories with multiple POVs." <-- Agree, again. 100%. Some multi POVs I love and others I don't. it comes down to writing, delivery, style, the story itself. So much relies on the reader's interpretation, and I agree that slapping the term "love triangle" onto any book with more than one love interest and then dismissing it, is sad. Think of all the readers that book could miss out on! I just want the world to forget the LT term altogether. 😉

  9. Emily Feb 19 2013 at 9:07 am #

    Hi, Erin! Lovely post!

    So I have a love/hate relationship with love triangles. On one hand, it’s totally plausible for the MC to be completely torn between two love interests (as I have been in this boat, myself). On the other, I absolutely hate it when the love triangle subplot takes over the main plot completely and the book goes from saving the world to figuring out which of these two attractive dudes can ultimately win the gal’s heart. (I can’t even begin to express how much I would love a book where romance is basically non-existent). I also think that love triangles can be super fun, especially if the reader doesn’t have a clear idea of exactly who the MC will end up with by the end of the book. I think love triangles done well are able to show readers how the MC fits with both of the LIs, without making everything about that particular situation.

    But I think that ‘love triangle’ is a pretty inaccurate term for what most real-life romance brings to the table. Life and romance is like that long chain necklace you leave at the bottom of your jewelry box that ends up getting shifted around and around until it’s formed such a thick, jumbled, knotted mess that not even the most skilled knot-getter-outer can fix it. Love is not so clear-cut that labeling it with ‘love triangle’ will actually do anything justice. We should just call romance ‘love jumbles’.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 9:17 am #

      “But I think that ‘love triangle’ is a pretty inaccurate term for what most real-life romance brings to the table…Love is not so clear-cut that labeling it with ‘love triangle’ will actually do anything justice. We should just call romance ‘love jumbles’.”

      ^ Yes! Totally agree. Let’s just throw the term “love triangle” out, shall we? 🙂

  10. Georgeann Swiger Feb 19 2013 at 9:09 am #

    This has made me rethink the term love triangle. After reading your post, I no longer consider the relationships in my manuscript as part of any “love triangle”. The main character is in love with only ONE character. The third character is chasing her, but she has no romantic feeling for him. Thank you for your insight and for giving me a new perspective on this topic.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 9:19 am #

      Yay! Glad the post helped reframe things. (And I think the romantic tensions you just described sound so realistic and heartbreaking. Good luck with the ms!)

  11. Alex Ray Feb 19 2013 at 9:37 am #

    This is a great post, and I agree entirely. Many times “love triangle” is a misnomer. I mean, I guess we could get geometrically technical if we really wanted and say that the true love triangle in which the MC could end up with either is an equilateral triangle (I don’t think I’ve ever read one of these, but the closest I can think of is Everneath by Brodi Ashton, and I guess Twilight as well? Even those… everyone knows who the MC will choose). With Throne of Glass and Something Strange and Deadly (the only two in the list that I’ve read), if I had to give them a triangle, it would be the most unequal one – a scalene, where there are no equal sides or angles. But really, I think a triangle is a bad word all around because it is a closed loop; all the ends have to meet, which I think would end up looking more like a menage a trois. Person A likes B, B likes C, and C likes A. That is a triangle! I agree with you, that they are more like webs. Heck, sometimes they are just lines that meet up at a common point. LOVE ANGLES.

    I also agree that mislabeling can harm a book. I’ve heard so many people say that they hate love triangles, but every single one of those people has an exception too – “I hate love triangles, but so-and-so did it beautifully that I loved it.” Personally, I have no qualms with love triangles, AS LONG AS the individual relationships are well-written, in depth, believable relationships.But that goes for ALL relationships. I do not like when a love interest is just thrown in there to add drama/suspense to a plot, and it is too obvious when that is the case. I’m a fan of every relationship having a purpose, because every relationship we make as humans has a purpose. 🙂

    Great post!

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 10:27 am #

      ” I’m a fan of every relationship having a purpose, because every relationship we make as humans has a purpose. ” <-- THIS!!! It's just as you said, a person can hate one love triangle about adore another, so it all comes down to readers finding books where they love the relationships. And like you, I am in full support of the purposeful ones. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  12. Rowenna Feb 19 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Great points! In my (limited) view, I feel like the “love triangle” frustration has more to do with when one character has two amazing potential partners fawning over her. You’re 100% right that it’s not terribly realistic for a teenager to have one partner settled on for now and ever–but it’s also not a terribly realistic problem to have two amazing possible boyfriends and gosh oh golly who to choose? I feel like most teenagers spend a lot more time wishing somebody would show some interest than they do moaning about how tough it is to have two hotties chasing after them. Maybe that issue is more “Mary Sue” related than relationship related.

    To me, it ‘s about doing relationship struggles well. Traditional love triangles can be great to read. So can less conventional approaches. Maybe some of the burnout is also due to the weird labels YA gets stuck with sometimes–“Oh, teens like to read X!” No, the readers of YA like to read a variety of good stories, just like the readers of non-YA material. Not just one set-up–just because it did well once or twice doesn’t mean that’s because it’s the only thing a young adult audience likes to read.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 10:33 am #

      “In my (limited) view, I feel like the “love triangle” frustration has more to do with when one character has two amazing potential partners fawning over her.” <-- This is fantastic point, and one I hadn't thought about yet, so thank you for bringing it up. It is amazing how many love triangles feature loving, sweet, caring, potential bf/gf options in BOTH love interests the MC faces. Of course, if one wasn't all these things, the MC probably wouldn't be as interested in them, but still. I can see how that could be a frustrating thing to read over and over if you, as a reader, are still trying to find that one decent/nice boy/girl to crush on yourself.

      • Caitlin Vanasse Feb 19 2013 at 11:42 am #

        I have read “love triangles” in which IMHO one of the options is clearly better (because the other has serious character flaws that the MC is somehow ignorant of) and in these situations there can be a lot of frustration built up over time because how can the MC be so stupid as to not see that one of these choices is clearly a bad one!?!

      • Caitlin Vanasse Feb 19 2013 at 12:04 pm #

        I’m going to take the stance of the reader who isn’t a writer here for a moment (because I am, even if I stalk writing blogs.) The thing about love triangles is that they often involve an enormous amount of emotional investment as a reader and this can e exhausting. I’m not sure I would ever completely dismiss a book because it was labeled as having or advertised as containing a love triangle but I would absolutely change where it lies on my to-read list because if I have just read several emotionally draining love triangles the last thing I want to do is read another. As a reader, if a reviewer or friend I trust tells me they think I won’t like a book because of any element, including a love triangle, I tend to believe them. Honestly I have more books on my to-read list than I can possibly read. I in turn adjust my recommendations to friends based on factors like this. If I know a friend will root for boy A and boy A inevitably doesn’t get the girl, I take that into consideration when making the recommendation. If I know a friend might not like a particular love triangle I warn him or her that it’s there. When I review things on Goodreads I am writing fairly personal reviews that are honestly not very well written re: reviews but that I hope help my friends who know me and my taste to have a better idea of if they would like the book or not. As a reader I am at minimum investing hours of my time in your book this time could be spent studying, earning money, sleeping, it is not without value. In addition I may spend hard earned money on your book. I have a right to choose what books I do and do not read on any criteria I see fit. Even if that criteria is stupid. I once chose to read every YA book I could find in which a prominent character shared my first name (and spelling, there are a lot of spellings of Caitlin out there.) This might seem like a ridiculous criteria, in fact what it taught me is that apparently all fictional Caitlins are in or have had abusive relationships, but it was how I chose what books I was reading and that was a valid decision for me to make.

        The last thing I want to mention is in regards to the original tweeted question which I think is less about the existence of love triangles in YA and more about the questioner’s point that most people can’t find one person they want to spend their life with much less two. I think this touches on the intensity of YA relationships. Limerence is a fancy name for those first feelings of intense attraction you might have towards someone. Butterflies in your stomach and everything being imbued with lots of meaning. Limerence seems to be all over YA books, which if you think about the intense hormones of that age for most people it seems accurate. I think the issue comes in when Limerence, which lasts 6 months tops, is somehow equated to long term love and stretched out over multiple books. I think the most annoying love triangles to readers are those that are stretched out over time or (as mentioned previously by several smart commenters) puffed up in significance. Who remembers at any point in their life being caught up in some sort of love jumble with multiple people for a significant length of time (> 6 months) or through a significant course of life events? And where in the world are there multiple men who can be frequently rejected on some level and still come back that we see not as somewhat pathetic but as who we would like to date? I think this is where the issue is taken, if any of that makes sense.

        • Caitlin Vanasse Feb 19 2013 at 12:07 pm #

          ah! sorry I intended this to be a separate comment not a second reply is there a way to move it or delete it and re-post?

  13. Anna J. Boll Feb 19 2013 at 9:53 am #

    I agree with the commenter who was concerned about how much of the plot depends on the the love triangle. I’d take it a little further and say I’m concerned about the main character who is only defined by who he/she loves. I’m currently procrastinating on a blog post about how self-help books can inform our writing, specifically Byron Katie’s, “I need your love: Is it true?” I’m eager to write MC’s, especially females, who define their lives by their own personal truth not defined by the one’s they love or those who love them.

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 10:36 am #

      “I’m concerned about the main character who is only defined by who he/she loves.” <-- This is another fantastic point! I want to read about an MC that stands on his/her own two feet first, and then finds love second. If I fall in love with the MC first, I then swoon with them even harder when they find their love.

  14. Blythe Harris Feb 19 2013 at 9:57 am #

    Love this post, Erin! While I have to say that I’m not particularly a fan of love triangles, I definitely can be, for example with the Unearthly trilogy. I never really took a love triangle as being one where the MC is torn between the two interests equally – I’ve always really looked at is as one person, two love interests, MC has to choose one, but I definitely see where you’re coming from. I definitely think it’s a shame, however, when people cross off books because there’s a love triangle, or what they deem as one, when there’s so much more to the book that the love triangle doesn’t involve. And concerning the love triangles labelled incorrectly you’ve brought up:

    TTEN: Ugh. I saw some talk about “OMG there’s a love triangle in this one no more Perry and Aria ah everything sucks aihfsie” and I’m just left speechless.
    1) Not once in this book did I ever have the feeling that the new girl – who showed up for what, a few chapters? – would “steal” Perry from Aria. You don’t get two entire books of relationship development for the love interest to ditch his girlfriend after meeting a girl for a few days, and
    2) What did they do, exactly? Almost kiss? But then he *didn’t* kiss her? You’d think after he didn’t kiss her there’d be a reassurance of “oh, no love triangle.” but nope. But I have seen talk about a ‘love triangle’ between Liv and Roar and Crap-I’m-Forgetting-His-Name, which I still really don’t consider a love triangle. But that’s beside the point.

    Throne of Glass: I, admittedly, took this one as a love triangle. She seemed to take an interest romantically in by Chaol and Dorian, so I just took that as a love triangle. (Though I read ToG early in my blogging days when I haven’t had much experience with love triangles.) (Also, Team Chaol.)

    SS&D: A love triangle? In this one? Hahahahaha, no. Not really sure how people would get that idea. A suitor FORCED upon her, versus a man she CHOOSES to be with. Doesn’t seem like much of a competition.

    But I definitely agree with you on this post overall – I will have to take ‘web’ for you and pen it where ever it’s fit. And also this: “So long as the romantic tension feels natural in the context of the story–honest and real to the character’s emotional state and growth–I’m a fan.” = exactly what Taken was. Not so much of a love triangle as much as it was a web. Though I’m still rooting for Bree. 😉 Great post, Erin!

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 10:43 am #

      “I definitely think it’s a shame, however, when people cross off books because there’s a love triangle, or what they deem as one, when there’s so much more to the book that the love triangle doesn’t involve” <-- This, Blythe. This x's a million. I think it's my biggest concern and the reason I wish we could just throw the term "love triangle" right out the window. Sable is the guy whose name you couldn't place for TTEN and I completely agree that that wasn't a love triangle. He was a horrible road block for Roar and Liv. On Perry's end, I don't even think Kira was a roadblock so much as a pot-hole he sidestepped. Totally agree with you on SS&D (she was being FORCED on the suitor!) and I think ToG might be the closest fitting of the term, but for me it was always more about Celaena winning her freedom in the tournament than about winning over a man. But yeah, reader perceptions all differ, which is why this "love triangle" term is so often debated, I guess. 😉 Lastly, thank you so much for your comments regarding TAKEN's "web." And if you read through my excessively long comment, thank you again. 😉

      • Blythe Harris Feb 19 2013 at 1:20 pm #

        I love how you said that for you it was always about her winning her freedom than winning over a man. Very well put! I think another problem most people have with love triangles is how forced they feel sometimes. I’ve seen similar comments like this on this thread, but I would take absolutely no issue with love triangles if I felt both romances were genuine and bore resemblance to the progression of an actual relationship in real life. When there’s character and relationship development for both parties of the love triangle as opposed to just one, that’s when I begin to not only like the love triangle, but appreciate it. It takes a lot of skill to develop two relationships at once, so really, if done well, love triangles should really be something to praise. I understand how it’s something people are sick of by now, but when both relationships in the love triangle are well written and genuine, I really don’t see the issue. I mean, doesn’t that just mean you have to people to swoon over as opposed to one? And you’re welcome. 🙂

  15. Megan Duff Feb 19 2013 at 10:23 am #

    One of my brilliant English professors introduced us to the concept called “Sedgwickian Triangle”. It was proposed by feminist/queer theory scholar Eve Sedgwick, that in every love triangle all members are actually attracted to each other member. So in fact a female-male-male love triangle is really about the suppressed homoerotic tension between the male members.

    Needless to say every person’s immediate reaction was “so Jacob and Edward were secretly attracted to each other???” followed by “Yeah, I can see it. That would have been one very torrid affair!” 🙂

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 10:44 am #

      This is brilliant. I will never again look at a love triangle the same way!! 🙂

  16. Jaime Morrow Feb 19 2013 at 10:31 am #

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve written here, Erin. When I think back to my teen years, I know that there was often more than one guy that I was interested in at any given time (when I wasn’t already dating someone). Possibilities, really. Not that there was ever more than one guy vying for my attention that I knew of. I think people need to stop knocking on the love triangle and realize that there are some that are written very well. Cassandra Clare’s INFERNAL DEVICES series has a very convincing love triangle in my opinion. It’s when this is done poorly that people may have cause to grumble. Thanks for writing this! 🙂

    • Erin Bowman
      Erin Bowman Feb 19 2013 at 10:47 am #

      “When I think back to my teen years, I know that there was often more than one guy that I was interested in at any given time (when I wasn’t already dating someone). Possibilities, really.” <-- I was guilty of this as well! I think a lot of people were, to be honest. Teen hormones are off the charts, after all. I haven't read the INFERNAL DEVICES series, but I know they have an enormous following. I should probably pick them up when I have a moment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  17. Gretchen Feb 19 2013 at 11:07 am #

    I whole heartedly agree with the person who said if it’s the whole plot of the book than I end up really disliking the book, because so often that form of love triangle follows a predictable pattern.

    A love triangle book will introduce two love interests, but it’s typically the boy who she meets first that we’ll be cheering for and see in the happily-ever-after in the end. The second book sees the main boy breaking the poor girl’s heart and then she goes into a downward spiral because her life is over. It’s about this time that I throw the book at a wall. Enter second boy to cheer her up and try to take the place of boy one. Then the boy comes back and even if he left for stupid reasons, it’s the girl’s fault and she should feel horrible about it. The third book is two boys playing russian roulette with the girl’s emotions and in the end she chooses boy one.

    If an author presents me with a different plot other than the one mentioned above, I will jump happily aboard that train and await the end with the anticipation of a five-year0-old at Disneyland. But sadly most books I’ve come across feature this pathway and the main, most of the time, more interesting plot is left to die as we wrestle with the love triangle. Now if it’s just a subplot or has direct implications on the main plot, I’ll go along with it and be ultimately satisfied.

  18. Angelica R. Jackson Feb 19 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Love all the input on this! I recently had some feedback on my WIP that gave suggestions on how to make the love triangle in my book more believable and was a bit taken aback. I hadn’t considered it a genuine love triangle (using the definition where they both equally have a chance), mainly because it was more about how she’d built up one of the guys in her mind.

    Once she started seeing this guyfriend as boyfriend material, it became about molding him into her idea of a perfect boyfriend and not about seeing him as he really is. So, no real long-term potential there for their relationship, but absolutely some potential for both of them developing into better people for it in the end as they work it out.

    • Angelica R. Jackson Feb 19 2013 at 1:27 pm #

      Actually, thinking on this made me wonder: does Lola and the Boy Next Door qualify as a love triangle? (Slightly spoilerish questions ahead)

      She has a boyfriend, but we later find out what he’s “really” like when not filtered through her perceptions and it’s not terribly flattering. So is he really in the running very long?

  19. Yahong Feb 19 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    I agree with you up to the extent that some love triangles aren’t love triangles at all; however; when it comes to a genuine love triangle, where the MC is attracted equally to both love interests and both are attracted back, I have issues with these on several levels.

    Firstly, as another commenter said above, it just doesn’t seem realistic that both amazing, swoony love interests are at the MC’s disposal to pick and choose from as s/he will. As they said, it’s hard enough to find one person who stays interested in you long enough to be so invested.

    Secondly, I’ve always found it slightly odd that both love interests would stick around. It seems rather injurious to their dignity to wait for the MC to make the choice — especially when sometimes (not always) the MC ends up leading one on (intentionally or not) and essentially playing with their emotions.

    And so, while love triangles may develop the MC’s character and other things that are surely admirable, I just don’t find them realistic. It’s a subjective thing, of course. But I don’t think anything in writing isn’t.

    • Caitlin Vanasse Feb 19 2013 at 11:28 pm #

      This. Especially because I feel like the guilt associated with leading boys/men on that many (but not all) ladies feel is rarely shown.

  20. Christa Feb 19 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    Great post! I am not anti-love triangle/multiple love interests but recent reads have made me wary of them. Some authors have done them really well. One example that springs to mind is Adaptation by Malinda Lo. That has to be one my my favourite love triangles. My problem is when the second love interest feels contrived or forced. Sometimes a boy and a girl an interact and it doesn’t have to be romantic. But then bam! Out of nowhere they have feelings for one another. It’s distracting. But it totally depends on the book. And I also think that you’re right when you say many time it’s mis-labeling.

  21. Michelle Schusterman Feb 19 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Awesome post, Erin! You’re totally right in that “triangle” is rarely the appropriate term. I’m with Rae in that I’m pretty weary of books with a “unlikeable”/”unattractive” (but not really) female who is suddenly pursued by two attractive guys. There’s a lot of that out there, and it sort of does feel like a cheap way to create tension. But that doesn’t mean I want all my books to be “character A meets character B and falls in wub the end,” either. I like the “web” concept, because it’s much more broad of an idea and could be used to describe any of the infinite paths to “in love” a character might take.

  22. stephanie garber
    stephanie garber Feb 19 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Awesome post, Erin! I’m a fan of the love triangle, so I thought this was great!

    It’s sad because I think you’re right, there is a lot of love-triangle mislabeling. Sadly, I also think there are also a lot of love triangles that are poorly done, and because of that I think they’re given a bad reputation, which to me is almost like saying, “Oh, I’ve read a couple crappy fantasy books so all fantasy’s are crap.”

    For me what I think makes a love triangle work is not how much a character is torn between her/his two love interests, but whether or not he/she has a choice, which I think is what makes book like UNEARTHLY work so well. I feel like too many love triangle’s I’m confronted with aren’t authentic, in that even if the MC is going back and forth over who she should be with, I already know who she is going to pick, so instead of being full of tension and mystery, it just makes me dislike the girl. But then, in books like UNEARTHLY, where there is an actual choice, because there is more at stake than just who she is going to kiss at the end of the day it works, because I don’t know about you, but I always felt as if Clara had a choice, and throughout the series she made different choices, which I didn’t see as just being about the guy, but being about her. So for me what makes a love triangle work is choice.

  23. Creative A Feb 19 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Oh, man. This topic! You bring up some great points, Erin, but I still have to admit I’m in the “I hate love triangles” camp (even sometimes the mislabled ones.) There are just so many factors to this. Even when real love triangles are done well, they’re done so often. It’s easy to get sick of similar romantic plotlines in every other book. On top of that, a lot of love triangles involve insta-love, or insta-love explained away by a paranormal fate or destiny. And you get sick of insta-love, too. Someone else mentioned another common issue with love triangles–the ordinary girl trope who never cares about dating, but is really pretty, and all at once multiple hot guys start falling for her.

    When you put it all together, it can start to get overwhelming.

    I’m laughing a little here, because the thing is, it’s not so unrealistic to have feelings for multiple people at once. Or even to be torn between two guys for a while. Or for the average teen to date lots of people before finding the one. From the volume of the comments I think it’s obvious how many people felt that way. And I LOVE a good romance! But the problem I have with love triangles–personally–is when too many implausible elements are added on top, and when I see this repeated from book to book.

    But again, thanks for this post! So nice to be able to discuss this.

    -Mandy

  24. Jes Feb 19 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    Actually, I’ve always wondered why the love triangles in teen books have one girl and two guys. The way I remember high school, it was very often me and one of my friends realizing in horror that we both liked the same guy, followed by weeks/months of trying to catch his attention while not ACTUALLY stepping on the other’s toes and then trying desperately to be happy for the one who “won” so as to not ruin our friendship…
    Sure, it may be more “romantic” to have two guys courting your heroine, but why not twist it around? Isn’t it just as interesting, character-wise, for the heroine to have to deal with trying to keep up a friendship after said best friend “wins” or “loses” the love-triangle battle?
    Or am I the only one contemplating that one…? 😛

  25. Tiffany Feb 19 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    Thank you so much for addressing this! I saw these same tweets and started doubting all of my own writing. I totally agree with you! And I think people are mostly sick of beautiful boys falling all over themselves for a boring girl–not the triangles or webs in particular.

  26. Maya Prasad Feb 19 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    Great post! I think that people are sick of the really intense love triangles in the vein of Team Edward and Team Jacob. However, it’s hard to deny that a second romantic interest can be a source of great drama, and is totally realistic! The trick is to somehow make it all seem fresh and different. If you can do that, I think readers will still eat it up.

  27. cait Feb 19 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    I definitely haven’t read a lot of love-triangles. And really?! LEGEND is considered a love-triangle? Hm. But if love-triangles are written well, then I don’t have a problem with them. I think there’s too much of the ONE girl and a flock of boys though. Maybe it’s because a lot of YA books these days are written by female protagonists?

  28. Krispy Feb 19 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    What a great topic! I’m actually okay with love triangles in general because I agree with what you said about love being complicated, especially when teenage hormones are involved. I also agree with the point you made about how usually the love interests represent choices the hero/heroine is trying to make about themselves overall (not just in romance). I mentioned that in a blog post I made with my co-blogger about Love Triangles (Love Triangle Dudes) – that I think they’re a useful character and plot-building tool when it is presented as more than just a romantic plot point. The best love interests are their own people outside of the MC and act as foils to our MC – helping and hindering – so that we can see just what our MC is made of, who they want to be.

    I think the bad rep Love Triangles get is both from mis-labeling, simplification of relationships thanks to marketing (Team Bob vs Team Fred), and underdeveloped versions of the love triangle. I agree with almost all of your book picks for “mis-labeled as containing love triangles”, except for Throne of Glass. Like you said, for a triangle to be a triangle, I think the feelings have to be mutual and of a similar intensity from both Interest and MC and that is not so in the books you listed. I make an exception of ToG because while I feel Celaena is not in love with either man, I think she likes them equally for different reasons and is on her way to falling in love with one or both of them (and they for her). So I guess, potential love triangle for ToG.

    The simplification thing is sort of self-explanatory so I’ll skip to underdeveloped love triangles. Like you said, love triangles are hard to do well because there has to be a level of connection and depth to both sides of the triangle. And I think people are just tired of seeing triangles where it seems like the Love Interests are very one note. Their main purpose seems to be Romantic Interest and they don’t seem like they exist as independent entities outside the MC’s desire/interest in them. The choice they present the MC doesn’t seem to go further than Love 1 = choosing the unfamiliar and Love 2 = choosing the familiar. As we’ve said, a good love triangle is about the MC choosing who they want to be and the kind of life they want to live. OR we get a situation where it seems one Love Interest is favored over the other Love Interest by the narrative, which doesn’t make for a very exciting or interesting triangle because then it seems obvious who the MC will choose, which then makes the love triangle seem gimmicky.

    Lastly, I think where the love triangle gets labeled “unrealistic” is in the timing and level of devotion exhibited by all parties. I know part of this is that hormones and/or dangerous situations can cause intense levels of emotion and attachment, so that’s realistic. And it is indeed realistic to be interested in, crushing on, or lusting after multiple people, but I think it’s harder to buy into being in INTENSE love with multiple people at once – love so intense, you’d put your life in danger for either person or sacrifice your friends & family to be with said persons. It’s like what one of those tweets expressed – most people can’t find ONE person to spend their life with, but in a number of YA, the MC seems to have 2 potential life partners. It’s the level of commitment and intensity of interest towards +1 Love Interests that I think has people rolling their eyes. And then there’s the timing – the MC goes about their lives with normal to 0 romantic relationships and then all at once, s/he gets 2 life-consuming romantic relationships. I know part of this has to do with stories having to be about conflict-filled parts of characters’ lives, but I’m sure this timing doesn’t help the case of love triangles much.

    Anyway, love the topic and the discussion!

  29. Meredith Anderson Feb 19 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    I think I’m on the fence with love triangles. I like them when they’re done well but I’m always a fan of there being one interest with a lot of conflict getting in the way of the couple getting together. Like Anna and Etienne in Anna and the French Kiss. Or Finnikin of the Rock. That love story gets me EVERY TIME I even think about it. One series I think has experiences in love down really well is Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I don’t want to give anything away, but I think even with the fantasy setting, Elisa’s love life is really closely representative of what most people go through trying to find the person they could spend forever with.

    In other words, I’m a fan of both! GREAT post!

    Mer
    <3

  30. JQ Trotter Feb 19 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    “A triangle, at least by my personal definition, is one in which the main character is equally torn between two love interests” — I’m agreement here. A classic example that I think most people will agree on is TWILIGHT. Bella is torn between Edward and Jacob. I’m not sick of them, per se, I just think that they’re being trashed on by teens because they were so overused after TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES (Peeta / Gale).

    Now, what you said about webs is true. I think that they’re interesting and I like that. You rarely find the right one right away. The only example you mentioned, of being mislabeled as love tringle, that I’ve actually read is SOMETHING STRANGE & DEADLY. I didn’t think “love triangle” once when I was reading the story. It was clear that Elanor wasn’t crushing on “Junior”, that her mom was pushing her toward him, while her heart was taking her somewhere she didn’t expect.

    I’m open to anything, though. If I gave up on a book just because it had an over used trope or anything like that then I could easily miss out on a great book.

  31. Carradee Feb 19 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    I agree with you on the definition of love triangles. I also tend to dislike them, because so often, it feels as if it’s a love triangle for the sake of a love triangle, rather than because that’s what fits the characters and situations. I’m also rather tired of the “bad boy-girl-good boy” triangles, particularly because the good boy always loses. (And the bad boy is usually an abusive #@$@#$. And then I also often am not sure why both guys like the MC that way.)

    So it’s less a dislike of love triangles and more a dislike of poorly built relationships.

    But if you build that relationship or triangle well, I will very much like it. 🙂

  32. Caitlyn Feb 20 2013 at 2:02 am #

    I think love triangles, like every other plot device, is great when it’s done well. Clockwork Angel and Unearthly, like you said, both have great examples of a well done love triangle (which reminds me: I need to read Boundless soon). And if there was a love triangle in Something Strange and Deadly, I must have completely missed it.

  33. Hannnah Feb 20 2013 at 8:36 am #

    YES! I have read so many books with a very shaky ‘love triangles’ where it’s so obvious who she’s going to end up with, you wonder what the other guy was there for anyway. 😛

  34. Brandi Feb 20 2013 at 9:15 am #

    I have to admit…I am a sucker for love triangles. I hate that they seem to be getting a bad name lately. It may be silly but seeing/hearing that the main character doesn’t find The One automatically and has more than one love interest will guarantee that I will at least pick up that book and see what it is about. Thank you for writing a post in defense of the love triangle/quadrangle/circle/web!

  35. Annie Feb 20 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    One of the most interesting love triangles I’ve read recently is in Atlas Shrugged (and I’m sooo not finished yet). But the thing that makes it different is that both men bring out the *same* side of her character. Which creates a whole different tension because she’s not, essentially, choosing between different sides of herself; she’s going to have to decide… I don’t know. Between her past and her present between men who strengthen the same characteristics in her. I’m only half way through, though.

  36. Alexa Y. Feb 26 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    You make a very valid point by saying that love (in real life) is complicated, and that’s something I’ve agreed with. Though sometimes I get frustrated with so-called “love triangles”, I also do recognize when romantic entanglements between more than two people can actually make sense. While I’m not saying that I love love triangles/webs/whatever shape you’d like to insert here, I am saying that sometimes, when done right, we get the sense that the character is simply torn because of her feelings, or encountering the feelings of infatuation/lust/attraction and not necessarily love.

    GAH, I may have just been confusing with that last statement. No matter! All that matters is that I think you presented a very strong and valid opinion, and you definitely made me re-evaluate.

  37. Laura Lee Nutt Mar 26 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Erin, this is a fantastic post. I love the honesty in acknowledging multiple interests, if not true love interests. Your image of the web is perfect. I do enjoy line romances, so to speak, but the web or triangle is far more interesting in some ways. It keeps me guessing until the end, and I like to be surprised and cheer for one or the other. My favorite love triangle of all time is Christine, Eric, and Raoul from The Phantom of the Opera. I cheered for the phantom the whole way in the musical and Raoul in the book. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  38. Ruby Duvall Mar 31 2013 at 12:55 am #

    The best description I’ve heard so far of a believable love triangle is one in which one potential love interest appeals to the hero’s false self who s/he presents to the world and the other love interest appeals to our hero’s real self who s/he cannot accept at the start of the story. Once the hero’s internal conflict is solved and s/he is able to accept that being true to their real self is what will save them, the choice of love interest is made clear.

    But that’s likely just one way of doing it. 😛

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