I’ve spent most of this week complaining about how much I despise love triangles and why they’re the worst invention since the concept of sparkling vampires. I’ve explained why they suck and singled out one that sucks the most. Well, now I’m done complaining.
My parents raised me to understand that complaints that aren’t followed up with solutions is nothing more than glorified bitching and moaning. I will not permit bitching and moaning on this blog. Instead, I’m going talk about solutions instead of problems. It’s a step 95 percent of complaints on the internet never bother to make. I’m taking that step here.
As much as I hate love triangles, I know they’re not going away. So long as people keep telling love stories, with or without vampires, love triangles are going to manifest in some form or another. Enews even did an article a while back ranking the “hottest” love triangles on TV. I contest their characterization of these love triangles, but I don’t deny their appeal.
It’s inevitable that plenty of these love triangles will be god-awful for the same reasons I described in previous posts. With that in mind, let me just say that this post isn’t about those. I’m directing this post to those yet-to-be-told stories that have some sliver of hope of being decent.
So how do we go about it? How do we utilize love triangles in a way that doesn’t destroy the story? It requires a little more work and effort on the part of the writer. Those who make porn parodies and fan fiction may not be inclined to do that extra work, but it’s definitely worth doing. There are enough bad love triangles as it stands. Do we really need another reminder?
The primary problem with love triangles, as a concept, is that it narrows the characters. It reduces them to serving singular, shallow roles that limits their development. If a character’s sole purpose is to serve as a source of tension for a particular romance, then that character has as much depth and appeal as a speed-bump. Since we want to inspire love and not road rage, it’s important to have a focused approach.
With this in mind, here are Jack Fisher’s four key tips for making a good love triangle.
1. Make sure the emotions between all parties involved are balanced.
Let’s face it. Lopsided victories are boring. Would a Rocky movie be entertaining if Rocky Balboa got his ass kicked in every fight? Even if you’re going to have a Biff Tanner somewhere in this story, make sure there’s some meaningful depth to the emotions involved here.
This applies to romances involving two men and one woman, two women and one man, or multiple men and multiple women of various sexual orientations. It’s vital, regardless of which body parts are involved. The emotions with everyone involved should be sincere. The people in the love triangle can’t just be attracted to one another. They have to have real, genuine passion for one another. If it’s not genuine, then it’s just creepy and misguided. Look at Wolverine in the X-men movies for proof of how bad this can get.
2. As a plot, a love triangle must be a secondary plot at most.
This isn’t as easy as it seems. I’ve noticed this in reading other romance stories and trying to craft my own. Whenever a love triangle enters the picture, it often comes to dominate the underlying plot of the story, so much so that it derails whatever major plot came before it.
I’ve seen this happen in fan fiction, comic books, animes, and erotic thrillers. The tension within a love triangle tends to consume the story, becoming one big distraction that keeps the audience from getting too engaged. That’s why a love triangle must always be, except in the rarest of cases, be a secondary plot.
This is challenging, but it is possible. Books like The Hunger Games and TV shows like True Blood (at least the first few seasons) are able to do this in a meaningful way. If done right, it can make stars out of Jennifer Lawrence and Anna Paquin superstars.
3. Don’t force the emotions. Let them manifest naturally.
This is actually easier than it sounds, but it can be tedious. I know this because I found myself taking a lot of extra steps when writing my book, Holiday Heat. That entire story is structured around a pseudo-love triangle of sorts, but no vampires are involved and there’s nobody resembling Biff Tanner. As such, I needed to add a few extra steps to develop the characters so that their emotions made sense.
This is critical because if a romance feels forced, then you’ll make the same mistake that Chris Claremont and the X-men movies made with Wolverine, essentially forcing emotions into a character for all the wrong reasons. If any character is going to have any genuine passion for another, it can’t just be for the hell of it.
4. The end result of a love triangle must be satisfying to all sides
This may sound hypocritical coming from an erotica writer, but try to make sure nobody gets screwed over too badly. This is what happened to X-men. This is what happened to Twilight. This is what happens with almost every bad love triangle. One character gets horribly screwed over and unless that character is a Biff Tanner type, it’s not going to be satisfying to the audience.
Most human beings who don’t have personality disorders tend to have an innate sense of justice. When we see injustice play out in the fictional world, it tends to upset us, just as it does when it occurs in the real world. So if there’s a character in a love triangle who doesn’t win the heart of his or her lover and gets unceremoniously cast off, then that’s not going to be satisfying. That’s going to be the literary equivalent of a dick move.
Again, this requires a bit of extra work. It means crafting a more complex plot wherein all parties involved achieve some kind of satisfying resolution to the emotional upheavals. It doesn’t always have to mean finding another love or forcing some other character to fill the void. Sometimes, it requires some extra layers to a plot, but it’s worth the effort if we, the audience, feel that everyone ends up satisfied on some level. It’s kind of sexy when you think about it.
So there you have it. Those our my four tips for making love triangles that don’t suck. I hope to employ them to some degree as I write more romance and erotica. I hope others can make use of them as well. This world has enough terrible love triangles. Let’s not create more. After Twilight, I think our civilization has had enough.