Tag Archives: love triangle

Five Overused Romantic Sub-Plots (And How To Fix Them)

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Being a self-professed romance fan, I know more about the intricacies of romantic sub-plots than most men would ever dare admit. I’ve consumed an absurd amount of romantic media over the years and I’ve noticed more than a few common themes, some more endearing than others.

However, by consuming so much romantic content, I’ve also seen certain themes get overused and badly mishandled. I could list countless instances promising romantic sub-plots collapsing because it fell into a narrative trap. Sometimes, it’s because of poor writing. Sometimes, it’s because the story has too many constraints. I’ve even cited a few famous cases that exhibit both.

Whatever the case, it’s not hard to screw up a romantic sub-plot. I’ve done that more than a few times with the stories I’ve written. Lately, though, there are certain types of sub-plots that have lost their luster. They’ve either been done too many times or haven’t innovated in way too long.

Overused or not, I believe there are elements of these sub-plots that are worth saving. They just need some refinement and polish. What follows is a list of five overdone romantic sub-plots, why they’ve become so bland, and how to fix them. I’ve covered some of these elements before. This is just the romance lover in me offering some tips for future romance stories.


Romantic Sub-Plot #1: Best Friends Turned Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

I think you can thank sitcoms like “Friends” and movies like “Clueless” for this sub-plot to fall out of favor. Personally, I blame Ross and Rachel for giving this theme a bad name. They took the whole friends-falling-in-love plot way too far. Towards the end, it was more annoying than compelling.

These days, this sub-plot isn’t as common as it used to be. I think a lot of romance fans were burned out on it in the 1990s and early 2000s. There’s only so many times a character can say in so many words “I didn’t realize that what I was looking for was right here in front of me” and sound genuine.

How To Fix It

Simply put, this sub-plot needs to shake up the setting. Too many times, a story about friends becoming lovers is built around one friend having had feelings for the other over many years. That can be sweet when done right, but it’s way too easy to be done wrong. These days, it almost comes off as a long con or stalking.

To fix it, the emphasis needs to shift towards two characters undergoing major upheavals. Perhaps they go through a tragedy or trauma that changes the way they feel about other people. It can’t just be restricted to their friend/lover, either. This upheaval should affect their entire world and from there, they come together in a new way.

It has the potential to show two characters go through major growth as individuals, which eventually turns into growth as a couple. That kind of growth can work wonders for any romance and could offer something more meaningful than old friends hiding their feelings.


Romantic Sub-Plot #2: Love Triangles

Why It’s Overdone

I’ve already made my hatred of love triangles very clear. I’ve gone so far as to cite one from the X-men as the worst of all time. Beyond the comics, though, it’s not hard to see cases of this sub-plot done horribly wrong. Even contemporary romance like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” have made this troubled trope more insufferable.

Simply put, love triangles reduce everyone involved to prizes or plot devices. It’s next to impossible to make every character in a love triangle feel like a real character. It turns romantic development into a competition and in the long run, nobody wins and certain characters lose badly.

How To Fix It

I’m tempted to say that love triangles should be abandoned and killed with a 12-gauge shotgun, but I’m not a fan of throwing away romantic themes, no matter how much I despise them. For this particular theme, I think it needs more than just a fix. It needs a complete overhaul.

By that, it can’t just involve two people competing for someone else’s affection. That gets old fast. If there is going to be a love triangle, then it should actually take the time to show why someone is torn in the first place. It needs to be clear that someone genuinely loves more than one person and there’s a reason for that love.

This is also a sub-plot that may benefit from shifting taboos. Non-monogamy is becoming more mainstream and there aren’t many real romance stories about that idea that aren’t bad pornos. A love triangle has to stop being an either/or plot and become a why/how plot. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure everyone involved gets some sort of emotional resolution that doesn’t involve someone getting screwed over.


Romantic Sub-Plot #3: Destined Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

If you’ve gone through any high school English class or are just familiar with certain literary traditions, you’ve probably seen this in all kinds of media. “Romeo and Juliet” is probably the most famous, but it still shows up frequently throughout romantic media. It’s prevalent in movies like “Titanic” and comics like “Superman.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have a soft spot for star-crossed lovers who are destined to fall in love, but it’s a very bland sub-plot. There’s no real sense of conflict. You know two characters are going to end up together and where’s the intrigue there?

How To Fix It

For this sub-plot, I think a simple shift in context would help. Most romance featuring destined lovers emphasis how they come together, despite the obstacles in front of them. I think it might be more compelling to explore why these characters are star-crossed to begin with. Is it just destiny or are there other forces at work?

There are a lot of factors that go into romance, even those of the non-destined variety. Why not explore the concept of destiny, as it relates to love? Why not dig a little deeper into the intricacies of how it unites people so completely? That wouldn’t just offer a meta-perspective of love, as a plot device. It would give us all an opportunity to reconsider what it means to be in love.


Romantic Sub-Plot #4: Love At First Sight

Why It’s Overdone

This sub-plot is very similar to the destined lovers trope. It’s often a pre-cursor to two people finding out they’re destined to be together. For many of the same reasons, it’s pretty bland and basic. One character sees another, some sappy music starts playing, and the love story is effectively laid out.

We see it happen very overtly in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titanic.” We see it manifest in some form in most romantic comedies. A character just sees someone they find attractive and that becomes the catalyst for their love. It’s sweet, but not very deep and it has just become too predictable at this point. When two people fall in love at first sight, what other story is there to tell?

How To Fix It

This one can’t be fixed with the same methods as the destined lovers sub-plot. This is one of those plots that doesn’t have to be radically altered, but definitely needs fresh nuance. Finding that nuance means injecting more than just love into the mix when two characters first meet.

The first encounter between two characters is always pivotal. It helps set the tone for their relationship, romantic and otherwise. To make this sub-plot work in new ways, characters need to intrigue each other in new ways. It can’t be enough that they’re attractive. There has to be something else about them.

Maybe the character has a skill that someone has never seen before. Maybe the character causes someone to re-think a past assumption. Maybe it sends them on a new journey that their love interest can join. There are many opportunities here. There doesn’t have to just be one.


Romantic Sub-Plot #5: Sex Complicating Love

Why It’s Overdone

This one is probably the most overtly sexual romantic sub-plot that also happens to be the most predictable. Ironically, it’s “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” that summed it up best. Things go from “Don’t worry, it won’t get weird” to “It got weird, didn’t it?” That’s every sex-complicating-love story in a nutshell.

This one also has the burden of being weighed down by long-standing sexual taboos. While it may seem like those taboos have faded in the 21st century, it’s still the slutty women and stud men who die first in slasher movies. Sex, even in a romance story, still comes off as something dirty that somehow undermines a romance.

Even though sexual attitudes have evolved a great deal, the idea that sex complicates/ruins a relationship hasn’t moved very far. It’s why sex tends to be an afterthought in modern romances. Sometimes, it’s ignored or assumed and that’s just a waste of quality sexual chemistry.

How To Fix It

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’ve been working on that for years. While I can’t claim to have a definitive answer, I have surmised a few ideas turn sex from a complication to a catalyst. It doesn’t have to be overly titillating or pornographic, although that can work. It just has to supplement the romance rather than subvert it.

Sex in romance is often treated like an endgame. It’s marks the culmination rather than the progression of a relationship. I believe that’s a missed opportunity. In any romance, sex should function as a progression, of sorts. It takes the relationship to a new stage, one where new opportunities for emotional and personal growth emerge.

When two characters have sex, it can be more than just a chance to depict genitals and female breasts. It can be an exercise of intimacy where two characters strengthen their bond, rather than sully it. That gives greater meaning to the sexiness and nothing makes romance hotter than genuinely meaningful sex.

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, media issues, polyamory, romance, sex in media, sexuality

A (Potential) Solution To The Worst Love Triangle Of All Time

There are some romantic sub-plots that cannot and will not work, no matter how well they’re written. You could resurrect Shakespeare, Tolken, and Faulkner, merge their brains, and still never salvage those plots. More often than not, most of those un-salvageable sub-plots involve love triangles and I’ve made it abundantly clear how much I despise love triangles.

In a sense, love triangles are a symptom of a much larger problem with romance. They’re basically a reverse cheat code in that they’re supposed to be an easy way to inject drama into a romance, but only ends up making things harder in the long run. While it’s not impossible for a love triangle to work, as fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” might argue, it’s exceedingly rare.

That brings me back to what I’ve identified as the worst love triangle of all time, namely the one involving Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine of the X-men. I could talk for days as to why it’s so awful. However, I don’t want to re-hash those old arguments. I want this article to be more productive in that it offers solutions instead of whining.

In general, this is an aspect of comics I don’t enjoy talking about and avoid at every turn. I probably would’ve kept avoiding it and talked more about my sexy college experiences, but a few recent announcements by Marvel Comics has me and many X-men fans contemplating this god-awful love tingle once again.

It started a couple weeks ago when Marvel announced that Jean Grey, the one that isn’t a time traveler, is returning from the dead after 14 years. Needless to say, this sparked a firestorm of cheers and squees from X-men fans who have been longing for her return for years. I’m not going to lie. I did my share of squeeing.

Then, less than a week later, Marvel dropped another bomb in the pages of Marvel Legacy #1, their latest blockbuster event comic meant to bump sales and soak the panties of collectors. Wolverine, who has been dead since 2014 and was subsequently replaced by multiple characters, is alive again.

That surprised nobody so there wasn’t as much squeeing. Wolverine has survived a nuclear explosion, getting his flesh blown off, and being run over by a steamroller. It was only ever a matter of when and not if he would return. However, him returning at the same time as Jean Grey is one of those coincidences that no self-respecting X-men fan believes to be a coincidence.

If there was any silver lining to Jean Grey being dead for so long, it was that it kept anyone from dragging that god-awful love triangle back into the forefront. With Jean dead, Wolverine could move on and pursue other relationships, like he did with Storm. Cyclops pursued a brief, but passionate relationship with Emma Frost. Both characters seemed to move on from that horrible affront to romance.

Now, with Jean Grey and Wolverine back in the picture and a time-traveling Cyclops still running around, these three are finally in the same universe again. That means there will be the temptation to revisit this malignant tumor of a love triangle. As someone who loves all three of those characters dearly, I am not looking forward to that.

It’s too early to say how the story will play out. Marvel hasn’t revealed anything about how Wolverine came back from the dead. There also isn’t much information on the particulars of Jean Grey’s resurrection. We only know the outcome in that they’re both alive again and that’s usually all anyone needs to re-visit that infuriating love triangle.

Given the circumstances of how it played out, which I’ve noted before, it’s hard to twist this love triangle in a way where anyone comes out looking good. No matter what happens, someone gets screwed over.

If Jean Grey chooses to be with Cyclops, then it screws Wolverine over by reducing him to an obsessive, whiny stalker instead of the ultimate loner.

If Jean Grey chooses to be with Wolverine, then it screws Cyclops over by reducing him to nothing more than an obstacle for Wolverine.

In both cases, Jean Grey comes off as either a prize to be won or a heartless bitch who plays with the heart of any man who dares to fall in love with her. In the end, nobody wins in a love triangle, especially one that was so horribly contrived to begin with.

All that said, I don’t deny that the love triangle is hard to ignore. While it’s not an integral part for each character, it is one of those unresolved issues that has never truly been laid to rest. It’s like a dangling plot hole that can never be totally ignored.

Even so, the love triangle is so toxic to all three characters involved. It only ever brings out the worst in them at every turn. So if it’s only a matter of time before the love triangle re-surfaces again in the X-men comics, then what’s the ultimate endgame? Is there a solution to this omega-level migraine of a plot?

I’m not a writer at Marvel, nor do I have a sliver of influence with them. However, I am a passionate X-men fan, as well as an unapologetic romantic who writes sexy love stories. Given that passion and experience, I have a solution that I doubt Marvel will ever take seriously, but one that essentially fixes the worst love triangle in the history of romance. The solution is as simple as it is sexy.

Make Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine the first polyamorous relationship in comics.

I’ll give comic fans a moment to stop rolling their eyes and/or laughing. I’ll give the ardent proponents of the Cyclops/Jean and Wolverine/Jean relationship a moment to stop shaking their heads as well. This may be the only time both sets of fans are on the same page. I assure you, though, it’s no joke. I’m as serious as an attack by Thanos.

Just think about it from a purely pragmatic point of view. Jean Grey’s love for Cyclops is beyond dispute, being the oldest and most serious relationship in the history of X-men. Her attraction to Wolverine is also beyond dispute, which has made for more than a few sexy moments in the history of X-men.

On top of that, both Cyclops and Wolverine have a history of wanting to hook up with more than one woman. I’ve gone over the long list of romance/hook-ups that Wolverine has gone through. This is a guy who hooked up with Squirrel Girl, for crying out loud. That should be proof that this man cannot handle monogamy.

Cyclops, despite his reputation as a boy scout, also has a history with wanting to hook up with other women. Granted, he’s not even in the same time zone as Wolverine, but the sentiment is there. Unlike other heroes, such as Superman or Mr. Fantastic, he can’t seem to shake it off.

That makes him, Wolverine, and Jean ideal candidates for a polyamorous relationship. They exist in the real world. There is even some evidence that polyamory can be beneficial to certain couples because they require a great deal of communication and understanding, two key requirements to any successful relationship.

Given that Jean Grey is a powerful psychic and Cyclops has a history of attracting psychics, they’re better equipped than any other couple in the real world or the fictional world the create a functioning polyamorous relationship. When real psychics are involved, the obstacles associated with communication become an instant strength.

It works great for Wolverine too because it means he can still be Wolverine. He can still strike out on his own every now and then, stab some monsters, and hook up with a few crazy women. He wouldn’t be tied down by Jean Grey and unable to be what makes him awesome. He can still live, love, and fight like Wolverine.

It may very well be the only way that the nauseatingly overplayed melodrama that is the Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle gets resolved. With a polyamorous relationship, all three characters get to share in the emotional fulfillment. They all get to feel loved and nobody gets left out in the cold. It may even bring them all closer together.

That might be impossible for some to imagine with Cyclops and Wolverine, two characters who have been at odds since the moment they met. However, they have shown throughout their history that they can get along. They can work together and bond over a shared goal, especially when that goal involves Jean Grey.

On paper, a polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine would solve so many problems. Everyone involved could have their cake and eat it too. That might be the primary reason why Marvel would never do it, though. It makes too much sense.

I don’t think that a polyamorous relationship would be too taboo for Marvel. In recent years, Marvel has shown a willingness to explore non-traditional relationships. Back in 2012, they celebrated their first same-sex wedding in the pages of Astonishing X-men. They have a fairly lengthy list of LGBT characters as well. Even Daken, Wolverine’s son, has a history of eccentric sexual preferences.

The timing would even be right because polyamorous relationships are on the rise and monogamy is on the decline, especially among young people. While there will always be a place for strong, monogamous couples in comics, why not mix things up a relationship that everyone at Marvel seems eager to strain?

A polygamous relationship isn’t necessarily taboo these days, but it’s something nobody has really tried. It seems like the only way comics, TV, or movies can ever inject drama into a romance is to throw in a love triangle. On behalf of all hopeless romantics, I’d like to go on record as saying that tactic is old, not to mention detrimental.

Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine are in a perfect position to try something different, creating a new kind of romance that we haven’t seen in comics, TV, or anything that didn’t used to air late night on Cinemax. It would be challenging, but that’s exactly what would make it so appealing.

That may also be why Marvel would never try it. It’s so different and there’s no successful formula to follow. Sure, William Marston, the kink-loving creator of Wonder Woman, did it to great effect, but it would require all sorts of dynamics that take a great deal of effort. That effort might just be more than Marvel, or any comic company, is willing to put in at the moment.

Maybe a time will come when polyamorous relationships find their way into comics, just like same-sex relationships. It may not happen with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine, but they are the ones that stand to benefit the most from it. Compared to another exceedingly toxic triangle, it would be a welcome change to the world of superhero romance.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men