Love Triangles — Traps or Treasures?

Holly W - Love Triangle TrapsLove triangles have become a standard of YA romances. As author Beth Revis says in her Writing Teen Novels post (more on that post here):

“The first thing I did was study the market. I was well read in the genre. I knew what sold. I needed a love triangle.”

They are so pervasive that they are almost expected in the genre.

Personally, I think it comes down to the “more is better” idea. Why settle for one impossibly perfect guy when you can have two? And there’s something to that. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a well done love triangle! It’s a built in recipe for tension, and the arguments over which ‘ship is the best can really energize a fan base.

But love triangles can also be a trap for unwary writers. Here are some reasons why I recommend caution when thinking about adding a love triangle into the mix.

  1.  Romance is hard—Getting a reader to believe in and be invested in a relationship can be incredibly difficult. Getting a reader to believe in TWO relationships is at least FOUR times as hard, because…
  2.  You have to do twice the work—Now you have to create not one, but two fascinating love interests who are both perfect for the main character in completely different ways. And you have to accomplish this…
  3.  In half the time—There’s only so much room in any given book (otherwise the printed versions get too heavy to carry around). And, building a believable relationship requires your main character to have multiple scenes with their love interest and hopefully spend some time thinking about them when they are apart. With two love interests, your characters will be spending less time on the page, so every scene has to shine…
  4.  And the balance has to be exactly right.—Even if the reader has already made their choice and is firmly shipping one side or the other, they need to understand why the heroine (or the hero, although that’s rarer) is legitimately torn between her two love interests. If you spend all your time with one character, and it’s incredibly obvious that this is her soul mate, then the heroine can start to seem dense for not seeing what’s right in front of her. But if she bounces back and forth too quickly, she can come off as flighty or fickle. It’s tricky, but you have to get it just right or your reader will stop identifying with the heroine and start wanting to smack her upside the head.

So, Writers, next time you think about just “tossing in” a love triangle, take a second to make sure that it’s REALLY necessary to the story and worth all the extra trouble. If so, great, go for it. But, if the answer is no, why not try something new and unexpected—write a YA romance without a love triangle?

And Readers, what do you think? Does the promise of a love triangle still make your heart beat faster or have you been burnt too many times? Share your thoughts in the comments!

— By Holly West

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