When Teams Attack–the Dreaded Love Triangle

Whether you love ’em, hate ’em, or are somewhere in between, love triangles are ever present in literature. While it drives me crazy that the first triangle people tend to think of involves werewolves and sparkly vampires, there are so, so many love triangles, especially in YA stories.

Writing about love in general can be tricky–readers have to believe in it, want it for their hero(ine), and fall in love with the characters themselves. Writing about love triangles is even trickier-now you have to convince readers to fall for not one, but two guys, as well as still root for the protagonist no matter what she does or who she picks (and obviously, we’re going to pretend all protagonists are chicks, because let’s face it, most love triangles are two dudes and a girl. No pizza place, unfortunately, that’s been done).

I have my reservations about triangles. When done well, I enjoy them–I like wondering who the protagonist will pick (and why), getting caught up in the story, and daydreaming of my own 3-way situations. Er, waitasecond…

When done poorly, however, love triangles drive me up the wall. It becomes a terrible game of how many times I can yell at the protagonist for picking one boy over the other or want to physically shake her for waffling every twelve seconds about what to do (seriously, who picks the stalker over the sweetheart?).

When I see a love triangle–and let’s assume it’s a girl with two guys–I want to love the two boys for different reasons. I want polar opposites, two guys that couldn’t be more different and bring several things to the table. For example, in Gifted, my two boys are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Keegan is friendly, nonconfrontational, and a total sweetheart. He is kind, considerate, an All-American good guy. Gabriel, on the other hand, is your mysterious bad boy who loves to irritate Lucy (yet snap her out of her naivete), and is supremely interested in his own well-being. He’s also confident to the point of arrogance, whereas Keegan is very modest. You never really know if Gabriel will help you or throw you under the bus and while scary, that’s also a little exciting.

Keegan is dark haired, green eyed, a Boston boy who lived in a standard household with brothers and dad. He thinks his gift is the coolest thing ever and has fun with it. Gabriel, a Southern boy, is blonde, blue eyed, has a not-so-great history, and has often considered how to get rid of his gift. They are, in almost every aspect, opposites. Their one thing in common? Lucy, the main character.

If the story is not about the love triangle (ie it’s there for an added bonus as opposed to the main storyline), then writers have to balance carefully.For example, Katniss from the Hunger Games–despite the Peeta/Katniss/Gale situation, readers are still concerned about the fate of Katniss and her revolution, to watch this dystopia turn on itself as she leads the way into a new future. The love triangle, while pleasant to read, is not the center of the story and I’ve always really appreciated that since there are more important things at stake than a makeout session.

That’s a main reason why I made Lucy the way she is in regards to her love triangle. Despite the cute boys she’s hangin’ with, girl’s got priorities, which includes clearing her name of murder, getting over stage fright, and fitting in with her new circus family. That does NOT mean, however, that boys can be forever ignored. She will have to face both of them eventually and they’re going to want answers.

I have some good examples thanks to reviewers of how they feel on my love triangle–it also gives good insight into what they look for in other books.

Lauren? She effin’ hates the love triangle teams:

Lauren at The Housework Can Wait: “There is a very pronounced love triangle in this book, and it’s not like a lot of books where there’s an obvious frontrunner for Lucy’s affections. She flip-flops between them a good amount, and so did I. Truthfully, I’m still not sure whether I’m Team Gabriel or Team Keegan. *gag* I can’t believe I just said that. Never mind. I’m not Team-anyone. I hate Teams. My point is that it’s really not obvious who she should/will choose (in large part because of the previously mentioned obliviousness). Honestly, I think that’s a more realistic way to portray a love triangle than a lot of books that have the poor, ignored, frustrated guy patiently waiting in the wings as the female protagonist displays zero interest in him while fawning over his rival.”

Whereas Deana and Amanda like a love triangle and it will probably help them return to a second title to see who Lucy picks:

Deana: “A love triangle forms between Lucy and 2 members of the circus “family” and Liz Long leaves this unresolved, which drives me crazy (but that is more about me being impatient than it is about the story or writing).”

Amanda Marie at BookLove101: “The bits of romance and hints of a possible love triangle definitely kept me turning pages! This book reader likes to pick sides and Gifted totally didn’t make that easy! I’m still not sure what side I’m on!”

It’s funny, because I never truly expected sides to be taken. Okay, that might be a slight altercation of the truth–I wanted girls to pick their favorite boy and have a side–but I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen. But as it turns out, there are girls who love the sweet, good guy and others swoon for the bad boy with the sharp tongue. A couple reviews have noted the love triangle and that they’re tired of them, but luckily they still want to read the drama. And in Gifted‘s case, the drama’s only gonna escalate from here for Lucy and friends.

Are you sick of the love triangles? Or do you like seeing the tough choices a girl’s gotta make?

Love Is (Not) All You Need…When It Comes to Characters

I love Love. Really, I do! I’m a happily married kid who secretly loves romantic comedies despite a predictably sappy ending. But when it comes to writing stories (and this might be a major moment), I disagree with the Beatles. Love is not all you need. Love at first sight? I have a hard time not rolling my eyes. The girls who sit at home by the phone (I’m dating myself–the girls who wait for their text messages or smartphones to light up?), I want to sit down and have a heart to heart with them. And damsels in distress? You can’t hear my sound effects, but my reaction is a little like this: Gross.

It’s my opinion that characters should progress in a natural way when writing. When writers introduce characters, we usually know how they’ll interact with each other. We know all about the love interest (regardless of how big a role they play) and expect a certain amount of emotions to come into play. It’s up to us to show the relationship develop, to make the reader believe, no matter what the storyline, that this protagonist and love interest want/need/should be together. We want readers to fall in love with our characters, with their history and future, to take concern when problems arise, and to cheer when a protagonist succeeds. When it comes to writing love, however, we have to make the reader absolutely cheer for them.

I knew my protagonist would have love interests. It helps create interest, round out other characters with their reactions, and hopefully make you like the story that much more. My thing was that I really didn’t want it to be the focus of the story; I wanted people to cheer for Lucy and whatever love interest she had, but more importantly, I wanted readers to cheer for LUCY. I want people to see her as strong and independent. She’s okay being by herself because it’s been that way the last half of her life. She stands up for herself, tries to protect others, and has no patience for knights in shining armor. That was my own personal rule: Lucy can find love, but it won’t become her everything. It would enrich her life (or drive her nuts), but it wouldn’t define her. (I plan to do a post on female protagonists being all “I am Woman, hear me roar” soon, too.)

My other problem is that I want love to be believable. I found when writing a magical circus that I wanted to stick to some rules and logic should applied to all of them to better help readers catch up to an already established world (also another post on that later). I’ve never believed in love at first sight and I made Lucy very practical. She’s 23, trying to establish a place for herself. That means that boys, while a nice bonus, are not all that matter to her when what she really wants is to be a part of the Donovan family. Writing her with one love interest was almost easy to me, because I knew their relationship so well. I’ve noticed other readers are rooting for them, because they can believe in it, yet they understand that it wouldn’t become Lucy’s entire world under any circumstances. What can I say? Girl’s got priorities.

Time counted for my rules, too. If each book is one city they visit (as is my hope), then I had to stretch out my time. I needed to keep a schedule of days for their show, because I didn’t want everything happening within three or four days; I wanted to show that the circus is in town for a while and in doing so, give Lucy time to fall for a boy or two in a realistic way (3 weeks might not be long either, but it’s better than insta-love in 3 days). By having my main character constantly think things through (thinking it’s nuts to fall in love instantly), realize her biggest priorities (clearing her name of murder), and stay focused to who she is (she wants nothing more than to be a great Firestarter), I feel I’ve kept her pretty real. At least I’d want to be friends with her because she’d try to come up with a plan if in trouble or at least not ditch me when a cute boy’s around.

M. Leighton and Courtney Cole both are great examples of terrific love stories. I love the main characters, their relationships with their favorite men, and the outcomes of their situations. The thing was with their stories, however, is that the characters already ¬†knew their loves, had a history with them in particular ways. I think it could be easier to write love that’s, say, developed over the years through friendship (a best friend’s older brother), as opposed to strangers who just met twenty minutes ago. Lucy meets all these people for the first time and while she’s very attracted to a boy or two, she’s realistic enough to put herself first (think of it as career-oriented).

Teens are a little harder, as I’m finding out in my YA piece, because my main character Nova is also logical. That is, her circumstances have made her that way. After she loses someone close to her, she pushes her old self away (her old self being an energetic, normal, boy crazy teenage girl), and her priorities simply change (justice/vengeance). Boys are still super cute of course and she’d enjoy a makeout session, but her thoughts are otherwise occupied with finding a killer. However, with her being a teenager, and trying to move on with her life, I’m finally giving her a love interest that is wonderful for Nova, but doesn’t hold her back from her…evening activities. I want people to root for her, to come back from a dark time in her life and find light and love that’ll keep her on an even keel.

My point is, I think writers should tread carefully when writing in love and relationships. It’s one thing for one-night stands or whatever. I’m talking about “can’t live without you, would kill anyone who hurt you” kind of love and if you ask me (and several other readers I know), we don’t want to see insta-love. We want to see an organic relationship develop, even if it’s under extreme circumstances. No matter who saves my life, I won’t fall in love with them the next day; teens might feel “insta-love,” but it still needs to be explained well in order for the reader to believe it–and support it.