Love Triangles – How To Make Them Work

Lately I’ve found myself reading a few different blog posts about overdone tropes and the one thing that seems to stand out on all these lists is The Love Triangle. I have to agree with this, to a point. I do think the love triangle is overdone and often downright obnoxious. But yet I still seem to find myself drawn to stories that feature them, (and admittedly they seem to sneak into a lot of my own stories) and authors seem to be unable to get enough of them even while their readers are begging “Please no more!”

So why do so many writers seem to include love triangles in their stories? And is there any way to make a love triangle work? This blog post is meant to examine what the appeal is behind the love triangle, why they’re so annoying most of the time, and potential circumstances where they could be used correctly.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

SO WHY ARE THEY SO POPULAR???

On the writers part, I think in a way it comes down to semi-lazy writing (and before anyone gets mad at me, remember that part above where I mentioned that I DO IT TOO! So trust me, I’m calling myself out here as much as anyone else.) but what I mean by that is basically that conflict is a key element to every story, and a love triangle is a pretty easy to implement source of conflict, as well as an obstacle designed to keep the intended couple (end game couple?) apart through much of the story.

I will admit to being a sucker for those slow burn “will they or won’t they?” kind of relationships and I do sometimes lose interest once the couple is actually together so I can see why sometimes it’s tempting as a writer to keep your couple from being able to be together until closer to the end of the story. Adding a love triangle is a fairly simple way to accomplish that. But there are also so many other ways to achieve this as well so why do so many story tellers seem to think the answer is to include multiple love interests?

Maybe it’s because generally speaking, people eat it up. Look, a lot of people love drama and competition. Think of shows like the Bachelor (and Bachelorette and whatever spin offs they have,) some people can’t get enough of these shows. Yes, there are tons of others (LIKE ME!) who think the entire concept is ridiculous, but millions of people seem to love seeing that one person choose between several options for some reason and I think a huge part of it boils down to enjoying the drama and the competition of it all. Plus it adds a bit of mystery, suspense and ties in that emotional element as readers form their opinions on who they hope will be picked.

SO WHY IS IT SO ANNOYING???

A big reason for why love triangles are so annoying is that it’s overdone by now. We went through that period where every story was a trilogy and featured a love triangle, and then several of them were made into movies (which all felt the need to split the third book into 2 movies because: $$$, but that’s a whole other topic.) and eventually many of us were just saying “PLEASE STOP!”

Another thing that really ups the annoying factor is that it often makes the protagonist seem really immature and self centered.

Look, if you can’t decide who you want to be with, then you’re probably not emotionally ready to be with anyone. Cut them both loose and let them be happy with someone who can actually make up their mind.

Also, for a lot of readers it puts the protagonist in that awkward unlikable “Oh every person who meets me falls in love with me!” box (which is almost always paired with, “but I’m so plain!” AND also countless descriptions of said female protagonist that make it pretty damn clear she’s a flawless knockout, which just makes the whole thing that much worse of course but again: that’s a whole other rant.) and that makes rooting for them really difficult

I don’t care if you find true love at the end of the book. Because I don’t like you.

Another problem with the love triangle is that by the end of the book the author realizes they now have to deal with The Other Guy somehow and unfortunately, a lot of authors decide the best solution is to commit major character assassination to justify the choice our heroine ends up making. Taking a character you’ve just spent an entire book convincing us is a good guy/viable option/one of two possible prince charmings and then turning him into a major asshole at the end just so you can justify why she picked the other guy? It’s weird. It makes no sense.

LOVE TRIANGLES THAT WORK (In My Opinion)

Generally speaking, if something enhances the plot and drives the story forward, I’m pretty okay with it. But here are some examples of scenarios where I think the love triangle actually works. Most of these come from specific books I’ve read or movies/shows I’ve watched but since that would very likely spoil a ton of these stories, I’m not going to say which ones.

The Love Triangle That Isn’t Actually a Love Triangle Because One of the Options Isn’t Actually A Real Option. So our heroine is torn between two boys…but one is a demon or an angel or some other magical entity/supernatural being who is placed in her life purely to distract her and try to lure her away from the other boy who is her actual soulmate. I can handle that. They’re probably trying to save the world somehow. With their love. It’s cheesey, yes, but it works. Having The Other Guy behave in ways that no longer make him a viable option for her as the story goes on works in this type of situation because he never really was an option in the first place.

Very Temporary Love Triangles. If you resolve it quick, I’m fine with it. I don’t really need to explain this further, I don’t think.

Love Triangles Based On A Misunderstanding. For example: there is no love triangle but one of the characters thinks there is, hilarious awkwardness ensues as he proceeds to compete with someone who is not competing back. This is annoying in it’s own way because poor communication in books drives me nuts, but as far as the love triangle part goes I can forgive it. Another concept that could fit this category is the “I thought my first love was dead/gone forever so I moved on, but then my first love came back!” kind of love triangle (although that may fit better in the category below this one.) These always tug at my heart strings because even though it’s not a very relatable scenario (for the most part,) the feelings that would result are extremely understandable. You really would be torn between the person you thought you lost who you never stopped loving, and this new person you’ve grown to love in the time since. That’s heart wrenching stuff right there.

Love Triangles That Are The Result Of Some Sort Of Supernatural Force or Circumstances. If all the characters are under a spell for example. Or…she’s the reincarnated love of a… time traveler! Who…followed her to the future? But didn’t find her until after she fell in love with someone el- you know what, I don’t know how to make that work but I’m sure someone else could and it might make a decently compelling love triangle. But basically, any outside powers or forces that could be driving the characters towards a situation where a love triangle is inevitable, yeah I can kind of accept that. It’s not just selfishness and poor communication, I’ll forgive it.

And I’ll probably keep writing love triangles in my own stories because I’m lazy.

Your Turn! Let me know what you thought of this blog post. Do you agree with my opinions on love triangles, or do you have a different perspective? Have you ever read a story with a love triangle that really worked, or is it even a trope you’re sick of? Maybe you love them! Leave me a comment.

6 comments

  1. This is a pretty interesting topic. I’ve never really thought of having love triangles happen in my books before, but now I’m considering them. Maybe it’s because of my usual genres (sci-fi), but I’ve not read enough of it to feel like it’s overdone… yet. Anyway, thanks for sharing this awesome post!

    • That’s a really great point that I wish I had included in my post! It does seem like it’s more prevalent in certain genres. I haven’t read enough sci-fi to notice the lack of love triangles but I would imagine that several of the scenarios I described where I believe they could work would fit well in a sci-fi world. Definitely gave me something to think about. Thanks for the comment!

  2. What really annoys me is when the main character takes forever to make her choice even though she clearly prefers one of the guys – it’s like you said: that seems like a really easy but unrealistic way to add conflict! 🙄 I also can’t stand when authors try to resolve their love triangles in a way that makes everyone happy (like the Infernal Devices love triangle – I think the resolution was ridiculous and such fan service, though I seem to be very alone with that opinion 😂). But a love triangle I absolutely love is the one in the Hunger Games! I think that was done realistically – you meet someone, you have a lot going on, and eventually, you might change from who you used to be and think about what kind of future you want. Plus, love is never at the forefront of the story anyway, and Katniss’s feelings develop gradually over time, which I always prefer anyway 😊 But being ready to die for two super hot dudes 5 seconds after meeting them? I am not a fan!

    • I agree with everything you mentioned! The Hunger Games love triangle is a really great example of one that worked quite well and made a lot of sense. It was believable that things could unfold that way in those circumstances and for a lot of the story her choice seemed clear anyways, she just wasn’t in a place to have to deal with that aspect at all yet. I love that series…the original three at least. Thanks for your comment!

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