In Which I Rant Just a Smidge

I've been thinking a lot about love triangles, specifically, those done right. And those such a way as to bug the crap out of me.

First of all, if anyone is watching Downton Abbey which you should be, you are aware of what a love triangle done right looks like. It's Anna and Bates and THAT EVIL SHREW OF A GOLD DIGGER WIFE. It's Mary and Matthew and THAT (POSSIBLY EVIL) SHREW OF A GOLD DIGGER FIANCEE. To be fair, that situation seems to be setting itself up as a quadrangle. Even. Better.

Not that I'm saying that all love triangles need to have an obvious made-for-each-other couple and a third person that gets in the way of their happiness (although that's a great recipe for conflict). I just hate the love triangle formula of "perfect girl is forced to choose between two perfect guys and, oh my gosh, this is so hard." And those two guys are 1.) the socially acceptable leader in the making who fails to embrace his passionate side and 2.) the less socially acceptable bad-boy who she just can't stay away from. And then they fight over her. And then she chooses the bad-boy. Unless they're both bad boys, in which case, she chooses the one who's older.

Here's the deal.

I made it through high school. I've been a part of love triangles. Without fail, only one side of that triangle involved a y-chromosome. And there's a reason for that. If two guys were involved, it would look a little something like this:
Guy 1: Hey, man, how ya doing?

Guy 2: Good.

Guy 1: So that Bella chick...she's pretty hot.

Guy 2: Ummm, yeah, I was actually about to ask her out.

Guy 1: Oh...hey. No harm, no foul. (((goes off to fursplode and imprint on her baby)))
*I have nothing against Twilight. I just needed an example.

Now, I know what you're thinking. And you're right. Fiction isn't necessarily about something being realistic. If we wanted all our reading to be utterly realistic and believable, we'd spend our time reading appliance manuals. No, a lot of great fiction is about wish-fulfillment. But at the same time, it needs to ring true.

That doesn't mean that there needs to be a clearly right pair and a clearly wrong pair. Because, again, ringing true, life doesn't work that way. One of the best recent love triangles in YA is Katniss-Peeta-Gale. The thing I loved about it is there really wasn't much interaction between Peeta and Gale (again, ringing true to life.) There was no good choice and bad choice. It was just a choice.

And then the other mark of a good love triangle, I believed that Katniss believed that there were compelling reasons for her to end up with either one of them. And she really could have. Notice the important part for me was not which team I thought she should be on but that Katniss had good reasons to be on both teams. I had the joy of watching from the sidelines as my sister read the books for the first time, and she e-mailed me every few chapters to wail about which one she should end up with. She flip-flopped as many times as Katniss.

Note: I realize that not every love triangle will have a tug-of-heart going on. The Downton Abbey example above, there's no viewer doubt whatsoever who should end up together. BUT, the compelling reason rule still needs to apply. Bates has a compelling reason to end up with Anna (they're in lurvvvv) and his wife (to protect the Crawley family as well as Anna from disgrace). I have no idea why Matthew's with that hussy, though. Well, I guess to save face while Mary gets her emotional act together.Seriously. If you are not watching Downton Abbey, why not?

I'm curious. What are your favorite literary love triangles?


  1. Ahhh, love triangles.

    I actually hoped Katniss would choose Gale but oh well.

  2. I tore through the first season of Downton Abbey in one day, but I haven't watched any of the new season yet. I need a refresher on how it ended!

    In my experience, real-life love triangles have been less "which hottie do I choose?" and more "how do I start a relationship with my guy friend without hurting my other friend's feelings?" (usually a mutual female friend who was also interested in the guy friend). Always ended in disaster.

  3. This is a constant concern when I'm working on my book. Argh love triangles!

  4. Reason #472 I write middle grade. :)

  5. Hi there!

    I just wanted to let you know that I left you awards over at my blog!!

    Pop on over and get em' :)

  6. gorgeous blog! I kind of like it when the triangle isn't about choosing between two guys, but between the guy and your best friend. Or the guy and your family. Or job, health, responsibility, etc.

  7. Hehehe. I can't stop laughing about "fursplode." I plan to petition Mr. Webster and have him add it to the dictionary.

  8. I think the power of the love triangle is something I need to incorporate into my writing more, because I rarely touch on them. But reading them (when they're well-done) is a serious emotion booster... something to put in the next WIP, perhaps.

    I've heard a lot of people talking about Downtown Abbey...

  9. Ilima--SO true! I wasn't even thinking about non-human triangles when I wrote this.

    Charlie--Get thee to Downton Abbey! Stat!!

  10. Oh, I have heard so many good things about Downton Abbey, but it would be my 6th show that I follow and I have a strict rule to only watch five.

    Love triangles...I think other shapes need to be added to the equation :) New follower!

  11. LOVE Downton Abbey - hate that Matthew and Mary are not together (though, I don't blame him for finding someone else after ALL THAT went down). Bates wife MUST be stopped.

    But anyway, author Carrie Ryan wrote sometimes about love triangles that's very good: "To me, a love triangle done right isn't about a female* character's affections bouncing back and forth between two men, it's about her internal struggle within herself as she figures out who *she* wants to be and what's important to her. This internal struggle then gets reflected externally as she wars within herself and grows." So true.

  12. I am at the happy end of a love triangle. My husband wouldn't ask me out because his best friend liked me. When I finally explained to the best friend that I wasn't interested, my husband still waited to approach me for a six months after that. "Man's code of honor" or something. Whatever. I agree with you: Downton Abbey does it RIGHT!