Monday, February 17, 2014

Creating the Love Triangle in YA Fiction

Love triangles...they certainly do make for interesting reading material. It seems like every young adult fiction series has one, too. Not that I'm complaining. Let's face it: a little love intrigue can really spice things up!

But what are the elements of a good love triangle? Here's one simple formula that we will look at today:

Girl has best friend who has the hots for her and she sorta reciprocates. He is nice, good looking, and makes her laugh. Then the new guy enters the scene. Like Guy 1, he is good looking, but with a devil may care quality that she finds fascinating and repellent all at the same time. Usually, he's hurt and burdened by a dark past. Guy 2 still sweeps our Girl off her feet, though at some point he will screw up so that she can fall into the arms of Guy 1. However, Guy 2 will redeem himself in some way and that's when the decision moment happens: who does she pick to be with?

Spoiler alert---it's probably going to be Guy 2. As much as we like Guy 1, somehow he always gets overlooked.

How did I do? Does the above scenario sound familiar? Have you encountered it in your reading or perhaps in your own writing?

While there are always variations to the love triangle scenario (hey, sometimes Guy 1 might win after all), it's usually pretty much the same thing. And that's not necessarily a bad thing! The fun part is seeing how it all works out in the end and what the author does to hold the reader's interest.

I'm talking, once again, about the emotional connection.

I love it when an author can surprise me with the love triangle scenario or more importantly, get me emotionally invested. Now, most of you are probably familiar with the whole Bella, Edward, Jacob situation from Twilight. My husband can probably write a dissertation on the subject and he hasn't read the books or seen the movies. The thing is--that triangle is so famous because the author was able to make a strong connection with her readers and they couldn't stop talking about it. Heck, they were even picking teams, hence the Team Edward/Team Jacob phenomena.

I recently read two series by Cassandra Clare--The Mortal Instruments series and The Infernal Devices trilogy. Both tales sucked me in, but for different reasons. Both also had strong love triangles that evoked an emotional response from me.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: Do not read further if you don't know how this series ends. I'm going to be talking turkey here and I don't want to ruin it for you.


In the Mortal Instruments, our triangle is Clary (Girl), Simon (Guy 1), and Jace (Guy 2). They pretty much fall in line with the earlier example I gave you. However, there are some cool twists that I didn't see coming like...wait for it...the possibility of incest. Clary and Jace are supposedly brother and sister though they don't know that at first. This throws a kink in the relationship and drives her back to Simon. However, the author doesn't let us get too comfortable with that since she turns Simon into a vampire and introduces a werewolf that has designs on him. There's also a possible distraction to the triangle from Alec who is Jace's best friend and his sworn "soldier" partner. In the end, everything works out fine and readers everywhere celebrate when we discover that Jace and Clary are not related to each other and free to love. Simon and Alec both find other love interests so the reader is left with the feeling that all's well that ends well.

For me, the emotional connection in this book was that I was not rooting for Jace. I actually didn't really even like him. I wanted Simon to win Clary's heart and the author briefly gave me that satisfaction only to jerk it away. I should have stopped reading right then, but damn---the emotional connection made me keep going.


In the Infernal Devices we have something a little different. Tessa is our Girl. Will and Jem are Guy 1 and 2 but they are a little different. They were close friends which made the love triangle even more interesting because you knew it would probably break up a strong relationship that had been established prior to Tessa's arrival on the scene. Once again, I had trouble liking Will and rooted for Jem. However, to my surprise I started to really like Will and that complicated my feelings. Who was going to win her heart? Who deserved it more? Was it possible she could have a relationship with both men? Without giving it away, I have to say that the author did a good job of giving me what I wanted in the end.

But again, she stuck to the basics of the love triangle rule and established a strong emotional connection with the reader.

So what can you take away from this? What's the point? When writing a love triangle, find ways to deviate from the formula, but give us solid, developed characters that are flawed, but still easy to relate to.

Take a look at your own work. Do you have the love triangle? What are your characters doing that make us care about them? How are you establishing that emotional connection? Is your heroine torn about who she should be with? Is the reader supposed to see things about the men that she doesn't? Are we privy to the inner workings of the minds of the love triangle members?

What are some other great love triangle examples? Share!

1 comment:

  1. I do have the love triangle in one of my stories, and it's interesting because I find myself rooting for one of the characters more even though I know that the MC should end up with the other guy. I think that a lot of people can relate to the love triangle, because they've probably been in one at some point. And a lot of the time, it hurts to be in one.
    When I think of famous love triangles, I think of Romeo, Juliet, and Paris. I always thought Juliet should have married Paris.

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