Before I move on to the next part of my How To series (the one about Outlines which I think is actually the most helpful thing in the world!), I wanted to pause and mention something about characters, namely love triangles. The reason I’m bringing this up is that they are incredibly prevalent in YA romances (or basically anything these days) and a lot of the time they are really, really, really annoying. But I’m here to tell you, they aren’t all bad. Just most of them.
Earlier this month, I was buddy reading a book series (I only BR the first two books, because I don’t have time to update like that and half the time don’t have the time to read, so I bailed for the next three). During the conversation portion of the buddy read (this is all online) one of the girls posted how she HATED love triangles. To which I say, “Okay, I’m mostly with you. They get old. They get annoying. They never pick the guy I would have picked.” But then she went on to say that she just didn’t see how someone could be in love with two people at once.
‘Cause, like, that’s impossible.
Whoa. Slam the breaks there. Since we’re talking about possibilities and realism here (even though this is set in a supernatural camp for kids with crazy powers), we’d better take a closer look at the probability of that whole “love triangle” thing.
First, let me say, before anything else, yes. It’s totally possible. People love more than one person all the time. I’m not kidding you. The difference is, most of us don’t have to deal with the “love triangle” in the sense that we mostly choose one person and stick with them. (Or the one part of that three part triangle makes a decision that the rest of us have to live with.) Does a decision mean we cease to love this other person? No. That’s no how love works. It isn’t a switch that we just flip on and off whenever the heck we feel like it. If that were the case, there’d be a lot less heartache in the world.
This is part of the reason that LTs are so common. It’s actually pretty natural in the world of human beings. Maybe not as obviously as the books portray it and maybe not with two devilishly sexy boys that are so sweet and caring and would die for us, but still. It happens.
But it’s not the only reason that it’s so common. A lot of the time, LTs show up because an author needs drama and lots of it. This is one of the quickest way to add some to the story. And it makes girls obsessive and gooey to boot, so even if you have sort of an “okay” story, you can still get a lot of readers, because we all want to know who the main girl ends up with. (I’m not naming any names, but I’m sure you all have something in mind…) Is this kind of a cop out? Kind of. It depends on your sort of story. If you’re writing romance (even if it’s paranormal/historical/thriller/whatever), then it’s really not that weird to have an LT. After all, the most effective part of a romance novel is keeping the characters apart, not throwing them together. If they get together too soon, then we don’t really care what happens. But if we add in another love interest… well, that makes things interesting. And in that respect, an LT is perfectly acceptable.
You know where it’s not acceptable? The Hunger Games.
Okay, not *specifically* (or, maybe a little specifically), but in a story that has so much going for it without the introduction of an LT, it actually seems sort of… gimmicky to add in an LT. The Hunger Games has so much to stand on without romance. It has dictatorship. Poverty. Revolution. Death matches. Sibling relationship, camaraderie, a need to do the right thing – but still to survive. It’s got all of this social commentary in there AND it’s a great story – so why the hell are we all obsessing over whether Katniss picks Gale or Peeta? Seriously? I don’t even care if there’s a love interest. That’s perfectly fine. My concern is that the *focus* is on the love story. The *focus* is about these two boys in her life. And really, it should be on the sacrifices she’s willing to make and the ones she makes even though she *isn’t* willing to make them.
That’s where LTs start to get in trouble. There are places where they belong – and places they don’t. But I understand that sometimes it’s difficult to know the do’s and don’t’s of LTs, so I’m going to do a quick breakdown here about them. (And, yes, this is mostly my opinion. Feel free to do what feels right for *you* but be aware that it can be a real turn off for some readers, so better to use them sparingly.)
Also, these don’t mean that you should *always* use LTs in these situations. Only that if you feel so inclined, it’s okay to throw them in here and you’re probably not going to turn people off.
When to use LTs.
- When your main genre is Romance (regardless of what your minor genre is).
That pretty much means you can do what you’d like when it comes to love interests. Because like I said before, it’s all about the drama. It’s important to spend time keeping the main pairing apart, but we also need to feel like there’s a chance that they’ll make it in the end – but maybe only a slim one. And it’s okay if we’re not all rooting for the same guy. That’s part of it, too. You don’t need an LT here, but it’s less frowned upon when you walk into the novel knowing that it’s romance.
- When your story is more about characters and relationships as opposed to an intricate plot.
Maybe you’re story is contemporary. Maybe it follows the lives of three BFF teenage girls as they promise to make their senior year of high school the best one ever before they dive off the deep end into the adult world. Maybe they each make a pact to get a boyfriend – no matter what it takes. And maybe each of them go about it in entirely different directions. This leaves a lot of possibilities open – and not all of them romantic. Maybe one of your characters is a lesbian who is only doing this because she isn’t sure how to tell her friends the truth. Or maybe two girls go for the same guy. Or maybe they all end up boyfriendless and realize that the best relationship they have is with each other. The point is, it’s about the relationships between people – even if they aren’t romantic. Here, it’s acceptable to make these relationships more complicated by adding an LT. You don’t have to, but you can.
- When your story benefits from having two important leads which offer equal contributions to the story but those contributions wouldn’t fit as a single character.
This one’s a little weird. What I’m saying is that maybe you’re story is about a girl who has to make a very big choice. One choice represents what she truly wants; the other what other people want for her. Sometimes, a good way to characterize these choices is to actually make them characters. Make her love interests symbolic of her choices – and who she picks in the end is determined by the ultimate choice she makes in her life. This isn’t always something that works, so think very hard about it before you just throw this in there. But when done effectively, it can be a really good story. Jill Example:
Jill is left with a choice: Stay here with the kind-hearted, sweet Merrick who is all the things she loves about being human – the late night popcorn binges, the horror movie marathons, the screaming at baseball games, the simplicity of life in the slow lane – or risk the unknown for the enigmatic, darkly handsome Kane the man she’s destined to wed should she follow her destiny and overthrow her terrible and heartless human counterpart.
When NOT to use LTs.
- Social commentary (unless it’s about sex/relationships in our modern world).
Seriously. If you’re talking about poverty, probably people aren’t also talking about true love. Why? Because you need water. Then you need food. Then you need security. Then you move on to things like love and ownership of *things*. It’s not to say that as a poor person you don’t crave love. Of course you do, you’re human. But rather it’s that there are more important things in your life than “OMG, do you think he likes me?” Because when you’re starving, that’s all you think about. Trust me. So unless you’re talking about how some countries encourage having multiple children simply because having more means one of them may end up making enough money to save the whole family and until then each additional child is a workhand, then you should probably just nix the LT, because it will be annoying.
You can have an LT, but we’d all prefer it if you didn’t. An LT is an involved thing and if you’ve got a lot of action and adventure going on in your story, then we really don’t need the added subplot (that mutates and crawls into our brains to become a main plot) taking up space. Stick to the awesome story you’ve got going on and leave the romance to someone else.
- *Sometimes* Fantasy.
In certain instances, Fantasy LTs can be okay. But mostly that’s going to be a “She didn’t want to be queen. She wanted to run away with the boy pushing the applecart!” This is because Fantasy novels tend to be *very* involved. Meaning they’ve got a lot of their own stuff going on, so we don’t need all that additional LT stuff taking up room. Fantasy novels are already really long; don’t bog them down with an unnecessary love interest that would have been so much more awesome as the silent, platonic protector anyway.
- Dystopian genres that focus on how the world has changed.
Just like Fantasy, this is going to be more involved – and I want to see that. I want to know the world and see how people suffer in it. I want to see how everything’s messed up – and how the protagonists is going to fix it. What I don’t want to see is Katniss struggling to choose between Peeta and Gale (hello, did you *see* Gale in the movies? So much hotter…). She can love someone, that’s fine, but there had better be other stuff going on! (The exception here might be something like The Selection. That’s all about going through girls on a rapid round robin thirty second dating game until you find the girl you want, so probably LTs are okay. But even that one felt a little forced. Seriously? Who even cared about Aspen? We didn’t even know him!)
- Basically whenever you have a really strong plot that *doesn’t* benefit from the romance being front and center – or having multiple love interests is distracting.
Honestly, if you have a really good plot that is intricate, involved, and captivating, don’t worry about the LT. It’s not necessary. You’ve already got us. So go ahead and keep us there without bogging your awesome story with a stupid additional love interest. I’d rather stick to your plot.
I’m sure you can think of more instances where you shouldn’t use an LT and I’m sure you can find exceptions to the rules above. But they are some hard and fast guidelines to help you through the plotting portion of your novel. And remember: If something doesn’t feel right in your novel, it probably isn’t. Take it out. Follow your instincts.
So what do you guys think? Love LTs? Hate ’em? Let me know in the comments below!