love triangles

by Wayne

Question: What advice can you give for writing a story with love triangles? If the worthy lover is the goal, is the unworthy one the consequent? But often the main character doesn't recognize the worth of the worthy one? So they are seeking the wrong one.

Answer: Generally in love triangles, one of the lovers is the impact character. He represents an approach to life or a way of being that is the opposite of who the heroine is at the start of the story. He represents an opportunity for her to become someone different. The other lover usually represents who she already is at the start of the story. By choosing one or the other in the relationship crisis, the heroine is choosing who she will be from then on.

This is different from the story goal and consequence, which are part of the overall plot rather than the subjective story. (In a romance, the overall plot is often just a vehicle to get the lovers together, so the pursuit of the story goal is somewhat downplayed.)

Of course, the heroine cannot know what the right choice is until the crisis. Sometimes changing is right; sometimes it is better to hold true to one's prior self (as in cautionary tales). Not knowing which is the right choice until after it's made makes the story interesting for the reader.

One thing that makes the impact character tempting is that he will challenge her in ways the other lover will not. For instance, if she is a holistic thinker (one who juggles many issues and tries to find the balance), he may be a linear thinker (one who focuses on the biggest issue at any given moment and ignores the rest). Hence, they see problems and situations from different perspectives and can learn from or help each other.

Of course, the impact character can be so different that he and the heroine will never see eye to eye on anything. That's a doomed relationship.

Equally bad is the lover whose perspective is a perfect match for the heroine, one who agrees with her in everything and is therefore "safe and boring." It is easy to choose him, but she won't learn anything that way. He will never challenge her and will never be able to help her see past her blind spots. Consequently, they are both destined to fall into the same ditch.

In a perfect relationship, there will be some overlap of perspectives that allows the couple to see each other as trustworthy. That way, she may be more willing to trust what he tells her about things he can see but she can't, and vice versa. They can truly help each other because each can guide the other around their respective blind spots.

Another type of "bad" lover is the one who, when the heroine perceives things he cannot (because their perspectives don't line up perfectly), cannot trust her and simply invalidates her perspective. This is the archetypal controlling or closed-minded lover who thinks his is the only right perspective. This relationship is also doomed because he does not truly value her, but only wants her to validate him.

It does help the story if you make the heroine's decision as difficult as possible. Both the lovers should be appealing in their own way, and have apparent faults. The crux of the problem, or the deal breaker, will generally be the one issue that lets the heroine make her choice.

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