Should I go with the ending I want or what my readers want?

by Lala
(Texas)

Hello.

I'm writing a love triangle story.
There's this boy who finds himself caught in between two very different special women.
One is his best friend, who has loved him since they were children, but she never confessed her feelings because the timing was wrong. He'd moved away during middle school and, even though they kept in contact, he'd always develop crushes on girls who were the exact opposite of her, calling to tell her about these girls and how they broke his heart. His friend loves him and wants him to be happy, supporting all his crushes, not exactly hiding her feelings, but not telling him either.

The other girl is his classmate, who he fell for a first sight. She's mysterious and he doesn't know a lot about her, but the more he knows, the more he loves her. She has feelings for him too but is hesitant to start anything because of something horrible she did in her past that makes her feel like she doesn't deserve to be loved.

The boy is an introverted type, with low self-confidence and a high level of self-loathing who can't understand why anyone would be interested in him. He's a nerd, he's can come off as cold and insensitive, because he's not good with people and is awkward.

His friend is the only person who really knows him and she spends a lot of time trying to build him up. Though she doesn't like his infatuation with the other girl, she doesn't want him to be unhappy, so she shows her support, giving him advice, saying nice things, listening to him obsess over this other girl, stepping out of the way if need be.
But being supportive is starting to wear on her and the closer he gets to this other girl, the more stressed she starts to get. At first, she starts to cling tighter to him, spending as much time with him as she can, then once it becomes apparent that he's probably going to end up with the girl, she tries to pull away and create some distance because she's hurting.

He and the other girl have a lot in common and when he's with her, he doesn't feel like he's strange. He just marvels at how great she is. How much he loves her and wants her. But the secret she's keeping from him is starting to get between them. He eventually gets her to tell him, and it's worse than what he thought. He still loves her and he tells her so, but he's not sure if they should be together, knowing what he does now.
It makes him question everything about their relationship.

He and the other girl start dating and his friend suddenly stops talking to him. The more his friend tried to get away from him, the lonelier he would get, clinging to her, because she's always been there and he doesn't know what to do without her.

She would eventually confess her feelings. He'd feel like an ass for never realizing. Because of his image issues, he'd never really thought that someone as amazing as her would have feelings for him.
There was a time when he'd been in love with her too, but he'd been scared that she wouldn't feel the same and he hadn't wanted to ruin their friendship. He'd buried those feelings by focusing on girls who would never return his feelings as a distraction until he got over it.

But he really does love this other girl, still, he can't deny that he still has feelings for his friend, knowing that if she had confessed sooner, he wouldn't have hesitated to be with her.

She kisses him, and he kisses her back, before remembering that he has a girlfriend and pulling away.

Knowing that he has feelings for her, gives his friend confidence, and instead of taking the passive root, she decides to push forward and try to win him.

The other girl, his girlfriend, rises up to the challenge, and he finds himself being pulled in two separate directions.

See, I was going the Jane Austin route of not really having him have feelings for both at the same time. When he's with the other girl, he loves her.
He's not messing around with his friend.
For a long time in the story, the only person he can see is the other girl. He's sure that she's the one he's meant to be with and the thought of being with another girl is impossible and though hints are dropped that he feels a bit more than friendship for his friend, he makes sure to let her, and the readers, know who he loves and who he wants to be with.

But...that was back when he thought the chances of being with his friend were impossible.

Now, he's not going to cheat on his girlfriend. He's loyal and he's putting his all into his relationship. Still, he can't stop thinking about his friend.

I'd planned on his ending up with his friend, eventually realizing that while the other girl maybe the love of his life. His best friend is everything and he couldn't picture living the rest of his life without her.

It sounded good, but the people who read my story are pushing for him to end up with the other girl.

Apparently, in my efforts to be unbiased towards the other girl in the triangle and create real feelings between him and the girl, I made her become the better romantic lead. (at least in the minds of the majority of my readers)

Readers are pushing for the friend to stay in the box she placed herself in and let him be with the other girl because they think they're soulmates and because after finally opening herself up to someone they'd hate for her to get her heartbroken.

But I didn't really feel like the other girl's arc, was about finding love with him. It was supposed to be about finding out that she couldn't let her past define her and finally moving past what happened. It was supposed to be her having become a better person from knowing him and her wanting what was best for him, even though it wasn't her.

The story is unfinished, but people are pushing for me to end it with him and the other girl.

But loyal readers who were there when the story was just an idea in my head, are waiting for the best friend to finally get what she'd deserves for all the heartbreak and pining she suffered over the years to be a good friend.

I'm getting frustrated and, honestly, the thought of having him choose neither of them is starting to sound good.

What should I do?

Answer: If you let readers decide how your story ends, then you're not doing your job as a writer.

A well-plotted story can only have one right ending, because any other ending will be unsatisfying, because dramatic arcs have to unfold in a certain way to work emotionally. That doesn't mean you can't be clever about not making the ending obvious. But the reader should be able to look back over the story after finishing it and realize that things had to work out the way they did.

Now, it could be that your mistake was that you let people read your story before you finished and edited it -- or that you let yourself stray a little from the path you outlined.

As a result, your story arcs may not be clear. There may be contradictory events that make it difficult for the right ending to emerge.

Here are some suggestions to help you resolve your dilemma. Notice they are mostly questions rather than answers. It's your story, after all.

First, I suggest you take a close look at the main character's journey. You know how he starts out How is he challenged or pressured to change? What kind of ending do you want his story to have (happy or unhappy)? What would a good ending look like for him (not just in terms of who is is with or not with, but who he needs to grow into)? Finally, what choice does he need to make that will bring about that ending?

If you want him to end up with his friend, then you might need to consider her arc as well. Who is she in the beginning? How is she challenged to grow as a person? What would be a just ending for her? (Either a happy ending because she makes the right choice at her personal crisis, or an unhappy ending because she makes the wrong choice.) You might consider that both these characters have to grow to become right romantic partners for each other.

If you don't want the new girl to end up with him, then consider what her fatal error might be. How will she deserve whatever fate you have in store for her? Or perhaps for her a happy ending would be realizing that she doesn't want a relationship with the main character? Either way, the reader needs to see that these two are ultimately wrong for each other.

Typically, a relationship arc follows this pattern...

Act 1: The relationship is established.
Act 2: The relationship deepens (perhaps turns romantic).
Act 3: Black moment: the relationship is broken (the couple are separated).
Act 4: The relationship is restored, becoming stronger than ever (true love is declared).

Or, in the case of a relationship that ends broken,
act 3 will have a white moment -- where the relationship peaks -- followed by a break up in act 4.

A love triangle is a vehicle that lets you create the black moment in the third act.

Normally, when you have this sort of problem, the answer is to decide what ending you want and then go back and change parts of the story that don't align, so that everything fits the arcs you are creating. But that only works because no one's read the story so far but you.

In this case, you may need to carefully look at what you have written and see if you have unconsciously created clues that can point to a satisfactory ending.

Just remember that a good ending (happy or unhappy) must come about because of the choices the characters make at their crises. That's what makes it meaningful.

Another trick that can work: consider creating a surprise revelation. That secret the other girl has may be what forces all the characters to make the right decisions.

Best of luck.

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