Love Triangles

by Alys
(Seymour CT)

Question: So in my story, the love triangle is a major player in the plot to reach the turning point in the story. But my problem is, every time I try to lay it out nicely and make sense of it without giving it away too soon, it sounds like crap. Like if Twilight and a Taylor Swift song got in a car crash and slammed into each other, crappy. Any tips, or should I forget the idea and try to fill it with something else?

Answer: One of the secrets of love triangles that Dramatica points out is that they are not so much about love and attraction but about finding the right way to solve a problem.

That may sound strange, but bear me out.

Generally speaking, the climax of a story is an action or decision that determines decisively whether the Story Goal is achieved. To make the right (or wrong) move at the climax, the main character has to resolve her internal dilemma. She has to decide whether to continue to be/do things the way she is used to, or to take a different approach.

Generally in romances, the love interest is the Impact Character. This is a person who demonstrates or argues for that different approach. So the main character looks at how the Impact Character does things and feels pressured to follow that example rather than her own tried-and-true approach which might not work this time because she has never faced such a problem before. There's no way of knowing what the right choice is until after it's too late.

Now, sometimes you have a main character who isn't really committed to one approach or another at the start of the story. She may be somewhat naive or inexperienced. The problem with such a character is that, when the Impact character says in Act 1, "Hey, you should do things this way," she will likely say, "Okay, why not?" Result: no internal conflict.

The love triangle is a way to create internal conflict by giving the naive main character two impact characters, who
advocate completely opposite approaches. So she's not just choosing between two hot guys (lucky her), she's choosing between two different ways to solve the problem or achieve the goal. She's choosing what type of person she will be.

Choosing what kind of person she will be is far more interesting than simply choosing which guy is the better kisser, as I'm sure you will agree.

To make your story intriguing, you don't want it to be an easy choice. The two approaches must each have their merits. And, like the story of the lady and the tiger, she can and must chose only one person whose advice/example she will follow at the climax.

However, you can play around with her process of coming to a decision. Some main characters cling to one choice until the last second when they reluctantly switch. (For instance, she loves the first guy but she slowly comes to realize he is bad for her and she must give him up, though she doesn't really want to.)

Some go back and forth for a while - choosing one, then the other, until forced to make a final choice. The danger with such indecision is that she appears to be two-timing them. (And why do they let her?)

Some refuse to make any choice until the last possible second, keeping them both on the hook.

Some will feel one guy is really Mr. Right, but will make an exception and have an affair with Mr. Wrong, due to circumstances, only to return to Mr. Right after the story goal is achieved. (For example, the male lead in the film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo plays this game.)

The great thing about seeing the two guys as representing different philosophies or approaches is that her choice is not superficial. It can become the most important and most difficult choice in her life. It may have even little to do with physical attraction. She could realize she needs to be with or follow the advice of the guy she is far less attracted to on a physical level.

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by: Alys

That makes a lot of sense and I see what I was doing wrong. I had the two choices basically represent the same hint but had moral and immoral ways of achieving it. Thanks again!

by: Aralji

One of the best articles about writing Love Triangles. Thanks for your analysis and in a short and understable manner.

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late love triangles

Question: I started writing my story with the chief purpose of having two characters fall in a forbidden love but as I got a few chapters in I decided that the plot needed more action and I added a character who was meant to create turmoil between the two main characters and the antagonists. Shortly afterwards I decided to have this extra character fall for the heroine of the story. The only problem was that I decided this very late within the plot, and the heroine has already fallen for the first man without even meeting the second one yet.
The new character that I added has a lot of inner turmoil besides the fact that he's stuck in a love triangle and he's meant to be a very important element of the story, so what I'm wondering is should I have introduced him into the love triangle, and the heroine's attention sooner or left her ignorant of his existence for now and continued with my original plot line?

Answer: Obviously, I can't tell you what you should do - that's your job to figure out.

However, you might consider what you want your main character's inner conflict to be about. Do you want this to be a story about her struggle over whether or not to enter into a forbidden relationship and become a different person because of it (in which case, the new character may represent her old life)? Or do you want it to be a story about a woman in a forbidden relationship who is tempted to abandon it for something different? (In which case, the new character represents the temptation to change.)

In other words, which of the two lovers is the impact character who pressures her to change?

Whichever one it is should have his throughline begin in the first act. That doesn't mean she has to fall in love with him, but that she should see him as an example of a different way to be, a different approach to life/problems. Their relationship should start there, even if at first it is a relationship of enmity or hostility.

Another way to pin this down is to consider the relationship crisis or "black moment" which typically comes in act 3 (of a 4-act structure). This is the moment when the relationship between and main and impact characters hits the rocks and it seems it can never be restored (until act 4 when it is).

You have to ask yourself what the black moment will be. Will it be the moment when she is tempted to abandon her forbidden lover and go with the new guy - in which case the forbidden lover is likely the impact character who she will end up with in the end. Or is it the moment when her relationship with the new guy hits the rocks, in which case he is the impact character who she will eventually find true love with.

Best of luck sorting this out.

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Love Triangle

by Vijay Kumar

Hello, Glen,

Ever since I bought a copy of your novel planning book, I have finished writing three romance genre novels and plotting the fourth one (Thank you for making available such a wonderful plotting book).

Whenever I expand the single line idea into a complete synopsis (or a novel), I'm ending up with triangular love stories. I am unable to plot for all the four acts without a third person entering the couple's love.

I studied some of the love stories in IMDb and they mostly have threesome stories (ex Cocktail)

My question is, is there any way I can avoid such ideas, and come with something different? Your helpful suggestions are appreciated.


Answer: Love triangles are used a lot because they work, and because it is a common experience for women to be torn between two suitors. And, let's face it, you need some device to impede the romance, otherwise you have no plot.

That said, there are other impediments or obstacles that can disrupt the journey to true love.

One common device is "forbidden love." By that I mean a romance between two people whose love is disapproved of by those around them. For instance...

* Love between people of different social classes (e.g. servant and master, rich and poor, aristocrat and peasant).
* Love that is disapproved of by parents (e.g. Romeo and Juliet).
* Love between people of different religions, politics, schools, ethnicities.

In such stories, the couple's parents, friends, employers, etc. may drive them apart until they find the courage to choose be together regardless of what others think.

Some writers have made use of other divides such as geographic (the two live far apart) or communication (they speak different languages).

Another common device in romance is "forced intimacy." These are stories in which two people who may dislike each other are forced into a situation where they must spend time together. The obstacle is their dislike for each other which they ultimately give up.

Some variations...

* Two people marry as a business arrangement, or perhaps to save one of their reputations.

* Two people are trapped together because of an accident, or imprisoned, or get caught up in some intrigue where they must cooperate in order to survive.

Another common device is to have one of the lovers damaged in some way. Perhaps you have a lady who has never found love because men find her unattractive or because she rebels against social conventions. Or you may have a man who has been emotionally damaged in the past and refuses to open himself emotionally (e.g. Beauty and the Beast).

In all cases, the story is about how the obstacles are overcome.

Best of luck.

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Multiple Love Interests are same person
by: Anonymous

Hi there! So I write in fiction & sci-fiction/fantasy, alot and was pondering the concept of love triangles and how harem stories have also become a thing. I was wondering if it's plausible to have a love triangle story where two of the romantic interests (be they males with a female suitor, or two females with a male suitor) are actually the same person. Whether it's some clever deception, or caused by some macguffin that causes the romantic interest to divide, how would such a story work, if it is indeed plausible?

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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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