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.

Comments for Love Triangles

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Dec 02, 2012
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!

Oct 27, 2017
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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