Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gondolier on the Love Triangle

Love and Geometry

Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy’s best friend. It’s “Jesse’s Girl” all over again (come on, who didn’t wish that Rick Springfield had gotten just one shot?). Yes, dear readers, I am talking about the classic love triangle.

Very rarely is romance as clean-cut as boy-loves-girl and girl-love-boy back. There is almost always going to be a complication. The third wheel. Somebody getting left behind. I can’t count how many times back in high school I told a friend that so-and-so was smokin’ hot and gosh, I’d just love to date them…only to find out they thought so-and-so was a hottie-patottie, too. As the old saying goes, “all’s fair in love and war” and BAM. The competition was on.

The love triangle is one of the oldest plot devices in the book. Take Jacob, Rachel, and Leah in the Bible. Or how about King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot? And it’s still an effective plot today, for good reason—it mirrors real life, to an extent. Soap operas pull love triangles all of the time. So do TV series. And tabloids—they love love triangles, whether there is any truth to them or not (KStewRPattzMysteryGirl anyone?). Drama sells. Who wants to watch or read a story about a couple who have completely smooth sailing from first glance to bouncing grandkids? Life is not that easy, and neither are relationships.

Equilaterals, Isosceles, and Scalenes

A love triangle comes in many shapes and sizes (or combo meals, if you prefer). They evoke natural suspense because at least one person in the triangle is suffering from unrequited love or jealousy. And if that particular person just happens to be the main character, then the suspense becomes a nail-biter. As a writer, when you employ a love triangle, set it up in such a way to keep the reader guessing about the outcome. Will there or won’t there be a happy ending? This is a little difficult in fanfiction, especially if readers have clear favorites (coughEdwardBellacough). However, in original fiction, the story’s ending will be much more ambiguous.

Here are just a few of the many, many possible scenarios to play with when developing a love triangle:

Scenario #1: Reliable Friend vs. New Hottie (Scalene)

This scenario is the stuff that teen movies are made of. Often what happens in this scenario is the love interest will pick the New and Exciting Hottie, only to discover in the end that hottie is not-so-hottie. And who has been in their corner from the start, supporting them, sacrificing their heart for the love interest’s happiness? That’s right—the Friend-Next-Door. Readers love this scenario, because the underdog usually triumphs in the end. The nice guy does NOT finish last. Unfortunately in real life, this isn’t always the case. The Friend-Next-Door may never get the guts to proclaim their love, or is rejected, and therefore becomes a blip in a photo album of “remember whens”. But in fiction, nice guy finding love is your quintessential Happily Ever After.

Scenario #2: Perfect Love vs. Enduring Love (Scalene)

How do you tell the difference between infatuation and real love? When a person has an infatuation, their hottie has no flaws in their eyes. When a person is in love, their hottie has plenty of flaws, but they love them anyway. So what if a character falls for the Perfect Love, while the Enduring Love is relegated to waiting in the wings? We have a love triangle, ladies and gentlemen. The love interest will tag along after the Perfect Love like a puppy, ignoring hints that maybe Perfect Love isn’t so perfect. Often, towards the end of the tale, the perfect veneer is cracked when Mr. (or Ms.) Perfect does or says something that startles the love interest out of their infatuation. Eyes are opened, the truth shines in, and lo and behold, Enduring Love presents their case. That would be your HEA. However, perhaps Enduring Love grew tired of waiting, and moved on? Eek! Then we have a new love triangle…

Scenario #3: Unrequited Love vs. Unrequited Love [vs. Unrequited Love] (Equilateral)

This triangle gets a little more complicated, because it involves clueless bystanders who happen to be the object of another’s affection. Boy loves girl, but girl loves another boy. However, Another Boy doesn’t return girl’s feelings. Everyone is chasing someone else. Or if you REALLY want to complicate a love triangle, think of it as a recycle sign…Boy love Girl…Girl loves Another Boy…Another Boy loves Boy. That should stir up a story a bit.

Scenario #4: Goodie vs. Goodie (Isosceles)

If this particular love triangle is done right—there is no favorite to win—the story’s outcome will be bittersweet. In a Goodie vs. Goodie triangle, each character has a legitimate case for why he or she should be chosen. But at the close of the story, only one can win. To quote the wise and witty Earl Smooter in Sweet Home Alabama, “You can’t ride two horses with one ass, sugarbean.”
This scenario is often sad because a truly good suitor must step aside, bundle up their unrequited love, and pick up the pieces of their destroyed dreams (sob!). Perhaps one day they will get their happy ending, but the reader knows it will take some time and a lot of heartache, in the meantime. Usually, Goodie vs. Goodie stories are told from the point-of-view of the one who must do the choosing (think Bella’s choosing between Jacob and Edward, minus Jacob’s bizarro HEA).

[Extra Credit: Effectively crafting your three characters’ personalities and traits is as important to the triangle as is the plot itself. Your characters must be written in such a way that they will either compliment or rival each other, depending on your scenario. Start with your main character. To shape him or her, make a list of her character traits. From there, on either side, make two additional lists for the two suitors. Make sure that each suitor’s list has both positive and negative traits that compliment or repulse the main character. If your triangle is too imbalanced, your plot will be a no-brainer and fizzle fairly quickly. ]

Happily Ever After?

Sometimes, the trials of the triangle cause too much damage and no one wins. Take, for example, one of the oldest love triangles in literature: King Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. An entire kingdom was destroyed, reputations were ruined and in the end, not one of the lovers ended up together. Love triangles don’t necessarily have happy endings. In fact, when done properly, they will mimic real life romantic tangles and provide insight into the complexities of love.

But other times, the trials of the triangle will only strengthen the love of whoever survives in the end. If the love interest has chosen correctly, they’ve listened to their heart and to their gut, and have been true to themselves. Because of their “trial by fire,” they have been forced not only to choose, but to evaluate what and who they really want, and why. Having this knowledge under their belts will help their love to last through future rough roads.

Still other times, someone loses and wins…but not by getting their love interest. Rather, they may come to realize they weren’t really meant for this person in the first place. Often times, when a suitor is chasing a love interest that does not want them, there are deeper issues at play. Relationship coach Rinatta (last name withheld) states that there are several reasons suitors will suffer over unrequited love. When your main character is the loser in a love triangle, they may be experiencing any of the following:

1. They believe their love interest is “the one”

Being trapped by unrequited love is often the result of not letting go of fantasies about the ideal “love.” While a love interest may not be particularly special, a suitor will believe that this person is meant for them—that this love interest is “the one.” The suitor will suffer the pain of rejection, the agony of parting. They will misinterpret normal hurts as the results of being separated from the person they were destined for. Only when they acknowledge that their love interest is simply a step towards something greater, will they be able to let go and move on.

2. They believe there won’t be another love after this relationship

Perhaps a suitor recognizes that their relationship with someone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They may have even noticed their love interest’s eyes wandering to other places. But fear of the unknown keeps them from moving on. What if this is their only shot at love? Better to make it work…even if it’s not working. This kind of fear traps the suitor in the triangle. However, acknowledging that a relationship is not meant to be will give the suitor freedom to move on, maybe even find “the one.”

3. They stifle their anger

This can be especially true if the sufferer is in love with someone in another relationship. Healthy anger often helps a suitor to move on. But if they are refusing to become angry at the situation they are in, they are in denial. And this will only lead them through more heartache and pain. Once they work through their anger, they can move on to a new love.

When Three’s a Crowd: Famous Love Triangles

The J Geils Band got it right: "You love her, but she loves him. And he loves somebody else…You just can't win." Here are some examples to help you in your road to crafting your very own love triangle. Look ‘em up—you might get some excellent plot bunnies out of them:

Brenda, Dylan, Kelly

The new Beverly Hills, 90210 ain’t got nuthin’ on the old one.

Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie

Still have millions of celebrity gossip lovers at odds. You all know the story.

Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher
Began on the set of Cleopatra. Ended in the tabloids.

The Phantom of the Opera, Christine Daaé, Raoul de Chagny

Bless his heart. He tried, poor fugly opera ghost.

Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine

If only we all had to choose between two superheroes. I feel for you, Jean. Really.

Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Superman

Nothing sucks worse than having to compete with…yourself. This takes self-loathing to new heights.

Anatole Kuragin, Natasha Rostov, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky

Ah War and Peace, how you make me cry. Andrei’s last words to Natasha get me every damn time.

The English Patient, Katharine Clifton, Geoffrey Clifton

Could The English Patient possibly have been ANY more depressing?

Amanda Jones, Keith Nelson, Watts

Hurrah, the reliable friend triumphs in Some Kind of Wonderful. Eat it, Amanda.

Edgar Linton, Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff

Readers, let Wuthering Heights be a lesson to you…don’t settle for wealth and status. You’ll only end up knocking on windows in the afterlife.

Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby

Daisy, you and Catherine Earnshaw should have lunch. Let her tell you about the whole window-knocking thing.

Olivia, Orsino, Viola/Cesario

Shakespeare was the king of love triangles (and rectangles, hexagons, and octagons…). Twelfth Night is no exception.

Blanche DuBois, Stanley Kowalski, Stella Kowalski

If ever there was an unstable love triangle, it’s the one in Streetcar Named Desire. STELLA!!! *angstangstangst*

Andrew Hennings, Melanie Carmichael, Jake Perry

A well-done love triangle—we feel for poor, rich, handsome Andrew at the end of Sweet Home Alabama. And yet, a happily ever after! All is right in the world.

And there’s your little refresher course in how to set up a love triangle. Now, let’s see a slew of these puppies pop up in fanfiction. Because admit it—even though they border on cliché, they are so dang fun! And if you do a love triangle well, no one will care if it’s been done before. Happy writing!

Gondolier is officially sticking it to the MAN by sharing her wealth of wordcraft knowledge with the likes of fandom. She demonstrates her tremendous skills with every chapter she posts of her wondrous story, Hydraulic Level 5. Bitch Leah anyone?

1 comment:

  1. I think this is full of excellent advice! I've read far too many fic's where the love triangle just wasn't doing it for me - which is bad when you're already predisposed to liking someone (Jacob over Edward in my case.) And I really liked your advice on how to go about making sure your triangle isn't the suck. Thanks! <3 bririzzle


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