Saturday, June 28, 2014

Guest Post: Interpreting Love Triangles

In the world of YA and teen romance, love triangles are a given. Find a YA book that doesn't have a love triangle - or something similar - and I will admit defeat. To be fair, I have read a few YA that don't have love triangles, but I can't think of what they were. ;-) So, with love triangles peppering literature nowadays, how do you go about figuring out how it will turn out for the characters? I've asked my friends Katherine and Hazel to join on this topic! This was very interesting to do, to see the differing opinions - and agreeing ones!

Katherine's Method

I don't abhor all love triangles. If done right, they can add something to the story. But sometimes, the love triangles can be utterly ridiculous (like The Hunger Games. I thought the love triangle was not only stupid, she picked the wrong guy. Peeta's a wuss!!)

I look for a connection between the characters. More than the usual "oh, he's so hot" type of connection. I find that the connection seems to be stronger if the two love interests are childhood friends. Example: Tag and Lucia from Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii and Montgomery and Juliet from The Madman's Daughter. Since there's already an emotional tie between them, the romance tends to flow rather nicely.

There always seems to be two types of boys vying for the heroine's heart: the good boy and the bad boy. Most of the time when I'm reading a book, the angelic guy will win (Peeta from The Hunger Games, Maxon from The Selection). These heroines probably go for the good guy because he is a source of stability, is trustworthy, and is generally a good influence on them.

But psychologically, women tend to go towards the men that are a little bit dangerous (this is what happens when both of your parents majored and minored in psychology and sociology). We like the idea of defying society's expectations by falling in love who is less than savory. This could backfire on the heroine if she's looking for a future with this person. Since he probably is not the most savory of characters, a long lasting romance is not likely to happen.

Hazel's Method

Love Triangles. One of the more famous tropes in YA fiction nowadays. Sometimes it's incredibly hard to find a book without them. Despite popularity and popular belief of the publishers, I know very few readers who actually enjoy a love triangle, apart from readers of sparkly vampire fiction. Today, I'm going to talk about how to spot one. How do you know when a love triangle is going to pop up?

Have you ever picked up a really great sounding book from the library or bookstore, and couldn't wait to read it, only to find that fifty, or even worse, a hundred pages in, you find yourself smack dab in the middle of a raging love triangle? You flip through the book, trying to find out how much this is actually going to effect the plot, check the blurb again to see if there's any indication, and then, when it becomes too much, give up on the book, or just simply finish it and give it a bad review. The worst part is always going into it blind. Not realizing what you're getting into. Sometimes, it's plain enough; it will clearly state that Heroine of the Day meets Boy One and then equally has mixed feelings for Boy Two. Ugh, half the time I will not even pick up a book that has this scenario in the blurb, unless it promises more to the story, or I trust the author not to make it stupid. Unfortunately, sometimes, even my favorite authors do love triangles really badly.

Another indication if a typical love triangle scenario is the childhood sweetheart. Almost never do heroines end up with their childhood sweetheart. Funnily enough, male characters sometimes do, but it's very rare with females. I kind of like the idea of childhood sweethearts myself, because a lot of times their relationship has been built on friendship and not just attraction. I'm one of those people who do not believe that lust and physical attraction do not equal true love and respect. Call me old-fashioned. So often the heroine will be happily dating Boy One, her best friend who has become more over the years, and then all of a sudden comes along Boy Two, the hot bad boy who is so "drop dead gorgeous" they just want to snog all the time. Then that leads to jealousy, and friend problems and nothing good. And that's the part I hate most about love triangle scenarios. Now, sometimes, it will be the opposite. Maybe Bad Boy Two ends up being even too much for the Heroine, and she runs back to Boy One to make it all better. And that's when I have no respect for Boy One anymore because he should know better than to take that girl back.

And then of course there are those books that you know a love triangle is going to serve a purpose. And those I sometimes hate even more because you understand that it is inevitable and you're going to have to go through it to get to the plot but you still hate the thought of having to sit through a whole book of it.

And leading from that, you've got the whole pretend love triangle, too. Maybe the hero or heroine will have to pretend to be in love with someone else, though they really aren't. But you know what will inevitably happen then, right? Just because the hero or heroine doesn't really harbor feelings for this person (or maybe they do??) they significant other obviously doesn't believe it. There's always that moment where it causes drama. And as I said before, the drama is why I hate love triangles so much. And while this kind might serve some sort of purpose, they are still sometimes annoying. Thankfully, though, these always serve some purpose to the plot and can sometimes also be hilarious if done right. If I have to read about any kind of love triangle, this is the one I would choose. It's pretty easy to spot this kind. They usually come about in historical fiction or fairy tale-like stories where the prince or princess or noble person loves someone under their station and are forced to pretend to like or court someone else that their parents etc. choose for them.

Typically if more than two guys show up in a book with a female protagonist and one of them is not her brother, there's going to be a love triangle. This is not always the case, some people are still able to write actual friendship stories without the romance and drama, but it doesn't happen a lot, unfortunately. Most of my examples are with female protagonists. That's because the typical love triangle is with the girl and two guys. Usually the girl doesn't even warrant anyone chasing her, she's such a ditz, but for whatever reason the guys love her. I don't know. Yes, it happens with male protagonists, too, but not so often, and usually they end up choosing the better girl in the end anyway, while the girls sometimes pick the stupid guy.

It's kind of interesting trying to predict how a love triangle will turn out. You can usually tell pretty much by the middle of the book. If Boy One just isn't as awesome as we once thought, then it's probably going to be Boy Two, but sometimes it's Boy Two who goes off the reservation of then you can pretty much tell that even if they end on good terms, they probably won't end up together. Sometimes the heroine is smart and she realizes that she has someone better than Boy Two waiting for her. Sometimes she doesn't.

In any case, while love triangles are often annoying, they can also be entertaining to make fun of and trying to predict how they will turn out.

The Reading Hedgehog's Method

In Young Adult literature nowadays, love triangles are inevitable; they are the relationship norm. With the exception of a handful of titles, I can't think of many YA books that don't have love triangles. So, when you are faced with the traditional "which boy will she pick," how do you go about interpreting the final outcome? Believe it or not, it can be a bit of a process, and my process especially is a very thorough one. There are clues and hints I keep my eye out for, to see who the girl will end up with. I don't, as a general rule, care, but it's still fun to deduce what one can from the clues laid out before the Reader.

The first thing I try to establish is who the Rugged Love Interest and who the Angelic Love Interest is. The Rugged Love Interest (or RLI for short) can mean several things: they can be the bad boy; they can be the "manly" male - the one who has no real social graces, wears Carharts or leather, or is generally rough around the edges; he also usually has a tragic backstory where he was abused by someone and therefore explains his mood swings and sometimes violent rages. Generally, the RLI has black hair, dark eyes, and sometimes a five o'clock shadow. They're the interesting guy; the one that makes the girl feel like she's on fire, that makes her feel scared and intrigued at the same time. The RLI is rarely synonymous with safe - or moral, for that matter. The ALI (Angelic Love Interest) will usually be fair-haired, refined, have a rich and sophisticated upbringing, and sensitive and a gentleman. He's safe, he's dependable.

99% of the time, the girl will choose the RLI. Bad boy is in; rough is in; dangerous and reckless is in. If a guy makes a girl feel this way, that's sexy. That's desirable. Dependable is boring.

Hold on, though; there's lots of examples of RLIs who are not chosen! This is when you have to go into the next stage of analysis. If an RLI is a childhood friend (like Gale from The Hunger Games, or Aspen from The Selection - or even Jacob from Twilight), forget it - the ALI will win. If they knew each other as kids, if there is a romantic attachment established between them before the "new guy" is introduced, the dude has no chance. Yes, there are a few exceptions to this analysis - I never said my method was foolproof. But it's pretty rare.

Another telltale is who does the girl spend the most time with? Let's pull in an example: Maxon, America, and Aspen from The Selection. Maxon is a pretty classic ALI - fair-haired, gentlemanly, rich, sophisticated. Aspen is the RLI - rough around the edges, makes America feel wild and hungry, and Aspen has a bit of a bad boy attitude. However, Aspen is also a childhood friend and "pre-story" established love interest - hence why he doesn't have a chance, even if she is the RLI. Here's another telltale with this love interest: as soon as America gets swept away to become the next princess, she starts to have "moments" with Maxon. You know what I'm talking about: there's that magical "we get each other" moment between the girl and one of the love interests that sends them head over heels in love with each other. This moment comes to define their relationship. If the girl has a "moment" with someone, that pretty much seals who she'll end up with. If she has more than one, oh yes, he's the winner.

An even bigger telltale is if the girl begins her relationship hating one of the guys. America is pretty indifferent to Maxon at first; that changes, of course. Sorry, Aspen; your chances are looking slimmer and slimmer. We meet Aspen at the beginning, an iconic RLI, then suddenly their relationship is torn asunder by America's going to the palace and meeting Prince Maxon. Aspen is pretty much forgotten from this moment onward. And then he reappears - after America and Maxon have had several "moments." The odds are not looking good for Aspen.

So, establish who the RLI and the ALI are. Always remember that whoever is most like the bad boy, he's the RLI. Then, look to see who the childhood friend is. Whether RLI or ALI, he has a less-than-40% chance of winning the girl. Look for "the moment," and look for who the girl spends the most time with. Which love interest do we Readers get to know best? Which love interest makes the girl feel hungry, and which makes her feel safe? The safe one will never win, unless the girl starts the relationship off hating him.

Follow these guidelines and you'll be able to interpret the outcome of the love triangle pretty darn accutaetly. Forget trying to choose a "Team So-and-So." Just look for the clues and sit back and wait to tell everyone, "I knew she would choose him!"


  1. This was a really fun guest post :) It's definitely true that sometimes it's easier to pin down the outcome than other times. I know there's several things that have had me guessing until the end.

    On another note, Mara, why is it that all these RLIs who have been abused or something always use that as an excuse for lashing out? Most good guys wouldn't do that. They might still lash out but they don't excuse it. I just think it's rare authors get what's supposed to be in a relationship anymore.

    1. I think a lot of people do actually believe that bad circumstances give a person an eligible excuse to lash out and/or plunge their lives into ruin. A good RLI lashes out, and then feels awful about it. Authors write relationships that teens like, and as we all know, teens don't know what a good relationship is.

  2. Love this post! :-) Personally, I dont`t like love triangles because most of them take away the focus from the main story. My favorite kind of romance is the one that stays in the background and that are based on respect, in other words a relationship that develops over time. A great example is "The Dark Unwinding" and "The Scorpio Races", two books I love dearly.

    1. I totally agree, Rade! Background romance is always the best, and those two books are excellent examples! I would have still preferred it if Sean and Puck had just been super good friends, but Maggie Stiefvater did handle their romance well.

  3. Love triangles. How much longer must we endure this plague upon fiction? ;)

    You know I go out of my way to find YA books without love triangles. I don't have fun predicting the winner...I just get ticked off by the drama. :)

    1. As long as it takes publishers to realize that people really and truly are fed up with them.

      They tick me off, too, but we reviewers have no choice but to face them, so I have to find a way to get some entertainment out of them.

  4. What an Awesome Post :D

    Especially in The Second Book of Trilogy and The Heroine Gets to Spend a LOT of Time with Said Hero's Brother,Who is a Bad Boy But Misunderstood. and The Heroine Starts Falling for The Brother. All This on a Journey to Save The Hero. I Think This is Also a Huge Hint

    1. Yes, that can definitely be another huge deciding factor in who she ends up with. I haven't tested this method on any new releases recently, so I don't know if the formula has begun to chance, but with the last few years' books, it seems to hold sound. ^_^

    2. Yay! I Can't Wait to Say That I Saw it Coming,Once Book 3 Comes Out Next Year. I Also Might Print Out This Blog Post, If That's Okay. I Won't Share it. or Publish it Anywhere


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