The Much Loathed Triangle

By May.

notoriousnineteenWill Stephanie Plum, who first appeared in book form 18 years ago, ever choose between Ranger and Morelli? Who is right for her? If you ask series fans, you will get very different answers. She loves each man for different reasons, but can’t imagine life without either of them, right? I’ve not read this series in five years or more, but I know it’s still the same story. Now, this example isn’t a romance but rather a mystery series, but it still makes my point. Love triangle plots are terrible, and they weaken any existing romance and the ability of an author to sell me on a true love and HEA.

This is not to say that I think the hero should be the one and only man who ever catches the heroine’s eye or walks onto the page. Not at all! My objection, as a romance reader, is when authors do a tug-of-war between two men and a heroine who isn’t sure at all who she prefers for the entire thing. A heroine who is flipping between multiple suitors that all tug at her heart (or, I suppose a gentleman choosing between two ladies) in a book makes me question the entire love story.

I know exactly why I loathe the classic love triangle. Because instead of building up the true love story, instead of making me fall in love with this couple and really selling me on their happily ever after, the author is toying with me. Who will it be? Which will she choose? If strong enough reasons remain for both choices, then guess what? Odds are I am not as invested in the story or in the characters as the author would want. Indeed, in my romance reader mind if we are looking at an epic true love of romance land, there would not be any real competition.

deadeverafterThis is a major reason I gave up the Sookie Stackhouse series. She has a line of suitors for her magical hoo-ha, and yet nobody is quite right. She loves them all, but none is perfect enough for her to stay with. One by one, the men lost viability as her true love in my mind, and this made me realize that perhaps she’d never find that epic love. Which, of course, made me sad and irritated and thus I quit. Oh yes, I’m a cranky reader like that!

In stand-alone novel format, I can think of many stories where there is another person that is presented as a potential option (perhaps a fiancée they are not wildly in love with, a suitor who was never quite right, etc), but I can’t think of an example where a character was truly torn (in his/her heart) between two people and it worked. If I do run across a love triangle story in a stand-alone novel it almost always ends with me failing or not finishing it.

I believe that most of the books that utilize this trope tend to be series, especially urban fantasy and paranormal books lately. In fact, I just read a book where the heroine is healing from a man (who broke up with her five years ago), but is finding potential with a new man. One who makes her feel great, whose soul (when she soul gazes him) is pure and good and wonderful. A man who puts her first above all others. One who really, truly, makes it clear why she should move on and forget that loser who dumped her!

The problem with that book, which by the way inspired this article, is that the author convinced me of the man she had no intention of picking! She built him up, and then surprise – we’re going to run on back to the ex-boyfriend when he snaps his fingers. Oh dear. This is no good, and I’m sorry to say more common than not when we get the divided attentions going with love plots!

There are of course some series that skirt on love triangle, but go around it in a way that really works. When the writing was done so well that while there were other men (or women) with potential, it was clear who the choice was going to always be.

Perhaps this is the key point for me. If you’re going to present me with multiple options for a happily ever after, be clear (but subtle is ok!) about who the real winner is going to be early on. Use those other characters to show me why they aren’t the right choice but the other person is. Strengthen the true love story, don’t weaken it or turn it into a series you’ll hope I will keep reading to find out who will ‘win’.

I don’t like my romances to be about winners and losers, but rather about how two people find that special magic that is true love.

I’d love to hear from you – are you a love triangle fan? Do you run away if one is mentioned? Do share!

Comments

  1. says

    I HATE love triangles. HATE HATE HATE. Subtle ones are okay, where the heroine hasn’t made a true commitment and not sleeping with either, proclaiming her everlasting love to both. Heck, she can sleep with them both but when she claims to love them both and flips back and forth? I get stabby.

    AND…if the author makes a decision, gives us a notion of an HEA for the couple, then they pull the rug out and bring the other person back in? OMG. I have divorced series for that.

    Though, I wish my ho ha was magical.

    • may says

      I want to say something like “Oh Tori, your ho ha is so magical” right now…

      but I am afraid people will get the wrong idea. BAHAHA!

  2. Diane DF says

    Thank you for writing this! I detest love triangles. If you can’t decide who you are in love with, then you don’t really love either one. I agree with what you said about using other characters to show why they aren’t the right choice, but at some point, PICK! And stick! If a love triangle is mentioned in a review, I am grateful because I can save my money. Breaks my heart not to finish a book but these are a DNF for me.

    • may says

      I won’t automatically run screaming from a love triangle mention, but I definitely take a much closer look at reviews before picking up if mentioned so I can see what kind of thing we’re talking about.

  3. JacquiC says

    Reading this made me wonder whether there is a difference between a true love triangle (the kind that annoy you) and the situation where the heroine is mistakenly thinking that one man is right for her, at the same time that she is not seeing the true redeeming qualities of the hero (and the flaws of the first love object). One of the classic examples that came to mind for me is Elizabeth Bennett’s initial affection for Wickham, and her loathing for Darcy. Both these feelings turn out to be ill-founded and part of her growth as heroine is to see past Wickham’s apparent charms to the true person he is, at the same time as she is shown the true person that Darcy is. Anyway, do you view this as a triangle? If it is, it is not one that bothers me because it is such a key catalyst for the growth of both main characters.

    • Allison says

      That is so insightful. I never thought about “Pride & Prejudice” as being a love triangle. I can see your point, but I personally don’t think of it as a love-triangle that is often heaped on us by modern writers.

      I LOATHE love triangles. There are many books and series out there I will NOT pick up due to the love triangle.

  4. May says

    JacquiC- no I definitely don’t see that as a triangle. For me that’s a great example of what I’m talking about where there are other options, but they help/build the main/real romance. Wickham is a great example of how to do it right! :)

    We didn’t see Elizabeth debating who to pick or truly falling in love with both men then wringing her hands and trying to figure out who to pick. It was a very well done part of her story and growth. I agree with you- and thanks for bringing that one up!!

  5. says

    I don’t mind them if they are done well. Some authors have that talent and can make readers have conflicting feelings about the two guys. I don’t even mind them in UF books even though everyone knows who the heroine is going to pick. BUT I hate them when they are drawn out and everyone knows who the chick is going to pick and they just need to get to it already. I think much of it is a balancing game and it just needs to be handled with caution. It can make or break a book.

    Love triangles don’t scare me enough to not pick up a book, but they’re not my first choice either. I guess that’s what romance books are for, you don’t have that third wheel (unless it’s a menage a trois ;P)

    • may says

      I don’t mind having other romantic interests before the “true love”. I can think of a lot of UF where it is done well and not as a “let’s weaken the real romance plot” device. The Fever series comes to mind – Mac has choices but it was never even a small doubt in my mind that her HEA was with Barrons. Rocky road, oh yes. But hints were clearly laid and no other potential love interest ever really competed.

      Jennifer Estep is another – Gin has had two romances now, there is even a book where those world collide but Estep didn’t write a triangle, she dealt with past and present and future as well as her heroine’s emotions beautifully.

  6. says

    I’m with May and Tori on this one! Both in wishing for a magical hoo-ha like Sookie’s (who wouldn’t?) and that the fact that I’ve definitely dropped series for this kind of mess.

    I’m all for my heroines getting to test the waters with more than one man and even better-enjoy some well deserved smexy time-but to fall in love with BOTH and then flip flop? Absolute turn off in real life and in fiction.

    Only thing that’s worse? The whole play one hero off the other plot line. Just read a book where the cheating Ex magically appeared at the 60% mark and elicited the proper jealous rage/public claiming of the heroine where 2 paragraphs earlier she was likening him to Antarctica (or was that just me?) because of his lack of affection and communication and misplaced show of affection though the always therapeutic BDSM session. GRRRRR.

    Or maybe it just couldn’t be helped. Maybe this heroine and her magic hoo-lured her Ex back AND snagged the “hero” in one swoop.

    Great post!
    Tina @Bookcrack

    • may says

      HA! Love this. (I mean I would hate it, but love your description!)

      This is exactly the kind of thing that sets me off. Sometimes I think authors whip out the love triangle because they need some kind of plot device or tension builder – but if they had a more interesting story they could avoid the pitfall!!

  7. Lege Artis says

    Great post, May!
    Well, I’m a little ambivalent toward love triangles in novels. That means, I won’t drop the novel just because blurb hints the existence of triangle, but if story is based only on this, it would be dnf.
    I love to read UF, and, unfortunately, majority of novels in this genre suffer from this. It became something like necessary plot for UF, thing that determines the genre like female heroine or tattoo on cover. If there is a love triangle I love to be resolved quickly, not dragged through whole series, prolonging the torture.I really don’t like fan’s debate or pools about who they think heroine should end up, team X or team Y and that sort of thing….
    I loved how Briggs resolved Mercy-Adam-Sam situation, for example.
    Kleypas is one of my favorite romance writers, my comfort author. I think she handled/wrote triangle pretty well in Sugar Daddy but that story line still irked me to no end. I always jump to Hardy book…

    • may says

      YES! Briggs is a perfect example of how to do it! She shows potential in someone else, but it never weakens Adam or the relationship he has with Mercy. If anything, it shows why it’s so strong/meant to be!

      Your reasoning is exactly why I don’t avoid anything with hint of love triangle. I wait and see what exactly we really have, and if it is one of the annoying ones or well done love interest conflict/character development.

      I feel like UF drawn out or badly done love triangles are an author not knowing how else to add tension and keep readers attention. Well, if they’d write a more interesting story, that’d do it! LOL.

  8. says

    I do hate hate HATE IT. Though sometimes I admit it works, but very seldom. I am thinking of a few UF series. I also think it works if the heroine for example is torn between 2 guys, but does not go around and telling everyone she loves them. One can be torn before falling for one

    • may says

      I get what you mean – I’ve seen examples where (in UF especially) she’s new to this crazy world/magic/etc. and meets a number of new people, including some potential love interests…. and she’s interested… but in who?

      I think that has a realistic ring to it, I don’t mind a slower developing romance or for it to take a while to unfold in that way.

  9. Mandi says

    I just want authors to realize we don’t need a love triangle in a UF book to keep our interest. Look at Kate and Curran or Mercy and Adam. I’m totally content with them being in a relationship book after book. I don’t need 10 books of – who will she end up with. Really, I don’t.

  10. says

    Exactly what Mandi said!! I don’t need a love triangle for a strong relationship. If Frost added a third to Cat and Bones, by God my head would explode.

    The only one I have been able to tolerate was Patricia Briggs and the tiniest hint of one at the beginning of Mercy’s series. But it was totally obvious where her heart was.

    I despise love triangles. Go out of my way to avoid them.

    • may says

      I also agree with Mandi! It’s ok to let the heroine have a bit of happy AND still battle evil/kick ass/etc. with her man by her side. :)

  11. Readsalot81 says

    Ahh the much maligned triangle. Well I’m with just about every other poster here. I think triangles are a pretty lazy way to create conflict and tension within the book. That’s my take. I can think of **1** series, only 1 where it didn’t make me want to throw the book down in frustration. And midway through the series, the heroine makes her choice and doesn’t look back. Finito. Done. (Psst, Stephanie Plum.. you can choose a man, I promise it won’t make the readers flee..well, most of em at least)

    I don’t even really count the Mercy series, although, I think that’s mainly because I never thought Samuel had a snowballs chance in hell.. my eyes were directed firmly towards Adam.

    The triangle has become more widespread in YA but strangely enough, it doesn’t bother me quite as much as it does in UF/PNR etc. I am more open to young adults keeping their options open so to speak. However, it’s a tricky balance between creating tension and anticipation and not having it go over into the drama llama territory.

    • may says

      I think I could see it making more sense in YA for the reasons you listed – because that is a time of life when indecision and conflicting emotions and being unsure of yourself certainly happens! It fits better than say a never-aging 30something new jersey bounty hunter…

  12. pamelia says

    Hmmm… I guess I must not hate triangles. I can think of plenty of books/series where they worked for me although the Sookie books are definitely NOT working on that front so I guess it’s a question of execution?
    I didn’t mind the Mercy/Adam/Sam tangle in the Briggs books.
    I am really loving Dianne Rowland’s Kara Gillian books and they have a triangle turned into a quadrangle.
    I also love how Kristen Ashley handles the whole concept of being really wrapped up in one fabulous guy while having another fabulous guy catch the heroine’s interest. I think she uses it in so many of her books and it serves to show a)how fabulous and awesome the heroine is; b) how much you want to read the next book (sequel baiting at it’s finest) and c)how much it’s all about the real and true relationship/connection between the H/h and NOT just about who’s the sexiest/most beautiful/most magical hoo-ha having character.

    • may says

      interesting points – and yes I think it is a matter of execution. Well done and I could not even realize an author snuck a love triangle in, or at least I won’t be dwelling on it!

  13. JessS says

    Okay awesome post, and I completely agree! I’m not a mega fan of love triangles, mostly because yeah, they do seem to cheapen the love between any of the chracters. And if a heroine is so conflicted that she can’t choose between two MEN then really she’s not a great heroine in the first place. Plus there is such an overabundance of love triangles that they feel entirely overused and unoriginal.
    However I haven’t minded those by Richelle Mead (okay I’ve loved them), because she does make it pretty clear who the heroine is going to end up with, and their love story is usually pretty romantic and grand and sweet.

  14. Carol B. says

    I absolutely hate love triangles!! It can turn a really good PNR/UF into an ugly soap opera! If I happen to find out a new series has a love triangle I run away screaming!!!

    Series that I like that can be potentially ruined due to a love triangle:
    Karen Chance’s Cassie Palmer series
    Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft series
    Linda Robertson’s Persephone Alcmedi series

    • says

      O I agree Carol, the Cassie Palmer series and Alex Craft series really do have a love triangle. Cassie has a vampire and a mage after her. And Alex has Death and that Fae guy I dislike. I have made my choice, now those girls will have to make theirs. Haven’t read Linda Robertson yet.

      I follow another cozy mystery series with a love triangle, and I am getting really tired of it after 16 books, but some new angle is thrown in. One of the guys is forced to go for another woman now, perhaps now her eyes will open to who is the best choice. The staid and loyal dentist, or the hot cop with the roving eye …

      • may says

        omg -is that hannah swenson (or whatever)? I quit after 4 or 5 books because GOOD MERCIFUL LORD! I looked ahead to current book, saw it was still wishy washy, and walked away quickly!

        Honestly, if a series author keeps the mystery (or UF world, or whatever) fresh and interesting, they don’t need cheap tricks like a neverending triangle.

  15. says

    I am clearly in the minority. I do not mind a love triangle. In fact, sometimes I even like them. Now, bear in mind, I don’t like ANY book where the ‘love’ professed for any character is so over the top. I like very realistic kinds of love stories. Sometimes they don’t even have to end with HEA (think Casablanca).

    I especially think triangles add something if the heroine is torn between an old, failing love and a potentially new and totally different kind of love. Even if she waffles a bit (between the familiar and the unknown)…because I think we all do that and it doesn’t mean that once we make a decision, the love isn’t real.

    I don’t need an ‘instant’ love…in fact, I tend to disbelieve the love story when it is TOO perfect too soon. So, bring on the triangle. It’s okay with me. LOL

    • Gracie says

      I agree with Jamie. I don’t need there to be a sweet, one-true love sort of HEA every time. I would actually like there to be more angsty, complicated romances, written well of course. And that’s what it comes down to for me…it has to be written well.

      I would stick with a series with plenty of back and forth between lots of characters and enjoy the ride if it was done well and the characters had reasons for making those choices that went beyond simple lust.

      I hope to see more unusual/open-minded romances. And I really wish there were some quality authors writing multiple partner/polyamorous stories. lol but I know I’m probably in the minority with that one!

  16. says

    I despise love triangles..they amp up my angst triple-fold

    YA storylines are the worst. I have chatted with an author who ‘hinted’ that the publishers push the YA authors to write love triangle scenarios because the formula worked for one very popular series *cough* Twilight *cough* and if it worked for one, it will work for others

    Check out my editorial on love triangles: http://thereadingcafe.com/young-adult-storylines-the-requisite-love-triangle/

    • may says

      perhaps this is why I don’t read YA!

      As for twilight, as much as I hate to say it I felt like that was well done love wise. Jake was never a real love interest, he was a great option but she never really considered him – she was all about Edward. Oh – don’t get me wrong and think I’m a fan – just that I’d rather have that sort of triangle than the badly done junk where heroines are flip flopping emotions like it’s a burger on a grill…

  17. says

    I don’t mind love triangles, if they are short. The occasional triangle aspect is alright, but I HATE when they drag out. I haven’t read the last few stephanie plum books for that reason. That love triangle is just ridiculous.. If a triangle stretches past 1 book, it gets old. Move on, the characters need to grow, and if they can’t figure it out after 1 book, I get irritated. With Sookie, girl just needs to get her act together and stand up for herself. Ditch all the vamps and get back together with a certain were tiger (that’s my dream anyhow, doubt it will happen). Anyhow, there’s my soap box for you :) Book Savvy Babe

    • may says

      Agreed – and girl you’re not alone. I feel the were tiger is the way to go for Sookie. Honestly? If she puts them together I’ll go back and read the books I skipped… a girl can dream…

  18. says

    I think love triangles are evil. It just seems like a cheap plot device to keep the romantic conflict going, but it’s weak storytelling. It’s an excuse to avoid working on strong emotional conflict. And as Mandi said, readers don’t keep coming back because of the love triangle, sometimes they come back despite of it.

  19. says

    I’m with you May. I’ve slowed down on the Plum books. Also on Harriss’s series. Stephanie and Sookie are no longer auto-buys for me.

    Lately, I’ve been digging menage where a love triangle ends up BEING the HEA. I’ve only read a few, but they entertain me and make me happy. My favorites are Kele Moon’s Beyond Eden and Samantha Wayland’s Destiny Calls.

    But like you, I like there to be an END in sight, which is why the series thing is getting old. Thanks for the great post!

  20. Susan B. says

    I hate when the heroine can’t make up her dang mind and she loves them both, or all three. Blech.
    Or when she loves one and pops in and out of multiple beds regardless. Double blech.

  21. says

    I think the Mercy Thompson books did a good job of dealing with the love triangle, probably because they didn’t focus on the relationship. I think, also, Mercy didn’t agonize over who she would choose all the time.

  22. says

    Kalayna Price’s Alex Craft series is the only series I can think of where three books in, I not only don’t mind the love triangle set up so far, but am completely unable to choose who she should be with. A love triangle can work for a book or two, but dragged out forever it just becomes a reason to drop the series.

    I just couldn’t take it any more with Janet Evanovich after book 13 (because Stephanie was just becoming more and more annoying stringing both guys along forever), and if I didn’t know that the upcoming Sookie Stackhouse book was the last one, I probably would’ve dropped that some time ago too. Based on the previous book, it looks like Sookie “will turn any man she touches into someone boring as heck” will end up with Sam in the end, probably because he’s the only male characters in the books she’s not already been romantically linked with at some point.

  23. Becky M. says

    Ugh. I finally had to stop reading the Sookie books when she was just looking for any reason–any lame-o reason at all–why the current guy she was with was no longer “the one”. (I think I stopped when she accused the were-tiger(?) of not putting her first over his FAMILY. They weren’t married or anything, and whatever was going on with his blood relations was serious and HELLO, they actually needed him. Unlike her, who wasn’t in crisis that I remember…) SHE was the one who was no longer living up to the promise, as far as I was concerned, yet in her mind she was perfect; the guys were all tragically flawed. Nope, I was done.

    As for Plum, I’m still reading them–kind of–getting them on audio from the library whenever I get around to it and only finally actually listening to them when I’ve got nothing else to listen to. To be honest, even that’s mostly for the narrator, who does a great job, and to see what Lula and Grandma Mazur are doing. Ranger’s “babe”s annoy the heck out of me and I have no idea why Morelli stays around Stephanie’s wishy-washy self. (I know, so hard to tell which side I was on, when I actually cared.;))

    Though we all know I’m just jealous and really want my own magic hoo-ha, darn it.

    Great post!

  24. says

    I’m definitely not a fan of love triangles although I find it a bit more tolerable in YA (what I usually read) just because it’s usually their first/second love. The author doesn’t need to make me think they’ll be together forever like in a proper romance novel because I don’t expect high schoolers to stay together forever. Plus they’re young and still forming their identities and trying to decide what kind of person they’ll be. Whereas adults should have their minds more made up.

  25. says

    Once, long ago, I started the Stephanie Plum series and only got about a chapter in before I had to give it up. I couldn’t handle her voice. It just irritated the ever-living-heck out of me. I would have eventually gone back and tried again…but then I heard about the never-ending love triangle. I’ve got no desire to read about a character that can’t make a decision after that many books.

    I don’t think it’s that I hate love-triangles all the time, but they have to be well written and not last forever. Mercy Thompson is a good example. She didn’t actually choose Adam until the end of the 3rd book, so we had all that time with Sam as a ‘potential.’ Yet, I think we all knew which way that was going. The Fever series worked for me too. I could only see it going one way. And Mac didn’t dither, she was more focused on her mission than anything.

    I’m hoping the Cassie Palmer series resolves its own love-triangle soon. I haven’t read the latest one yet, but I’m ready for that choice to be made.

    What really got on my nerves with the Sookie books is her lack of growth. Her character is pretty much the same as when we started the series. The hopping between characters actually doesn’t bother me as much as I would think in this series. I definitely want her to make a choice, but what bothers me most is that we’re going to get ONE book dealing with whoever (Sam, ugh) is going to be her HEA. One. We get 12 books with her jumping around between every supernatural being she meets, and one book to have her fall in love with her HEA. I’m not sure I’ll buy it. I actually haven’t read anything since Dead in the Family, I’m waiting until the last one is out now.

    Long and rambling post here. I guess I don’t run from triangles, but I hate when they’re put in, like so many others have said, for manufactured angst and then drug out. They have to be handled well for me to enjoy – or even forget they were there.

  26. says

    I SO agree. I don’t feel like it’s “true love” if someone is flipping so easily between characters. It’s toying with the reader and it’s toying with the heroes/suitors.
    No. Just…no.

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