Will 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.
This 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!