Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Loathesome Love Triangle

I may be crushing the hopes of a few readers right now, and for that I am sorry, but I don't like love triangles. In fact, I try to avoid them at all cost.

Of course, love triangles are in every form of entertainment that is out there. They have been a staple of romance novels and soap operas forever.

The website, TV Tropes, defines a love triangle this way:

A is in love with B, but B is in love with C, resulting in wacky hijinks's. Alternatively, A and B are both in love with C, who is torn between the two and must make a choice. In the latter case, A and B tend to be Betty and Veronica; in the former, A will usually be a Romantic False Lead or Hopeless Suitor.
I am very familiar with this soap opera trope. I was a huge fan of Days of Our Lives a very long time ago. Anyone who even knows a little about the show knows about Bo & Hope, the ultimate soap opera couple. Their love is supposed to be so legendary (in the show) that they have probably over twenty years of flashbacks to use in montages. Yet, this couple is never allowed happiness. Amazingly, they constantly fall victim to the love triangle trope. When I watched the show, I got so sick of them being broken up by past loves (that were usually presumed dead and mysteriously were alive again) I stopped watching the show.

Basically, you can blame Bo & Hope for my great loathing of love triangles.

Of course, this means I am squarely outside the norm right now. Love triangles are huge business in movies, books, and TV shows.

For example, the TV show THE VAMPIRE DIARIES loves to tantalize its viewers with images placing the three main leads in love triangle poses.

Even during the first season when the heroine, Elena, made it clear her love was for Stefan, his bad boy older brother, Damon, was constantly in all the promo shots hinting at a future love triangle.

It's not hard to find Team Stefan and Team Damon discussions online. Damon does seem to get more love, but he is the bad boy and played to great effect by the very handsome Ian Somerhalder.

It is obvious from the marketing of the show that the network believes the love triangle is the best asset to the show, despite its excellent storytelling and solid acting.

Of course the ultimate love triangle in recent literary and movie making history is the nefarious TWILIGHT love triangle of Bella, Jacob and Edward. The books (and now the movies) have been such an enormous success that nearly every Young Adult book now has a love triangle as an integral part of its plot. What always stood out to me about this plot in the books and in the movies is that it is always quite clear that Bella and Edward will be together in the end. My personal opinion was that she should have picked Jacob, but I knew it would never happen. The bad boy does usually win these triangles because somehow the heroine's love changes him (another trope I really hate).

The dark and gritty THE HUNGER GAMES even had to have a love triangle.

When the actors for the roles of Peeta and Gale were finally filled, The Los Angles Times had the headline:
The Hunger Games': Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth complete the love triangle"

The series is a triumph with deep characterization, violence, gore, political intrigue, and terrifying scenes of psychological terror. The story is about children killing children! Yet the one aspect of this great series that gets the most attention is a love triangle that I never really felt invested in to begin with. I was more interested in how Katniss was just going to survive!

I am not always opposed to a love triangle if it is done well.

MATCHED by Ally Condie used the love triangle to great effect in that story. It is the love triangle that spurs the young heroine of the tale to slowly begin to doubt the world that has been so carefully constructed around her by the Society. When she falls in love with someone other than the person she has been "matched" with, she begins to see that the Society does not always know what is right for the citizens. MATCHED is a wonderfully subtle and nuance book that had me turning pages as fast as I could.

I suppose my true distaste for the love triangle also reflects the truth that in real life it rarely occurs as it is depicted in books and movies. Two men are not going to patiently wait around for a woman to decide who she loves more. Someone is going to throw down an ultimatum and move on. Or maybe both will. I have seen that more than once. A friend likes two guys, won't decide, and the two men in question go off and find someone who will love them exclusively.

Yet, love triangles are a powerful force in the literary world and are expected if you're writing a supernatural tale. And since it is expected, it is sometimes seen where it does not exist.

Beware of Spoilers! You may want to skip ahead if you have not read my two vampire novels!

In my own vampire novels, people fully anticipate the love triangle trope. In Pretty When She Dies Cian is involved with Samantha, a mortal, when Amaliya (the newly created vampire) lands squarely in their lives. A reader sent me an email informing me that she hated Samantha immediately because she assumed there was going to be a love triangle, and therefore, Samantha had to be the bad guy. She was shocked to realize Samantha was not. The two vampires and the mortal in the "triangle" are all swept away by events outside of their control and all three try very hard to do their best to save each other. Samantha is deeply hurt when she realizes Cian is not the noble vampire she thought he was, but she is also still his friend at the end of the book. The character didn't catch a break with some of the readers because they were already applying the love triangle trope.

In THE TALE OF THE VAMPIRE BRIDE, Count Vlad Dracula creates our vampire heroine, Lady Glynis Wright. He rapes and murders her before she is reborn a vampire. He also slaughters her family in the most terrible ways possible. Attempting to break her and make her into his willing Bride, he is physically and emotionally abusive. Later, he comes to appreciate her stubbornness and begins to hone her into not a subservient wife, but a capable ally. Glynis meanwhile, falls madly in love with another vampire and begins a secret affair with him. Ignatius, her lover, is everything that the cruel, sadistic, sociopath Vlad is not and Glynis loves him with all her heart. The entire premise of the story is Glynis fighting to gain her freedom from Vlad Dracula so she may live her own life as she chooses.

So, consider me thunder stuck when I received quite a few emails from readers telling me they hoped that Vlad Dracula would reclaim Glynis as his own in the second book.

I was rather speechless actually.

A fan (and friend) told me that she expected a love triangle, so she just automatically assumed Vlad was somehow in the running for our heroine's heart.

"But he killed her family," I said.

"Well, he did seem to love her," was the answer.

"But he's a sociopath and he only loves her in a sick deranged way," I protested.

"But he's kinda hot and powerful and evil! He's the ultimate bad boy!"

Once again the love triangle trope had been superimposed on a novel where there was no intention of a love triangle. I realized it was expected, therefore, certain aspects of the story appeared to support the trope in the eyes of a lot of readers. The terrible binding power of a master over his fledgling had translated into a "love" connection.

My very wise husband told me, "You can't fight it if they see it there, even if you didn't write it into the story."

Skip to here to avoid spoilers!!!

Reading over countless blogs, comments from writers and readers, and industry articles, I realize how powerful the love triangle trope has become in fiction. Its power is undeniable. So what do I do about it when it comes to my own writing?

I'm going to do as I always do. Write the story that unfurls in my mind and stay true to it. Perhaps a few readers will be disappointed when they realize there isn't a Team Amaliya or Team Samantha, or a Team Ignatius or Team Vlad.

Should a loathsome love triangle appear in my mind as an integral part of a story, I will write it, but as realistically as I can.

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