Monday, January 27, 2014

How do you define a love triangle?

Original image source

Recently I made the declaration on twitter that I think books should come with love triangle warning labels. After that statement, I, of course, started thinking about how that could be practically executed. Not everyone sees love triangles the same way, and I started to wonder whose job it would be to make these rulings. Because if I were to make a dystopian future, it would be one in which Love Triangles Must Be Declared. Actually scratch that, it would be a future of No Love Triangles. But I digress. I certainly wouldn't want the job of having to decide if a book required a love triangle label, if it meant I had to read only books with potential triangles in them. And what do you do about series that introduce triangles in later books? Clearly this question requires Serious Thought.

Today I want to know:
How do you define a love triangle? 

Often, when I consider an entire book series,  I'd easily give it a Mild love triangle rating, although individual books may feel higher than others. For most "love triangles" it's always obvious who the heroine wants, even if she goes after someone else when she can't have him. For those of series, I'm never really worried about who she will end up with. I'm also glad that I didn't pass them by because of my worry about the state of the triangle. It's the series that keep me guessing until the very end, where I struggle the most. 

Would you consider all of these popular love setups to be true triangles? 
Which do you think are most/least effective?
(This list is not extensive, and some of these overlap.)

1) Best friend on hold - The MC's best friend is not-so-secretly in love with her, and she considers him because she can't have the guy she wants. This also leads to any situation where the MC picks a different guy because she can't have her first choice. 


 Examples: The Iron Fey by Julie Kagawa, The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare. The Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead 

2) The blindside - A second love interest pops up mid series. 
 Examples: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Delirium by Lauren Oliver

3) Middle book tension triangle, or "I love you, but I love him more!" - The MC usually gets into this situation, when a second guy comes into the picture during the middle book break-up between her and her main love interest. Authors must keep the tension high!
Examples: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

4) Make-out buddy - The connection between the MC and one of the guys is more physical and about her needing to escape, than anything emotional. This usually isn't dragged out past one book. 
Example: The Archived by Victoria Schwab

5) The Love T - It's clear who the MC wants and he wants her back. But there is another guy who really wants her too, although he never really has a chance. 
Example: Anne Aguirre outlines this well in her post on her Enclave series at The Midnight Garden.

6) This wouldn't be a triangle if THAT plot element hadn't happened - A new love interest comes into the story because of major plot elements that shakes up the MC's world, changing her future and introducing a potential new love interest. 
 Example: Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready (Logan dies at the beginning of the series, and Zach is introduced), The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Katniss and Gale seem a given until she gets called to the Hunger Games with Peeta). 

7) THE LOVE TRIANGLE OF DOOM - The author drags out the triangle and keeps you guessing until the BITTER END of the series.
Example: See my recent post on the topic. But The Tiger Saga by Colleen Houck is my strongest example of this.

8) The Infernal Devices - This deserves it's own category, because it's the only series I can think of that actually has a true triangle, where all three of the individuals in the relationship care about each other. 

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

9) Free will debate, aka I'm bound to you, but I want him instead - Objectively, the heroine makes much more sense with one of her choices. He is her intended match, but she wants to make her own decisions and ends up falling in love with someone else instead. I usually struggle with how these types of triangles play out throughout a series. 


Examples: Unearthly series by Cynthia Hand. Nightshade by Andrea Cremer 

Final thought (haha. who am I kidding? I could talk about love triangles forever): Have you noticed that the people who write descriptive book copy like to further confuse those of us actively trying to avoid triangles? Sometimes they like to write book descriptions claiming there's a triangle in a story, but once you start reading, you realize there isn't one at all. On the other hand, sometimes a book description only mentions one guy, when you find out later that there's two at play. Don't get me started again on series where triangles pop up unexpectedly in later books. How is a girl who's actively trying to avoid triangles, supposed to succeed? 

I want to hear from you! 

24 comments:

  1. Oh god! All these types of love triangle hurt my head! Why can't they just all go away? But going through the different types, I agree that some of them didn't even feel like a triangle to me, like Starcrossed series (Helen and Orion were never a couple, they were more like friends--I don't even know why that was called a triangle), Vampire Academy (Adrian was clearly a play things for Rose, she was never serious with him and only dated him to make Dmitri believe that she had a life--that's how I looked at it), Hunger Games (again, Gale was just a supportive side character, kind of like Simon from Mortal Instruments. Even if Katniss would've stayed, I don't think she and Gale would've been together). These are the types of triangle I can handle. I hate the ones that are dragged throughout the series for unnecessary drama or the types where the heroine is unworthy of the guy I root for (Ren from Nightshade and Seth from Covenant) Those are the cause for my frustration. Overall, I would prefer there to be no triangle at all, but if it has to be there, then I'd want to heroine/hero to be smart enough to make a decision within one book and stick with it. Great post, Lauren!

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  2. The "best friend on hold" thing depresses me, really. It's sad to see the best friends just waiting on the sidelines and eventually getting hurt. I HATE "the blindside" with a burning passion. I mean, come on, I don't need any more of those in my life! Both of your examples were books I disliked just for that fact. As for "the Infernal Devices," originally, I would've been okay with whoever Tessa picked, but then I realized that it had to be will. Therefore I'm not a fan of that one either loL! The "middle of the book tension".... *cringes* I can't stand those. But I prefer them more than the blindside. The others are alright, but I would still appreciate books without love triangles more.

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  3. "Authors must keep the tension high!"--LOL LAUREN :D That's exactly right. I didn't mind the love triangle in THG, even though I was team Gale at one point, but mostly team Peeta, I didn't mind how it all went down and even if it wouldn't have been the guy she went with in the end, I still wouldn't have been that sad, to be honest with you. Simon & Clary "romance" is a joke. I agree for TID!!! The epilogue kind of ruined it, but still--it was what you actually call a love triangle. Basically everyone in the fandom said that they'd love for Tessa to end up with one ot hem, but if she didn't, they wouldn't mind the other choice. It broke everyone's hearts. I have lately found myself rooting for the wrong guy. Ren from Nightshade is the perfect example, and well.. Adam. I actually hate Christian's guts--Tucker had so little "screen time" in Hallowed and Christian just keeps pushing and pushing and pushing--mind me, I don't like pushy guys. JUST GO AWAY, CHRISTIAN!!!!! So yes, I'm holding off on Boundless because he was already in the first chapter with his I missed yous. *gags* The ending paragraph--I agree. There was supposedly a love triangle in Defy, but I didn't see it that way. There was supposed to be one in One Tiny Lie, but it never came off as a triangle, so in my spreadsheet, I marked it as "none". Eh, well... this is a tricky matter and you never get a right answer, because everyone has their own opinion. Great discussion, my friend!

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  4. #4 and #5 on your list aren't what I'd consider love triangles. For me the bitterness of a love triangle comes from the fact that the MC is truly torn between two choices, whether or not she prefers one, and that act of being so confused and leading on two guys is what irritates me. If a guy is simply there because the MC is grieving (like in The Sky is Everywhere) I can forgive her and I can also get behind her if she's loyal to one guy and someone else just happens to like her which is out of her control, but either than that it's definitely a love triangle for me. Also, I am totally with you about misleading publishers! >.< Not just concerning love triangles, though. The Just One Day/Just One Year duo had quite a bit of mismarketing and I just finished Huntley Fitzpatrick's upcoming novel which isn't really about half the issues its cover synopsis hints at. As for avoiding love triangles? I have a shelf on GR that's called "avoid until sequel releases." If the sequel has a love triangle or cliffhanger I don't bother. It's saved me quite a bit of heartache in the past, at any rate. Great post and discussion topic, Lauren!(:

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  5. I think we're screwed. Those blurb writers seem to think that we like the triangle. Silly blurb writers. I just am so not a fan of the triangle (I've only liked it a couple of times because it just *worked* and was so integral to the plot) -- I guess we'll have to look out for one another when it comes to avoiding the pitfalls of THE TRIANGLE.

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  6. There have been love triangles that I never consider a real triangle because the choice was obvious to me. Like in the Legend series. I had friends message me while reading Prodigy and Champion all worried and I don't remember ever feeling that way. I guess sometimes I just look past them when they are so minor.

    I HATE the blindside and middle book tension triangles. Like seriously hate. I am fine if they are there from the beginning but ones like the Shatter Me books just make me upset. The Delirium one I could deal with because somehow I fell in love with both boys. I liked how it tore me up but then the last book was a disappointment.

    LOVED the triangle in the Infernal Devices.

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  7. For me, the worst love triangles are the ones you mentioned that drag on and on and keep us guessing until the very end. I can't deal with those types any more. I'm also not a fan of the guy that pops up in book two in order to create additional tension between our main couple and put them on the outs before they reconcile in book three. There are times where this has happened and it hasn't been too bad for me though, like with Through the Zombie Glass. A new guy does enter the picture, but luckily Ali doesn't have feelings for him in the least, so it never really became a triangle for me.

    A triangle, in my eyes, is when there are two guys competing for one girl and she has genuine feelings for both of them and just can't make a decision (or a guy with two girls, though I haven't read a book with that type of triangle yet). Like in The Elite by Kiera Cass. The Selection managed to be triangle free because America only had feelings for one guy, but with the Elite she was waffling with the best of them and it drove me crazy. If the girl's feelings are clear, even if there are two guys present it's still not a true triangle for me because she's not confused. She knows who she wants, it just might not be possible at that point in the story.

    Also, working on your button this week!

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  8. Love triangles make my brain melt. And the ones that show up MID series? I can't even ... WHY?! It's like I've been tricked!
    The whole Warner thing annoyed me endlessly. I was so invested in Adam and Juliette and then BAM Team Psycho appears lol.
    As for the Delirium 'love triangle' I think it made the rest of the series so dull. Alex was a great love interest and Julian was one-dimensional and boring. It was obvious where our M/C's heart was! Plus it meant that the awkward tension was a main focus, rather than the other awesome stuff that SHOULD have been the focus.

    I won't read a book if a love triangle is a feature, which is why I feel conned when it shows up halfway through. It's just such a tired and mundane plot device. Like, oh, woe is me, so many people love me and I clearly don't care about either of them enough because if I did then I would be able to choose :/ Blech. Spare me.

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  9. Oh, sweetie, this has been on your mind a lot lately, hasn't it? I understand, though...it's almost impossible to avoid these triangles, especially when they crop up mid-series. I've never read the Tiger's Destiny books, but I'm glad for that. I've experienced enough triangles to know I won't like those books for that reason. I hate the best-friends-on-hold triangle almost as much as the blindside triangle, but the middle book tension triangle is almost as bad. The make-out buddy triangle doesn't bother me so much because you know where the MC's heart lies. Same goes for the love T.

    I've almost completely stopped reading summaries right before I pick up a book because I don't want to be misled about a possible triangle. And it seems like those who write the descriptive copy think we all WANT love triangles because I've been misled that way and recently, too. *sigh* But I still agree that we should at least get advanced warning of a triangle so we can decide if it's worth it or not. =)

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  10. I think there are two kinds of love triangles for me: the kind that annoy me and the kind that don't. Unfortunately, most fall into the former category. Broken down, further, I guess I can take a love triangle that's not a love triangle- a.k.a., one where the "vied for" person has made a choice, stuck to it and doesn't waver, where there's no chance of a sudden change in "feelings."

    I can't stand it when a character spends a whole book (or series *shudder*) vacillating between two love interests. It doesn't make sense to me that a character wouldn't make a choice (A, B, or C (neither)), and it makes even less sense that choices A and B are willing to stick around and wait for this indecisive person to make a choice.

    But I have no idea how you could make a labeling system for this that would work for everyone. Which is, I guess, why we need reviewers and book blogs. :D

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  11. To be honest, every single one of these annoys me, ha! I guess the love T isn't so bad... but I usually end up hating that third party, when he (she) could have actually been a great character otherwise. I can't stand the fact that again and again romantic tension has to come from the outside in the form of another person. It's unrealistic and kills the romance for me. :( Where's the loyalty?

    I'm really picky, as you know, but I am glad that I gave books like the Lux series and Alice in Zombieland a chance - it seems like they have a love triangle at some point but they really don't.

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  12. My goodness! Thank you for saying how you feel. I too hate love triangles...when I say hate...I mean HATE!!! Choose a guy and go with it. End of story.

    The only love triangle I can tolerate is the one when the other choice is obviously wrong, mean, despicable, and a big jerk! That sounds mean, but I like that because then it becomes so obvious which one she'll choose...but some heroines are stupid, so it might take her a looooooooong time to figure it out.

    Honestly, if I was one of the boys in these love triangles and some girl was having a hard time choosing between me and some other guy, I would quickly delete my name from the multiple choice exam she seems to be taking.
    The "best friend on hold" thing gets on my nerves sometimes, but not all the time....it depends. I just want to know who she's going to choose, so we can move on to other important elements of the story.

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    1. "Honestly, if I was one of the boys in these love triangles and some girl was having a hard time choosing between me and some other guy, I would quickly delete my name from the multiple choice exam she seems to be taking. "

      Exactly! How would ANYONE feel if someone was deciding to be with you or someone else, or if someone you liked had feelings for you but also for another person. Call me insecure, but no way would I put up with that. Everyone deserves to have someone love them wholeheartedly and only.

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  13. I'm just going to expand on some of my thoughts from our earlier conversation. :)

    For me, a classic love triangle is defined by one out of three possible ways described above: 1.) the "best friend on hold," situation 2.) "I love you, but I love him more" scenario, and 3.) "the love triangle of doom" bit. Though it seems authors are branching out and showing us different versions of conflict in romance, and in many cases it isn't even creative or necessary (thinking of you BLINDSIDE)! I may be new to the romantic tropes used in modern YA lit, but I'm no fool. I'm in tune with my emotions. Sure, I gave Boundless a pass. But the more I think about it, the more I question this decision. I was greatly displeased with the conclusion of Requiem. There isn't a real resolution for the triangle. But Oliver has a beautiful way with words, so that's my reason for giving this installment a 3-star rating; but even her writing talent can't fix the mess of a conclusion that ending was or how disappointed I felt. It's not like I need a happy ending every time. I just need to know there's peace among the characters I care for --more so if romantic feelings are involved. Both Boundless and Requiem left me hanging with this requirement --Requiem more than Boundless, but still. I just hope I don't have to come across something this grating in my reading again. (Though I know it's coming in Unravel Me). We'll see how I fare with that one.

    Anyway, I really love these discussions, Lauren. They're very insightful! LOVE your labeling system too! Fantastic work. :)

    Marlene @ The Flyleaf Review

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  14. We've talked about this at length, but I agree that there are very few "true" love triangles. Infernal Devices obviously takes the top slot, and I would say that (even though Christian and Tucker don't like each other), we're led to believe for the first two books that the Unearthly series has a true love triangle too, but as you said, this ended up being a love vs. destiny debate.

    I think Hunger Games is presented as a real triangle too, at least in the sense that there wasn't a clear and obvious choice, since she kept waffling about Gale and Peeta. Katniss kept that so close to her chest that it was hard to tell either way, and the romance is one of my least favorite aspects about that book.

    I like how you've broken down the different kinds of triangles. I don't think most books are really written as true triangles, which I define as someone well and truly caught be between two characters she's equally drawn to in different ways. This is why they are rarely interesting, because most "triangles" don't feel emotionally authentic and feel more like obstacles added to create romantic annoyance. I mean, tension.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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    1. For me, I don't know which is worse. Since I don't like the idea of love triangles, a true triangle bothers me on a more fundamental level. I cannot read a romance in which the girl is equally torn between to guys. I like to fall hard for one! Whereas the other kind - where we know the outcome, but the second guy is introduced for tension and could become a viable contender - is just plain annoying. Either way, I hate the lack of experiencing that solid relationship.

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    2. This is very true. The true triangle in Infernal Devices was aggggooooniiiizzzzinggggggg. Hah.

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  15. It's always funny when I discuss this with authors and they don't even think they've written one. They know in their head what happens in the end so it seems more like a minor detour while we're all having heart attacks over the eventual decision. lol

    My least favorites are when they are SO in love with a guy in the first book - this is the only guy who has even known her this way and then - ooh! shiny new boy. And the I want you - no I want you - no I want you - every other chapter for 2-3 books.

    I would say the few I have been able to handle were Enclave (because I didn't see it as one really. Plus Deuce didn't know how to relate to boys at all - never mind two) and the Shade series. That felt like a real dilemma, even if there was only one outcome. I could understand why her heart was torn though.

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  16. Oh Lauren I do love these discussions from you!
    I view love triangles as a necessary evil in so many YA books. I don't like them, but them being there doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to hate the book. I do wish more authors would stop making their protagonist the center of the triangle, though. It just makes the triangles feel faker to me - of course the protagonist is the one who's super special and desirable by all, you know? I want to see cases of where the protagonist is a contender. That would be more interesting. Well, maybe Seraphina fits that?
    I didn't mind the triangle in The Sky is Everywhere because it's clear who Lennie actually likes and who she's using for *reasons.* I guess that fits under the same category you put The Archived in.
    I actually haven't read most of the series you listed here. Maybe that's a good thing. What upsets me more than anything else is when I get the feeling the author has created a triangle simply to up tension - that it's not necessary in the slightest to tell the story that the author wants to tell. But you know I'm a low-romance kinda reader to begin with, so there's that, too. :)

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  17. This is, quite simply, a very thought-provoking post! While I don't often read series with love triangles in them (case in point: i've only four of the series you've mentioned above), I do recognize it when one pops up. Generally, I just define love triangles as situations where two parties are interested in one person, and there's a whole bunch of tension/conflict/craziness that generally ensues, emotionally and otherwise. I do love that you've broken it down in this post, though!

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  18. I did read this before now, but after commenting on your latest post, I realized I never commented on this one. My brain isn't really functioning right now to offer anything much to this great post/discussion, but I agree wholeheartedly with you. This is an awesome thought-provoking, fist-pumping post, Lauren!

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  19. I kind of disagree with your assessment of the Shatter Me series. It seemed a little obvious to me that Warner was a part of the equation from the start. (In case you were wondering, I'm Team Warner...don't hurt me...) I was never all that into Adam and Juliette, though that's possibly due to the fact that I don't care much for Juliette and Adam is kind of blah.
    I feel like number 6 is an entirely fair situation and one of the few that's more likely to happen in real life. A good example is long-distance: say, girl and guy go off to two different colleges, try to make it work, but one or both ends up meeting someone else. Wouldn't have happened had neither of them left.

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  20. I feel you on your last point about the copy confusing the love triangle issue! Though I can't point to a specific example right now, I've definitely been nervous only to end up pleasantly surprised by the lack of love triangle and excited only to end up disappointed by the forcing of a love triangle (I'm think of The Madman's Daughter as an example of that one-so Gothic and horrific and yet Juliet's back and forth overwhelmed the story in my opinion).

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  21. I don't read a lot of dystopians and I didn't read Twilight (I did see the first two movies though) and that was one of my thoughts. Like it's not really a love triangle if she really loves Edward. I never felt her going for the other guy at all. I just read a romance novel the other day that I called a pseudo love triangle because I was not even sure if she was into the second guy but to me, it was clear he was into her. (She was hooking up with another guy during most of the book but it was a casual thing for her.) I kind of liked how that worked. I don't see love triangles a lot in romance novels but this one made sense. The girl was feeling charmed by a guy, went in no strings attached, and things suddenly started to make sense to her regarding her life & that other guy. It was interesting and totally subtle.

    You are so good at these posts, and I am just in awe of all you have read in the above examples!

    Oh wait, Hunger Games. I wasn't even sure if she was in love with Gale in the beginning of the books. It seemed to really erupt after the first games and I just didn't know if I bought it. He was always there for her and they were best friends but I think everything that happened with Peeta sorta changed her outlook on a lot. And also Gale watching her in the games changed things. I'm not sure if they ever would have confronted each other about any feelings with the the games. Does that make sense?

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