Friday, February 14, 2014

On Valentines Day: A Plea for the Other Guy

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Obviously, my number one rule for Love Triangles is is DON'T DO IT. There are a lot of better ways to add tension to a story than putting a second guy into the book. I also think it's *slightly* unrealistic to imagine two guys pining over one girl for as long as a multiple book series takes (at least the type of triangles propagating YA novels), but that's a discussion for another day.  

Today I'm making a Valentines Day public service announcement in honor of the Other Guy (a.k.a. the One Not Chosen): If you feel yourself compelled to write a love triangle into a story, and suddenly get to the end of a series/book and need to rid yourself of the second guy, I implore you to remember that he's a person too. 

We've all done it, or at least I have: become so excited that our team "won" the girl that we don't really notice what happens to the guy who loses. But please don't forget that there are 3 people in this love story now. They all have their own thoughts and feelings, even the guy you don't want to win. One day your guy will not get the girl and you'll be heartbroken too. 

In addition to the characters in the tri-romance (the Girl, the Chosen One and the Other Guy*)  there are all the readers who have now split themselves into different teams supporting one of the guys. They have feelings too. Obviously it is not the job of an author to please everyone, but that is not an excuse for disrespecting the characters and readers. For me, it's the end of the triangle that often matters the most in this regard.  
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Recently, Jen Ryland @ YA Romantics and I had a discussion about love triangle conclusions that have not worked for us. Jen doesn't forget those underdog YA heroes, and is one of my favorite people with whom to discuss themes and patterns in books. 

This is our plea for the other guy. The loser. The one who has to exit stage left, gracefully or sometimes not so gracefully. 

When you reach the end of a love triangle, PLEASE:

1) DON'T make one guy into a jerk suddenly to get rid of him as an option. 

This lessens the complexity of the story, and often changes the altered character into something unrecognizable from who he/she was before. It is also not going to win you any favors with the losing team. Most people will not buy this direction, especially if it feels forced and manipulative. 

2) DON'T "bait and switch with a new girl" or add a fourth love interest for the losing guy to pick late in the series. 

Why was he so in love with the original girl, if he finds someone else so easily? This is also rarely emotionally satisfying. The losing team will not be appeased by finding their guy a new lady to love, especially, he was previously completely into the original girl. Why he was into a girl who kept waffling between him and someone else, we don't know. I mean, we all want him to eventually move on to someone who will obviously be a better match for him than a girl who rejects him. But unless we're dealing with imprinting, it probably shouldn't happen overnight. 

3) DON'T kill off/martyr one of the options to get rid of him as a choice, or to give him a noble purpose in the story. 

All this does is take away the heroine's choice in the end. When that happens, it becomes the easy way out. If the second guy hadn't been killed off, would she ever have chosen one of them? Are we supposed to feel better about the martyred guy now? There are some books where the Other Guy has been killed off and it has worked in the story. But it's all in how it's handled. 

4) DON'T sacrifice the heroine's integrity in order to keep the reader guessing until the end. 

THE LOVE TRIANGLE OF DOOM is never a helpful love triangle ending method. It always makes the heroine look bad. And it is incredibly insulting to readers who has invested in these characters' lives. When a book gets to this point, it doesn't even matter if our "team" wins. We'd much prefer the heroine pick the guy we didn't like, make us believe it, and have a respectful resolution with the one she doesn't pick, early in the story. Dragging out her decision to the last 25 pages is rarely satisfying, even if she chooses the "right" guy.

5) DO realize that you are NOT going to convince every reader that your heroine picked the "right guy." 

In a love triangle, or any series end, really, someone is going to be disappointed. Once your audience is split into teams, there is most assuredly going to be a heartbroken group when the final installment comes out. Doing something drastic to attempt to convince the losing team that their guy was not the right pick, can only spell disaster. Same goes with trying to appease/distract them by utilizing any of the four points above. The best way to go is to be respectful a.k.a. don't drag out the heroine's decision or forget the Other Guy has feelings too. 

6) DO realize this would never have happened if you hadn't put a love triangle into your story. Decide never to write one again. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

Life is messy, and love isn't always linear or straightforward. But so many triangles seem formulaic, or like they've been added for tension, and that's where they stop making sense. Overwhelmingly, it is the last book where love triangles fall apart the most. Suddenly the heroine actually has to MAKE A DECISION and when she does, the guy she doesn't pick has to go somewhere. How do you successfully rid yourself of the third wheel in a triangle, while maintaining the integrity of your story and characters? It's not an easy problem to manage appropriately, at least from the triangles I've encountered. Next time, just avoid it all together. 

A few examples of series with love triangles that may or may not have ended in the methods listed above. Some more successfully than others: 




Have you ever picked the 'wrong' guy and been heartbroken for him? 
Maybe you should make him yours this Valentines Day. 
Any points to add to this list? 


*Yes, I know not all love triangles follow this formula and 1:2, girl to guy ratio, but it's easier to talk about it this way because it's most common and I can avoid clarifying every pronoun. 

24 comments:

  1. LOLs! I can totally see (read: guess) who inspired you to do this, but truth be told, there are so many authors and books that could be your inspirations, because the other guys usually isn't let down easily. YES YES YES to finding a new girl happening overnight. Sometimes I just want to ask the author "are you for real?" because the guy/girl clearly wasn't so in love with the one they were pining for if they suddenly decide to get with someone else. Unless it's a rebound, but that's still a low blow -.- Number three=Nightshade, people! I cannot say this enough, but when you kill a guy who everyone loves and roots for then.. I can't. I CAN'T. *sobs* "DO realize this would never have happened if you hadn't put a love triangle into your story. Decide never to write one again." HAHAHAAHHAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA :'D Oh, you made me laugh for a good minute here lol. Happy Valentine's Day, Lauren! x :)

    Though, I have to disagree a little with Last Sacrifice since someone clearly got their own book and love story, but yes, the ending--as much as I was happy for the winning guy, I was also secretly rooting for the other guy and my heart just broke for him over and over again. *sobs*

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  2. I remember reading Mockingjay and though I was Team Peeta, I was so CONFUSED because Gale just LEFT Katniss and here I thought he loved her and it was an out-of-character action for him. I hate when authors make The Other Guy the villain by the end just to get rid of him because that entire growth arc is so flimsy and unbelievable. Of course, his death is even worse because now he's looking over The Girl and they always throw in a cheesy line or two like "I think he'd be happy to know I'm happy now." Umm...no. He's DEAD. He doesn't think ANYTHING. (Sorry, STRONG feelings about that one!) As for adding a fourth love interest, I completely agree that it feels very superficial. Amy Kathleen Ryan managed to pull it off with her Sky Chasers Trilogy by having The Girl betrothed to The Other Guy while The Girl's friend crushed on him and when The Girl and The Other Guy broke up (very realistically), The One came into the picture (though he'd always loved The Girl) and as those two got together, The Other Guy started noticing The Girl's friend so that worked out alright. Usually, though, it's such a hastily thrown in situation. It's one of the reasons I haven't read Bloodlines, the Vampire Academy spin-off because it's entirely about The Other Guy and how he gets A Different Girl because The Girl just used him until the last minute which made me so upset since I genuinely loved The Other Guy as a character and hated to see him be pushed aside. (That was a BAD love triangle...REALLY bad.) This is a FANTASTIC post, Lauren, and I really hope authors hear your plea! (And sorry for going off on ranting tangents! Oops!) Happy Valentine's Day!(:

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  3. Ignite Me is such a huge culprit of making one guy into a jerk to get rid of him as an option. Seriously who WAS that guy in Ignite Me? Because it sure as hell wasn't Adam we'd known before.

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  4. 1) DON'T make one guy into a jerk suddenly to get rid of him as an option.
    " This exactly. I felt like Adam from the Shatter Me trilogy was subject to this.

    6) DO realize this would never have happened if you hadn't put a love triangle into your story. Decide never to write one again. (Sorry, couldn't resist).
    ^ I despise love triangle with a passion. Imo, there are ways to create tension in a romance without bringing in a love triangle.

    Brilliant post. I tend to stay away from books with love triangle in them, so it is beyond maddening when it's introduced in the sequel.

    PS. Love the name of your blog!

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  5. I'm so glad I avoid love triangles because there's rarely ever a right way to end them, especially the ones that drag out until the end. That's just not a healthy or realistic expression of love. :/ I think a love story is much more emotionally satisfying when it's just two people because you know they aren't giving pieces of their heart to someone else as well.

    The one in VA is pathetic. We all knew she was meant to be with Dimitri. The worst was when she would tell Adrian she wouldn't run back to Dimitri, but then she'd see Dimitri and immediately obsess over him (like when she sees him healed by Lissa she gets jealous that he doesn't acknowledge her... and this is like 5 minutes after she tells Adrian she doesn't want Dimitri anymore). *rolls eyes* No one is that clueless about their own feelings.

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  6. Everything you said, Lauren, just everything. I think in general authors know a lot of readers hate love triangles so when they sit down to flesh out a story from the beginning, I hope they consider these things and what can alienate a large percentage of readers. Maybe not. I guess a story comes to them as it wants. But it doesn't mean I can't hope they'd try to end things respectably for all parties involved.

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  7. I wonder who in the publishing industry thought that love triangles would make for good books. So many books that have the possibility to be absolutely brilliant are ruined by these pathetic love triangles (most recently, Defy by Sara Larson). And if you're going to have a stupid love triangle, you might as well make it clear from the 1st book who's going to be the winner.
    Like Siiri said, there are other ways to create tension in romance without the need for a stupid love triangle. Although I do feel happy whenever the guy I'm rooting for wins the girl at the end, I'm almost always devastated for the guy.
    All that you've mentioned in your post above are reasons I completely agree with you on. If you're a talented author, you would most definitely know how to resolve a love triangle without all those unnecessary means.
    Great post, Lauren!

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  8. #6. Yes. A good plan. But authors just can't resist the siren's call (for some reason. *sigh*) and, when they can't, I truly hope they read your list and realize that the Other Guy deserves love, too.

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  9. I have to admit I very rarely pick the wrong guy (this has, of course, absolutely nothing to do with me). I almost always pick whoever she meets first and has a spark with (provided he's not creepy or does morally objectionable things. Oh wait. Except for Ryodan in The Fever Series. He does morally objectionable things but I love him anyway. And I digress..), and then I stick with that team throughout. That spark could be a positive one or a negative one, where they start out attracted to one another or more antagonistic, either way works for me. With one very large recent exception (which we discussed on Twitter), that tends to be the guy the heroine ends up with so I've never been hugely disappointed:)

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  10. I completely agree with you about every single one of your points. Why does the other guy have to be portrayed as a jerk? Why can't he just be the same guy and have her realize she doesn't love him? Especially if it goes against character. And *SPOILER* I'm talking about Adam here. That really made me mad, not about the choice, but that she completely made him jerky and made Warner misunderstood. What I actually liked about the whole Warner thing was that he was a villain, but actually complex, with possible good qualities. Then suddenly he's not really a villain. Don't get me started!!!

    And yes, killing the other guy off...well, that makes the choice easy, huh?

    I don't know if I mind the other girl, at last that there's a potential person for the other guy. Now if he suddenly switches from loving the girl to loving the other girl, that's annoying, but if there's just the potential, that's ok because at least I can feel good that he may have someone in the future.

    Great post!! (By the way, I think I'm going to have a spoiler discussion about Ignite Me so I can rant...er, discuss) this whole triangle and transformation of both guys situation. ~Pam

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  11. #1 is where we disagree. I hate love triangles....WITH A PASSION!!!!! For me, I would much prefer for the other guy to turn out to be a jerk so as to just throw away the heroine's choice in the matter. There HAS to be atleast one guy she prefers over the rest. Why is she taking so long to make a decision?!! It irks me endlessly!!! I just want her to pick someone and move on with life. So if the other guy turns out to be evil, good riddance of that love triangle. The only issue I have with this is the lack of planning. If you're going to turn a good guy into a bad guy (or the opposite) atleast leave some subtle hints of that person not being quite who they say they are. People don't just turn like that overnight!!! Geez!

    Honestly, I lose respect for both the heroine and the guys involved in love triangles because yes, she's being silly, but they're the ones hanging on to her and waiting for her to make a decision. I'd like to read a book where the heroine can't make a decision so the other guy says bye bye and moves on with his life. All the other points, I agree with you 100% especially #6!!!

    Now this is where everybody is going to hate me. Why are they in love anyway? Especially when characters just meet...like, what? You're in love after 1 day. Are you sure you don't just feel obligated to him cause he saved your life??

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  12. This is such a great post Lauren, I love seeing your passion for not having a love triangle in a story, and I have to agree with the points that you've mentioned. Point one I find especially annoying, as I've seen it done quite a bit and for me it always happens to the guy that I had started liking in the beginning, but they kind of fell off the wagon, towards the end of the series, which is a real shame. Now that you've mentioned it sometimes I'm so overwhelmed by feelings of happiness, when a MC ends up with a certain character that I completely forget the other guy, which really is a horrible thing to do. I still have a lot of these books that you mentioned coming up, so will be anxious in finding out which way they go :/

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  13. Every time I think we've exhausted this subject, you come up with new insights/ways to frame the discussion, Lauren! I agree wholeheartedly with your love triangle advice, as you know from our many heart to hearts about the Unearthly series and many others. I really love that you pointed out #4 as well--one of the things that upsets me MOST is when the heroine behaves out of character (because at this point we know she's someone we cheer for, usually, right?) because of dumb boys and ends up hurting them both. I love Rose Hathaway so much, but I still haven't forgiven her for her lack of remorse/proper apologies in the final VA book, and this is coming from someone who absolutely understood why she was with the other person while her real love interest wasn't working out. I think some of that comes into play with Clara in BOUNDLESS as well--all the bouncing back and forth made me really irritated (even more so in retrospect!), and so so sad for the guy who wasn't chosen. And SPOILER even when a character then gets a spinoff, it forever affects how I feel about the heroine--and I think, also prevents me from fully getting on board and moving on with a new romance. I'm difficult that way.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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    1. And obviously you know I hate the "turns into a jerk," "sudden death," etc resolutions, too. ALL THOSE THINGS you talked about. Bleh.

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  14. Yes, my friend, YES!! I'm really hoping the grass roots campaign to abolish the LT from YA takes off:) you know I don't have quite as much trouble reading the LT as some but I definitely agree that all these tired devices employed by authors need to go. Especially matrying the loser-- you know how I feel about that shit--grrrr. Great thoughts L and Jen, keep them coming. :)

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  15. I love that you included Bloodrose in this post-I remember people freaking out over that ending to the love triangle. I wasn't that invested but it sure inspired some passionate responses! I was pretty disappointed with the ending in Goddess but was able to read the writing on the wall so I wasn't too surprised.

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  16. For me, the most important point would be #3 and #4. I hate both those cases and yes, it has happened before where I root for someone and they don't win the girl in the end. And I'm fine with that as long the reasoning makes sense, for example (spoiler) in the Covenant series I always rooted for Seth, but in the end, I get why he wasn't the right person for Alex, so that decision didn't hurt that much. But don't just kill off a character for no reason (I will never forgive Andrea Cremer!), and then when you see that the reader's are upset over your decision, bring him back as a ghost. That is just bullshit! If you've made a decision, then don't go back and forth, stick with it! If only the authors would pay more attention to what we feel about triangles.
    Happy Valentine's Day, Lauren!

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  17. Lauren, I LOVE your discussions. Love, love, love. I think "discussion" and I think of you. I think "love triangle" and I think GO TO LAUREN'S BLOG. I think it really is important to remember that the loser is still a person. Don't just disregard him or try to do a quick fix to get rid of him after stringing him along. And don't take an easy way out for the girl either. The author made this mess, they have to do the right thing by it after. You made me laugh with your last point. If all authors just listened to you. *sighs*

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  18. Thanks for the shout-out. And I agree 1000%. Love triangles just suck a lot of the joy out of a story. Even when I am on the "winning" team it doesn't feel fun to be glad that a character got dumped -- or killed off. I'm happy to read stories where people fall out of love or break up or whatever, but please, how about some characters who end things with one guy before falling in love with the next one?

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  19. Ahh I think Blogger ate my previous comment! But anyway, the first and third points frustrate me SO MUCH. I never buy or respect decisions like that, and it's often been the reason why I've decided not to complete several series in the past. And I agree with number 6 wholeheartedly, of course! I completely understand that triangles can happen in reality, that love isn't always straightforward, but I find it never really translates as well onto paper. Only a couple of authors have managed to convince me that triangles were necessary for their book/series. All the rest have failed, and will probably continue to do so.

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  20. I like all your points here Lauren. Some how you always manage to come up with a lot of good love triangle posts all the time. I can tell you really them LOL. Anyways i like to say im usually a pretty good judge of character so i've actually only ever was on one TEAM that didn't end up with the girl. *cough* Boundless*cough* yeah i'm never going to get over that. HA!
    Lily

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  21. What a fantastic post. The points you mentioned are things I can easily remember being pissed off by in various books (cough, Hunger Games). Even if you must put in a love triangle, at least make it realistic! Allow for some gray area! Realize that people are going to get hurt because that's how the world works. Having seen a love triangle unravel devastatingly in real life, I have little patience for the way most authors handle it.

    C.J.
    Sarcasm & Lemons

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  22. Another thoughtful post. I think in too many instances authors fall to what's easiest and don't flesh out situations or characters for this very reason. I keep thinking about Pacey, Dawson, and Joey. I think she could have ended up with either of them. It's a shame they kept going back to the triangle even after she & Pacey got together the first time. But even in the end people were entirely happy and I think that's okay. It shows passion and connection for these characters. If people didn't care about someone getting the guy, I think that would be the bigger problem. Maybe the author didn't make his case well enough & that's not a sign of well done writing.

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