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Why are there so many love triangles in paranormal YA?

Picture by the genius Allie Brosh, aka Hyperbole and a Half
Well. For a start, there’s the whole wish fulfilment thing. Not one, but two glorious man creatures to choose between. But even more than that, love triangles are an obvious way of creating conflict. And if you want to write a story about a relationship, then conflict within that relationship is essential. Especially if the relationship stretches over more than one book. No one wants to read a love story where two lovers meet, make gooey eyes, declare undying love immediately and then live happily ever after. We like our love stories more complicated than that. That’s what makes them satisfying.

Love triangles are one way to make relationships complicated, but are they the only way? I’ve read a few love triangles recently where it seems like the main character just has to choose who to be with – and often the ‘right’ choice is obvious to the reader all along. It’s a long agonising path for the main character to realise who the ‘right’ choice is, but once the main character has made it, the other guy dies. Or turns out to be evil all along. Or dies. Or falls in love with the main character’s vampire infant. Or dies. And meanwhile the main character and her ‘right’ choice destroy the antagonist, then get their hard earned happily ever after, and you just know that their relationship will be absolute dreamlike perfection from then on.

Love triangles easily create external struggles. But what about the internal struggles? What about the difficulties of merging your life and dreams with another person’s? Because that’s never a tidy process. There’s the ugly stuff where one thing makes one person happy, but the other person wants something completely different. What if one person wants to travel the world, while the other person doesn’t, or can’t? Or hey, what if one half of a relationship is a supernatural creature, living a supernatural life, while the other half is human, and likes being human, and wants to stay that way?

Don’t get me wrong. There are some fantastic love triangles out there, ones which have kept me guessing all the way through, and left me pondering for days. But my question is, does there always need to be a third party? Could two people be enough to generate interesting conflict? Does YA paranormal fiction need so many love triangles?
Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. This is really insightful-- I would say it goes far beyond paranormal YA... think "The Notebook."

    And it always aggravates me, not because I don't think this is real-life (well, minus vampires and ghosts), but because I feel like the resolution is usually SO unrealistic. Either one person dies and makes it easy, or the lady chooses and the man spurned is inexplicably calm and understanding, or the third man falls in love anyway so everything is honkey dorey.

    People get hurt in love triangles, but we never seem to see that side of it, at least not in most of what I've read. Twilight looked like it was going that way for a while with an angry, morose Jacob Black... but then veered back to happily every after, with everyone getting along.

  2. Love triangles are't really my cuppa, for all the reasons mmshaunakelley has pointed out! It's almost as if the real story is that of the third, hurt person and how they deal with not being chosen, without all the usual cliches. It is entirely too convenient for the third party to be evil or die. If that's the case, why bother at all?

  3. I think one of the reasons love triangles happen so much in YA might be because they just simply happen so much in real life... But like everyone has mentioned, it's a lot uglier in real life and someone gets hurt and it's painful and ugly and maybe readers that have gone through something like this or has witnessed it first hand (with divorcing parents for example) might sometimes (not always) be drawn to a happier resolution...

    But maybe a better way to come to this resolution is to have the hurt side of the triangle have to deal with the issue and come out a stronger person because of it... I don't know... I think I'm rambling! Just happened to have caught me on a morning where I was already doing a lot of thinking on these said triangles...

  4. I dislike love triangles when they're there just for the sake of a love triangle. Or when the heroine is inexplicably attracted to both of them, but there doesn't seem to be any concrete reason WHY other than they're SO HOT and totally into her. Which I find happens a lot.

    And yes, love triangles end with someone hurt, and THAT should be dealt with realistically as well.

  5. I've been thinking about them, too. I used to hate them, and before that I loved them, so I go back and forth. I just decided last night to put a slight triangle into my story, but is a false one (if that makes sense). But I have thought a lot about it and plan on using it (the little I use of it anyway) to the full extent. I think they are fine when you do them right. But, yes, sometimes books get too mushy for me, and it's too much. If that is the main focus of your book then I would say come up with something better/more.

  6. Nine times out of ten, I won't read a book with a love triangle because they're often a plot device disguised as a plot. In other words, the whole point of the book/series is "Who will she choose?"

    I do think love triangles can be done well, but more than once I've seen them overpower books, and that's just no fun at all.

    It also aggravates me when authors introduce a triangle for the sole reason of having dividing readers into factions that war with each other. Maybe it's just me, but I find it all sorts of unsavory when someone goes out of his/her way to manipulate people like that.

    Like someone here said before me, people get hurt in love triangles, and it would be a nice change to see a different angle of that, like maybe from the point of view of the person being left behind one the triangle has resolved itself.

  7. I'm very iffy on the way love triangles are handled. On the one hand, I don't mind them if they're more subtle and secondary to the plot. On the other, I REALLY can't stand when the love triangle becomes the primary conflict of a novel. When it shoves aside what should be the more important plot so the characters angst and whine about their love.

    I'm seeing the latter more and more and I think that's when love triangles get very frustrating. If a main character spends more time deciding which dude is better for her instead of, I don't know, how she should be saving the world, then that's when the love triangle has become a massive plot tumor.

  8. I was ABOUT to post about love triangles on my monday post, but decided to put that off for now. Happy to see others are thinking the same thing as me!

    IMO... Love triangles CAN be dynamic, but have become so grossly overused that its just... old now. Sad.

  9. The more love triangles I read, the more they annoy me. Can't there be a story where there's more to it than just "oh, look, another man I might like?" Gah.

  10. I never really got love triangles. I can't feel bad for a girl whose greatest struggle is choosing between two adoring, cute guys.
    I don't write love triangles for that reason. Anything I can think of even remotely related to one that I've written is the main character in love with someone who loves someone else.

    And they're not even love triangles, they're more like love ANGLES!

    Anyways, I don't focus on romance in my writing, usually, but it exists, and not in a love triangle type relationship. A good ol' Romeo and Juliet never hurt anyone.

  11. While I do really like a good love triangle, I'll agree that there are a lot out there that are superfluous. I'm thinking of Joy Preble's DREAMING ANASTASIA series, where she introduces a new boyfriend from the MC in the second book. He was totally unnecessary, as there was already conflict between the MC and the main love interest. Why create drama and muddy the plot when you don't need to? I also think that maybe Cassandra Clare didn't need Simon to be a love interest in The Mortal Instruments (which I hate to say, since I adore Cassandra Clare and hate to criticize her). There was certainly enough conflict with Clary and Jace, with the incest thing. It just seems like a lot of writers add love triangles because they think they have to.

    BUT there are examples of ones that really worked, I think. They were key to the plot, like Andrea Cremer's NIGHTSHADE. Those, I love :)

  12. I'm not opposed to love triangles but, like someone already said, I don't like when it takes away from the main plot. When done subtly, though, I think they work.

    I think it was Carrie Ryan who said that a love triangle shouldn't be about which guy a girl chooses. It should be about who the girl wants to be. She's one kind of person with Guy #1 and another person with Guy #2 and she needs to make up her mind which she'll choose. Love triangles work best when it's not about the guy but who the girl wants to be.

  13. I prefer love stories where there are just two people. Granted, there are some love triangle that are done well. But a lot of them are not and I get tired of reading them when it's the primary plotline. I think you can create just as much interest and climax with two people...when the question isn't if he/she really loves the person, but HOW that love is going to work out.

    Impossible (by Nancy Werlin) is one of my all-time favorite love stories and there isn't even a hint of a triangle. It's just Lucy and Zach - and that's more than enough :)

  14. I completely agree with your post. It seems there have been WAY too many love triangles (predictable ones at that) in YA lit. I have no problem with it if it is handled well and realistically, but often, as you said, the one she chooses is obvious from the beginning.

    I think YA lit needs more realistic relationships (at least once in a while) with depth, which show the stage of falling in love, opening up to someone else, but also dealing with the conflicts. I think it is important to emphasize at times that nobody or relationship is perfect. I like Sarah Dessen's development of love within her books. There is rarely a love triangle, but the main character always has to learn about herself before she can be happy with her love interest.

    Great post - I had never thought about it before, Thanks for making my think. :)

  15. A good love triangle is great to read, but sometimes it just feels like the author is being lazy, and I have noticed a tendency for some of the triangles to be pretty shallow. In order to really capture a reader, I think you need more complexity and deeper emotional connections. Thanks for raising the question and getting us all thinking about how we structure our work for this age group.


  16. Thank you for this! Love triangles are one of my biggest book pet peeves. They occur way too frequently for my liking. I can tolerate them sometimes, but the majority of the time they are used as a plot device and have no real merit behind them.

  17. I'm tired of love triangles. I don't even want to bother counting how many books I've read over the past two years that have love triangles in em'. I'd probably just depress myself. It's such an over used plot device, and most of the time they don't add much to the story! Also, the main character never goes for the guy that I'd pick. EVER. Is there something wrong with me?!

  18. Great post, Leila.

    I am definitely a much bigger fan of love triangles where I actually don't know who the MC is going to pick. If I know all along, I want her to just stop being mean to the poor left out corner of the triangle.

    I definitely think no matter how they're done, all three triangle points need a satisfying conclusion.

  19. Very funny post! And I totally agree. Although I do like the triangles better in YA contemporary because it's more... realistic. Haha. But only if they're done well.

  20. Excellent post, Leila!

    I agree that occasionally the triangle seems to be more of a plot device. They don't really work for me if the MCs interest in both characters doesn't seem genuine - and often, it doesn't.

  21. What a great post. I've been thinking about this a lot lately too, and when I see that something has a love triangle in it, I'm tempted to NOT pick it up, sadly. Hunger Games was done really well with the love triangle (I'll be the first to say I didn't see that coming).

    But no, not all YA paranormal needs love triangles. I like seeing an author challenge themselves. How can you make a story tense and interesting with only two characters? My favorite non-love-triangle book is The Body Finder. The relationship is so complex and real, and there is so much external stuff, that the internal is beautiful and perfect and wonderfully in balance.

  22. This is a really fascinating topic. I must admit I'm a sucker for a good love triangle, and not just in YA paranormal. I'm always interested when I read about a love triangle where the right choice is not obvious to the reader and they feel just as conflicted about the situation as the main character does. In this case, the character actually learns something about themselves, rather than just solving a dilemma.

    But I think love triangles, if written convincingly, can be very satisfying. As readers we want to imagine there's a world where we'd have not one but two gorgeous people going after us at the same time.

    On the other hand, I agree that relationships, no matter the age/gender/species of the main characters, have enough conflict in them without throwing a third person into the mix. One thing I don't like about love triangles in YA is that the loser most of the time is given a replacement - someone who gives the impression of keeping them happy but never quite happy enough, as they presumably would have been had they been the winner rather than the loser in the love triangle.

  23. Fun post--I was just thinking about this.

    When I've run into love triangles in real life, generally there's been a happy couple and a third person with completely unrequited emotions. I'm sure that the "having to choose between two" scenario exists, but I can't think of a single instance where I've seen that happen in reality. (Of course, I was homeschooled... in Montana... on a farm... yeah.)

    The love triangle definitely has its place in stories, but I think the author has to work hard to make me really buy into it. It doesn't help that I have a very hard time watching a perfectly deserving character end up unhappy. :)

  24. Has there ever been a love triangle story where both guys are stupid and mean and the girl discovers that she doesn't need a boyfriend to complete her? If not, someone needs to write that book.


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Item Reviewed: Why are there so many love triangles in paranormal YA? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin