What Is It About Love Triangles?

After reading Icey BooksOnce Upon a Gif — Love Triangles post, I have definitely been thinking. About love triangles, that is.

My personal favorite 'triangle' -- the Selection Sphere.

One of the crazier love ‘triangles’ — the Selection Sphere.

If so many readers (well, maybe book bloggers in particular) despise dislike them so much, then why do so many books that we read still have them? It’s not like they happen that much in real life. There must be a reason why they are so prevalent — even if not all of us like it.

As far as I can determine, there are several reasons (and I’m sure there are more than the ones I list in this post). A love triangle, in many respects, seems to be like an author’s multipurpose tool.


The classic love triangle.

The classic love triangle.

1. To create romantic tension.

Perhaps the most obvious reason. The best fictional romances aren’t portrayed as the ‘perfect relationship’ without any bumps. So if the author doesn’t create other issues in the relationship (confusion about feelings, forbidden love, arguments, etc.), a love triangle can be used to create tension in the relationships in the book — after all, what creates more confusion and drama than two (or more) love interests?

2. To reveal different sides to the main character (MC).

The Darkling's words to Alina  (about Mal).

The Darkling’s words to Alina (about Mal).

Though this may not be why an author creates a love triangle, to me this seems like the most intelligent way in which they are used. These warring aspects of a MC still exist separate from the love interests, but a love triangle can spotlight them.

Take Alina Starkov from The Grisha Trilogy, for example. Her best friend Mal represents everything about her past, background, and the girl she was (and still in many ways is) before she got her powers. On the other hand, The Darkling understands Alina’s powers and the loneliness it brings. He knows what it is the be tempted by power. And so these two parts of Alina war with each other just as her heart is pulled in different directions.

3. To highlight/start rebellion.

Cassia on a life with Xander.

Cassia on a life with Xander.

Ah, the classic good boy/bad boy dilemma. It reflects the way a MC wishes to change something about their life — be it their reputation, persona, boundaries, etc. The ‘bad boy’ helps the MC rebel in whichever sense they choose.

The Matched trilogy is a prime example, though perhaps not my favorite (I ended up on the wrong side of the triangle. sigh). Cassia is ‘matched’ by the Society to her friend Xander, but seeks to live outside of the Society’s control by being with rebel Ky. This might prove to be less true nearer to the end of the series, but it was definitely strong in Matched. Ky is Cassia’s first step towards rebellion and his rebelliousness seems to be the first thing that attracted her to him.


This is not to say that every love triangle is constructive, necessarily. Some series feature seemingly useless love triangles. But I hope this makes you as reader stop and think about why the author may have decided to play with your emotions so (not just to be cruel, haha).

Why do you think authors use love triangles? Does there being a reason make you any less annoyed? Can you think of any well-used love triangles?

Comments

  • Hafsah says:

    I think I’m in the minority here, but I really enjoy love triangles—when they’re done right, and have believable premises. I especially like the tension they cause and I love angst in my books!

    They can be annoying when they have nothing to do with the plot, and when, like I said, I cannot see that happening in real life.

    Great post, Lina!
    Hafsah recently posted…Review: DISSONANCE by Erica O’RourkeMy Profile

    • Thanks! 🙂 It’s true, a believable premise is one of the best foundations for a love triangle. Some books have outlandish or reality TV show-like premises that may sometimes be fun, but other times are just annoying. But when done right — there will be some major swooning and choosing of book boyfriends going on!

  • Interesting discussion, Lina! I’m definitely one of those readers who dislike love triangles with a passion, though I’ll love them endlessly if they’re done right… which is hardly ever. And I can’t say this list did much to change my opinion of them either, heh. 😛

    1. This one is the most common, I think, and also the most likely to go wrong. Romantic tension is good, it’s great, but when the author takes it too far, unnecessary drama ensues, and I hate that so much. I guess I understand where you’re coming from in terms of a love triangle being a “bump” in what would’ve been a perfect relationship, but most of the time, they just create so much drama and angst between the three characters that it’s hard not to wish they could’ve just had that perfect relationship. *cough*NA books*cough*

    I do think the love triangle in THG was done well, though. I liked both love interests, but I’m definitely more of a Gale-girl! 😉

    2. Hm, I actually never thought of the love triangle in Shadow & Bone in that way! But it makes a lot of sense — maybe that’s why I liked it so much. I agree that the Darkling represented Alina’s darker side, while Mal was more for her “good” side. Not your typical love triangle. Now that you’ve explained it like this, I’m beginning to appreciate the romance a lot more.

    3. I think the only books I’ve read that had a love triangle like this were Pandemonium and Requiem — Lena falls for two guys, one of which helped her see the light (being vague so as to not give too much away), and the other who gave her the courage to rebel. It worked surprisingly well, too.

    Yeah, I think overall, the love triangle MUST have a purpose, and not just be there to create more tension or to extend the book or stuff like that. Unfortunately, not every author thinks that way. I guess just as long as the reason for the triangle is pretty clear, and if I can fall for both love interests, I’m fine with it. xD But mostly my feelings toward them are negative. I’ve just had too many bad experiences with them!
    Megan (Adrift on Vulcan) recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Characters On a Deserted IslandMy Profile

    • I hear ya — it’s rare to find a really good love triangle.

      And I definitely have to agree with you and #1 — the worst love triangles usually fall under this category. Bleh. I do like the Hunger Games love triangle, mostly because in my opinion Gale never stood a chance (so it was mostly one-sided). But I’m a Peeta person, so… 😉 haha

      #2 is my favorite category, and as for the Grisha Triology, I loooooved the romance! There was a bit there when I thought it could go any which way (Mal, the Darkling, Nikolai….??) because each guy understood her in a different way and had different things to offer (loyalty, understanding, a throne…). But really I do think it was mostly one-sided, but that doesn’t stop me from rooting for the Darkling!

      For #3 you don’t have to be so vague haha I’ve read the Delirium series. I actually think that the love triangle was NOT handled so well here, because Alex just kinda drops out of the picture, then we meet Julian, and then Lena must choose when she really shouldn’t have had to! And that ending…ugh….I just don’t think Lauren Oliver handled that well because it was vague and lacking explanation. Not to mention that I was rooting for Julian in the end. (And don’t get me started on how awful the Delirium pilot was!)

      It too bad that you’ve had some bad experiences with love triangles, but I totally understand. We should start a motto: Love triangles with a purpose! 😀

  • I don’t really hate love-triangles, but I do try to stay away from books that seem to focus on them (like: it’s already mentioned in the blurb) I’ve had several times where it worked for me, like with the Grisha series or Throne of glass. It really depends what type of role it plays. If I feel it adds something to the story, then I can go along with it. I also like it when it’s not cliched, as in: girl, one mysterious dark guy and one sweet (most of the times friend) blond guy – and of course she ends up with the moody one, because it’s dangerous and new.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Let it go 4. Forget about me + The vanishing season.My Profile

    • Yea, it worries me when it comes up in the blurb — I mean, there’s only so many words you can choose to describe the WHOLE book and they choose to talk a lot about the love triangle?? And the good guy/bad guy cliche is DEFINITELY overused. So then it always seems like the reader only gets to know stereotypes (and then choose whichever stereotype they already lean towards) rather than individually unique characters. So sad. 🙁

  • […] Lina thinks about why authors use love triangles. […]

  • […] Lina @ Every Book A World lists down several reasons for love triangles. […]

  • acps927 says:

    First off, great discussion topic! Second off, now I want to rant about Cassia-Xander-Ky, ha ha! I am with you, I was rooting for Xander. It seemed like Cassia and Ky didn’t even have anything in common. And then Xander just randomly decides he loves someone else? Please. OK, I’ll stop myself now. 🙂
    acps927 recently posted…Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie BennetMy Profile

    • Uggh, I totally agree. I was into Ky for like a hot second (bad boy appeal, ya know), but then I realized how much better Xander really was (and he only got even better throughout the series!). Ky got boring fast, and then Xander ended up with that random female lieutenant who was also lonely?? Not acceptable.

  • I think the reason I like the most about love triangles is when it highlights different sides of the main character. Because it isn’t just a vain kind triangle, but actually contributes to the story.

    Love this post, Lina!
    Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms recently posted…Review: Biggest Flirts by Jennifer EcholsMy Profile

    • For sure, that is also my favorite kind. It feels more natural because there are definite, personal reasons for the MC liking something about each love interest, and to me seems to less drive the plot and more drive the character development.

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