Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On the Young Adult Love Triangle Cliche

I'm pretty sure that if you've been reading Young Adult for any decent amount of time, you've noticed this cliche. It is pervasive in every genre - fantasy, contemporary, paranormal, romance, dystopia . . . you get the gist. No matter where you go, it will appear sooner or later. Love triangles are not necessarily bad. However, there is one specific kind of love triangle which has become cliche and is, quite frankly, boring me to death with how cliche it has become.


The Hunger Games. Matched. Uninvited. Twilight. The Naturals. Hex Hall. The Vampire Diaries. They all feature a very specific breed of love triangle, the one that I now consider a cliche. It features a female main character being presented with the choice between two handsome guys (although, obviously, one will be blond and the other will be dark-haired, and thus, they'll be handsome in different ways) - one of which will be sweet and sensitive, and the other will be more broody and tough.
It looks something like this.
This can come off really well, in some cases. But in other cases, the characters aren't unique enough and/or the two guys aren't equally attractive enough (I'm not just talking about physical attractiveness here) to make this set-up work. Honestly, I can't figure out why this particular love triangle has become so popular - maybe our culture is gravitating to the idea of a woman having the ability to decide who she'll be with without any complications such as, ya' know, one of the dudes not actually liking her.
Which leads me to . . .
This is not the only kind of love triangle out there. And I really wish more authors seemed to know that and take advantage of the different kinds of romantic set-ups there are.
For instance:
  1. A love triangle with a boy as the central character, who has to make the choice.
  2. A love triangle in which the girl is in love with one guy, but he is not interested in her at all. Instead, another love interest is pursuing her and she ignores him.
  3. There isn't a love triangle at all - perhaps a love square? A girl likes two guys, but maybe they're both interested in a completely different girl . . . or maybe they're both interested in both her and another girl, creating three interlocking love triangles.
There are so many ways to layer love triangles to come up with unique romantic setups, which is why it is so frustrating to see the same love triangle repeated over and over again. There are so many opportunities to be had here, people! Can't we mix things up a little? 
And if we aren't going to mix up this guy-gal-guy love triangle, can't we at least change the characters involved? Do the two guys have to be such complete opposites? Wouldn't it be interesting if they both shared one big flaw, but were different in other areas? That flaw could make the FMC's decision much, much harder. Maybe, in the end, she wouldn't choose either of them!
Lastly, one last thing I urge you not to do under any circumstances: don't make the MC's choice for her (him if you're being blessedly unique). In the Hex Hall trilogy, a typical cliche love triangle was set up between the mysterious guy and the sweet guy. While I disliked this particular triangle with much gusto because their were several issues with it, the author made one big . . .mistake, I think. The FMC found out that her father had betrothed her to Mr. Sweet, a guy named Cal. I didn't think that was such a bad thing - it may have even provided a lot of tension, had it been used right. However, the author relied on this betrothal to create all the tension of the love triangle - which wasn't much, since Cal was almost never around and the FMC was clearly enamored (physically, at least) with the dangerous Mr. Mysterious. It was so one-sided. 
Even so, the situation could have been salvaged. I held out hope throughout the trilogy that the FMC would see how much of a better guy Cal was than the other option, push away the dangerous unknown dude, and accept Cal. Even if she hadn't done that I may have been satisfied (although disappointed in her lack of common sense regarding strange, mysterious, and obviously dangerous guys who creep around your school). However, the author completely ruined it by (SPOILER ALERT) killing Cal at the climax of the last book, (SPOILER END) making the FMC's choice for her. What was worse, the FMC wasn't even that torn up about it, and was just something akin to "well, now that my fiance is dead I don't have to feel guilty about liking Mr. Dark-Dangerous-and-Mysterious."
And so the love triangle was ruined, once and for all. Any tension that may have existed dead as a door-nail, with no hope of it being revived by a re-read.  

So to recap: please don't automatically set up a cliche love triangle. Try to mix it up and go with some other arrangement. If you do go with the common love triangle, at least change up the characters involved a bit. And certainly, do not make the MC's choice for her/him by killing or otherwise conveniently getting rid of one of the love interests. Take advantage of the variety available for romantic setups, and create an equal attraction to both love interests to make sure that the love triangle is doing what it was intended to do: create tension and conflict.

What are some love triangles you know of that were really well done? Really badly done? What are your thoughts on it? Do you think the love triangle I was talking about is cliche? Do you want some more variety too, or are you happy with the current state of things? Also, check out my guest post on Aimee Meester's blog, To the Barricade!: "One Simple Way to Add Dimension to Your Characters."

Want more posts on cliches and how to put a twist on them? Click here for all my posts on cliches, or click the label in the sidebar.

23 comments:

  1. Okay, wait? You're telling me there's more than one kind of love triangle? But I see what you mean now. There is more than one kind.

    The second option, I've actually thought about this one. But it's still in deep consideration.

    The third one, oh my goodness! That sounds so confusing. I think I've seen this in an old movie, was it Easter Parade? I don't know. But it was crazy. It might in Holiday Inn also. . . I don't know if I could pull that one off.

    The two love interest sharing the same flaw! That is genius! I am taking notes.

    Generally, I don't care much about love triangles. But I've been considering doing a retelling that would require a love triangle. I've been trying to think up all the ways that I can turn it on its cliched head. So this was very helpful.

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    1. Haha yes, you wouldn't know that there was more than one kind from reading YA. Some of the setups could get really complicated so it would probably take a lot of work and rewriting to get it right.
      I'm glad you found the post useful! ^-^ Thanks for the comment!

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  2. YES THIS POST. You are brilliant Annika, and this post is beautifully written.

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  3. I hate love triangles, I know why people use them. They just annoy me, but I might be okay with them if they changed it up a bit.

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    1. Yup, they usually annoy me too, but my favorite genres are fantasy and sci-fi, not drama. xD I avoid the love triangles as much as possible but it wouldn't be nearly as bad if it got changed up every now and then.

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  4. I like love triangles done right. The only two I really enjoyed were the Hunger Games and the Host. I agree they need to be shaken up a bit. Also have you ever been in a love triangle in real life? They really suck. XD

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. I've never seen thr Host but the Hunger Games was done pretty well. I thought it was kind of obvious she'd end up with Peeta though. No I haven't been in any kind of romance real life but I imagine that would stink.

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  5. AWESOME POST. YES, SO MUCH YES.
    Basically, I agree with everything you said. The love triangle in and of itself isn't bad; it's just been done the same way way too many times. Bravo!


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

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    1. Exactly! Thanks so much for reading!

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  6. Love it! I have vowed never to write a love triangle. It's not that I can't relate to an FMC who likes more than one guy at once -- haven't we all been there? -- but I guess it just ruffles my feathers the wrong way when they are both super attractive and both like her back. Maybe because I have definitely never been there. The worst thing, though, is that said FMC has normally set herself up as dead relatable -- "I'm so awkward, I'm so insecure, I'm so terrible with guys" -- and then bam, the two love interests, neither of whom she's got to known at all properly, are both interested in her. I call it the Faux Relatable MC Conundrum.

    Anyway, great post. I'm a new follower!

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    1. Yeah that is just an unrealistic set up. I love your name for it. XD
      Thanks! I look forward to seeing you around some more!

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  7. What if, instead of killing off the guy she doesn't like, you killed off the guy she did like?

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  8. Like, she ends up with Mr. Sweet, instead of Mr. Mysterious.

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    1. Well you could do that, but the problem again would be that her choice is being made for her, killing the tension which builds as the love triangle arc progresses towards the moment when she'll reject one and accept another. Everything about a love triangle tries to build up to that moment, so reducing her choice to a matter of circumstance would sort of defeat the purpose. What WOULD work would be if you killed off the one she chose right after she chose him, and then she rejected the other one and ends the story still single. OR if she tried to turn to the other guy and he rejected her because he didn't want to feel like her back up plan. Something like that.

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  9. I read this again and I totally thought of Anna, Hans and Kristoff at the-girl-is-interested-in-guy-that-isn't-interested-in-her-and-she's-ignoring-the-guy-that-is-interested-in-her.

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    1. You're right, I hadn't thought of that. :)

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  10. Ah, love triangles. The choose-between-sweet-and-brooding is getting really old, I agree. I don't really care for love triangles, but the one love triangle I do like is that in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It's just so tragic from James Norrington's perspective, but he is so sweet about it! He really loves Elizabeth, you can tell. Truthfully, love triangles that are tragic, where one person doesn't get who they want, but because they love them sweetly let them go, melt my heart.

    The movie My Best Friend's Wedding is an example of a love triangle that I actually like, quite a lot. And the love triangle in A Tale of Two Cities.

    But a love triangle that I absolutely despise is the one to be found in the pages of Bittersweet by Cathy Marie Hake. Okay, actually, it wasn't the triangle itself; that was pretty interesting. It was the ending. Pretty much, leading lady is in love with leading man, but leading man hasn't noticed her. Then, just as he is beginning to realize his feelings for her, a pregnant girl named Ivy (this is set in the old west, just to clarify) comes forward in church claiming she is carrying his child. A shotgun wedding ensues. Needless to say, leading man is none to happy about this, and neither is leading lady. Then it comes to light why Ivy lied, and both begin to understand. Leading lady, still having feelings for leading man, decides it would be best if she leave and go pursue teaching, something she had always been interested in. Leading man begins to forgive Ivy, and if not love her, at least feel compassion. Ivy is sorry for having wrecked their lives, but has very good reasons for lying about the baby, and she too begins to heal. All is set up for a very fascinating, if painful, journey for the characters. But can we let the characters deal with the repercussions of all this? No. No we can't. No, Ivy has to die in child-birth so that our leading couple can be together, with a baby to boot. Lame, lame, LAME. I still get mad thinking about it. Ivy was one of my favorite characters, and in the end, all she gets is death, and a funeral drowned by wedding bells. Also, sorry if I just spoiled the book for anyone.

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    1. That is an example of the love triangle's focal point having his decision made /for/ him. As I pointed out, this way is bound to leave readers feeling just a tad frustrated.

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  12. I JUST REALIZED SOMETHING LAST NIGHT WHILE THINKING OF FROZEN. When Hans was made the villain, Anna's choice was being made for her, wasn't it?

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    1. That is one way of looking at it, certainly - however, you could also look at it and decide that Anna's deciding to get back to Hans for her kiss to save her instead of recognizing what she had in Kristoff already could also be considered a choice. Her choice was simply forced to revert when it turned out to be the wrong one.

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    2. True, true. Or it could be seen both ways. *shrug*

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