I’ll be honest, it has to be a brilliant, addictive, or particularly unique paranormal romance to tempt me to read beyond the first book. Even then, I’m hesitant. And it’s not because I don’t enjoy the genre. I love a well-crafted supernatural romance. I’m not even turned off by the copious vampires and werewolves. Sure, I’ve seen a lot of them, but if they’re done well, they’re still enthralling.
The reason for my hesitance is that I’m thoroughly sick of love triangles.
If I get even a whiff of a love triangle on the horizon, I groan and roll my eyes. And in paranormal romances, love triangles seem to proliferate like biblical locusts.
The Paranormal Romance Formula
A: Girl meets dreamy/mysterious supernatural boy
B: Girl and supernatural boy fall in love
C: Obstacles abound; will they ever be together?
D: Love triumphs (and some bad guys may also meet appropriate ends)
E: Fireworks. Roses. Resolutions. Happy endings.
The trouble with the above is that once you reach E, you haven’t really got anywhere to go. E is great for resolution, but if the author wants to tell this story in 3 or 4 books, where do they go from there?
Much of the thrill in reading romance comes from the sexual tension, the desire for the characters to get together, the fear that they might not. The sad fact of the matter is, once they’re together… they’re just not so interesting anymore.
The Reason for the Love Triangle
And so the love triangle is born. Because what better way to spice up E, than by adding F: new attractive supernatural boy on the scene, vying for the heroine’s attentions?
Now we’re no longer asking “will they get together?”, we’re asking “who will she pick?”
And then there are the fan discussions and merchandise possibilities as everyone backs their favourite… “are you Team Edward or Team Jacob?”
Good Boys and Bad Boys
To make the love triangle extra scandalous, there’s the usual good boy/bad boy division:
The ‘good boy’: the honourable, chivalrous, dreamy guy that plays by the rules and generally does the right thing. He’s got a strong moral code and he only wants what’s best for the heroine. And as a bonus, he usually doesn’t like killing people.
The ‘bad boy’: the rule-breaking trouble maker that is unanimously agreed to be ‘bad’ for the heroine. He’s often of dubious moral fibre, and sometimes his only redeemable quality (aside from his obligatory sexiness) is his love for the heroine.
Of course for anyone who knows The Vampire Diaries (where Elena is constantly flipping back and forth between good, guilt-ridden vampire Stefan, and bad, mischievous and sometimes murderous vampire Damon), or Twilight (where vampire Edward and werewolf Jacob vie for Bella’s affections), this scenario will be familiar.
Even The Hunger Games, though admittedly not a paranormal romance, had some love triangle action.
So why do I dislike love triangles? It’s a combination of things.
Firstly, they feel tired and predictable, particularly now so many books and movies have used them.
Secondly, I almost never want the heroine to end up with the second guy she falls in love with… so it’s kind of irritating and hard to empathise with her when she does.
Thirdly, love triangles don’t give me a very high opinion of the heroine. The whole “I just can’t choose!” can make her seem rather selfish and indulgent, particularly when drawn out over several books.
Most of all, though, I think it’s that they can sometimes feel lazy, particularly if they’re done in a very typical, formulaic way.
Yes, there’s still this dilemma: once you reach E, how do you keep things interesting? ‘Love triangle’ is a solution—the easy ‘go-to’ solution that so many people use—but there are others.
Penryn & The End of Days (first book: Angelfall) is a great example of a paranormal series that doesn’t use love triangles (so far, anyway). Here the tension between the two characters is drawn out over the two, soon to be more, books. The obstacles they have to overcome are so big, and the stakes so high, that it’s not so easy for them to just seal the deal in the first book.
Some series don’t even stick with the same characters, exploring new characters and romances in each book while remaining within the same fantasy universe. For example Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm books (though I’d say hers are more high fantasy romance than paranormal romance).
There are also books where a second guy falls in love with the heroine but she doesn’t love him back (I don’t count that as a love triangle), or even where the heroine is worried her man might be falling for another woman. Both of these options are more interesting to me than a good-boy/bad-boy combo.
So I guess my point is, if it has to be a series, the love triangle isn’t the only option. There’s more than one way to drive a wedge into a relationship, more obstacles that can be thrown at characters, more ways to spice things up.
Perhaps this is just a pet hate of mine. Perhaps other readers delight when the new ‘bad boy’ love interest arrives on the scene. Perhaps people are happy to read about love triangles till the end of time.
Personally, I will always appreciate a series that tries something different.
8 thoughts on “Please, No More Love Triangles”
Great post Nicola! I once read that to have a good love triangle is to have one of the boys be her choice if your MC didn’t change and the other her choice after she’s changed and grown. Don’t know if that’s often done tho. Loved the idea of the MC being afraid to loose her love!
That’s an interesting idea! Maybe that’s why I don’t mind the Vampire Diaries love triangle as much as I do others. The MC changes a lot (well, becomes a vampire!) so falling for the other guy seems more plausible. And re. the MC being afraid of losing her love, I’ve heard that happens in one of the Vampire Academy books? Have only read the first one so far though so don’t know for sure.
In my debut fantasy novel-in-progress, I have a love triangle. It involves a man and two women: his wife and a woman he’s drawn to for reasons he doesn’t fully understand. The second woman is drawn to him, too, but doesn’t want to disrupt his marriage. It gets more complicated than that rather quickly. Some of the story goes into exploring the natures of the current and prior relationships between the man and the two women, peeling away layers of history remembered over time.
A twist on this tale is that the two women are viewpoint characters, while the man is not. I’d originally written this story from the man’s viewpoint, and it didn’t work, perhaps for some of the reasons you don’t care for love triangles. Keeping his viewpoint secret and showing those of the two women, how they come to find out about each other and what they each imagine and discover about the other woman, is much more interesting and entertaining.
That’s an interesting love triangle, especially as it’s told from the perspective of the two women. While I’m not generally a fan of love triangles, yours isn’t the kind I usually dislike. For me it’s mainly when, within the context of a paranormal romance, the heroine has to choose between a “good” guy and a “bad” guy that it has me rolling my eyes… simply because it’s been done to death.
What are the fantasy elements in your story? The relationship issues sound like they could be from general/realistic fiction, but you said it’s a fantasy so there must be some magical or supernatural happenings involved?
There are a ton of fantasy elements in my story. One of the two women I mentioned is Ngozi, a shadow elf. She can walk in shadows without being seen, unless you’re specifically looking for her, and then you will only see a darker area in the shadow. The other woman is Locket, a dream walker, a person who can enter the dreams of others to spy on them or try to influence them. She’s also a dragon rider. Locket has a twin, Kala, with the same dream walking and dragon riding abilities. The twins are wards of a sorceress, Lady Ryley, who happens to be the third-ranking wizard in Hooblaport, the city of lizards. Lady Ryley wants to kill Alonso, the husband of Ngozi, for religious reasons. Lady Ryley appears to be human, but she’s actually a shadow elf magically transformed to appear human. She’s also Ngozi’s cousin.
That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but I hope you get the idea.
Ah yes definitely a lot of fantasy elements then. I was curious how they would come into it and whether it would be a low fantasy or high fantasy – but certainly sounds like a high fantasy, and a complex one at that. All the best with writing it!
I agree about this.
Here’s my explanation for the presence of the love triangle in Twilight and for why it’s so irritating:
Twilight is emotional porn for insecure girls (sorry for the harsh words). We are supposed to imagine ourselves as Bella, who is ordinary, clumsy, doesn’t think she is very attractive.
Yet … despite all this … she is intensely desired by this gorgeous, mysterious, paranormal creature! I mean REALLY desired! Like, he wants her so much that he wants to KILL her! This makes us feel really important and sexy and wanted!
And NOW … she is ALSO wanted by ANOTHER paranormal guy who is way better looking than she thinks she is! They are in conflict over her! What better way to stroke her ego … and ours.
Sadly, I think that Michael’s plot of two women fighting over a man is much more true to life. IRL, most young men, especially smokin’ hot werewolves, if they find their crush is not mutual, would just move on and try to find another girl. Call me a cynic …
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Haha yes I guess there is a lot of ego stroking or fantasising going on in these love triangle scenarios – being vied for by multiple hot supernatural suitors is indeed a big confidence boost! Though actually now I think about it, often the character continues to bemoan how ugly and ordinary and unwanted she is, even while whole supernatural wars are being fought over her, which annoys me even more because it can just start to get a bit ridiculous that she doesn’t figure out she’s clearly got something going for her! But I guess it’s playing on insecurity again. Anyway, I think I’m a cynic too – the rejected smokin’ hot werewolves would probably move on 🙂