Ever since readers everywhere started the now-famous “Team Edward/Team Jacob” argument, it seems as if love triangles are everywhere in young adult fiction. I’ve seen a lot of informal recent polls about this trend, and while some readers remain firmly against love triangles, one answer I see a lot is “I like love triangles—if they’re done well.”
The problem is, they sometimes aren’t. But I’ll get to that in a moment–first off, why a love triangle? What makes them appealing to some readers? First of all, love triangles can significantly “up” the conflict in a book. Your protagonist is torn between two choices—maybe one offers security and commitment, the other, excitement and devotion. Which will she choose? It’s a great hook to keep pulling readers along. Secondly, it’s a way to offer a variety of appealing characters. So, okay, maybe not everyone digs a sparkly, devoted vampire—so you offer them a hot werewolf, too. Why not make everyone happy, right?! A recent YA release that did an excellent job at this, IMO, is Lisa Desrocher’s Personal Demons. You’ve got Gabe, the fair, gorgeous “good” boy and Luc, the dark, hot “bad” boy. Another good example—The Hunger Gamestrilogy. There’s devoted Peeta, the boy with the bread, or the older, edgier Gale—take your pick! Done well, you’re offering your readers vanilla and chocolate—and while, ultimately, the book’s protagonist can only choose one, readers can have them both!
But what are some of the pitfalls? One, you have to make the love triangle believable, and this is tricky. It can’t come off as some “tacked on” element—it has to be organic to the story. I, personally, never bought into the Bella/Edward/Jacob love triangle because I never believed that Bella cared for Jacob as anything more than a friend (though clearly other readers did buy it—thus the whole “Team” thing!).
Another common pitfall is making the love interest who “loses out” too appealing, thus making readers fall for the wrong guy (or girl) and thus disappointing them. I think a good way of avoiding this is by making sure it’s very clear to readers who is the “right” choice for your protagonist, even if it takes the protagonist a lot longer to figure this out for themselves. I’ve seen this done really well, particularly in scenarios where the protagonist has a boyfriend or develops a crush on a character while another character—likely the protag’s opposite-sex best friend!) has been secretly pining over them all along, something that readers realize before the protagonist does (for example, Lauren Strasnick’s Nothing Like You; Courtney Summers’s Fall for Anything).
So, what do you think about love triangles—yes or no? Any examples of really well-done triangles you can recommend?