YA Friday: Tropes Spring Eternal - The Love Triangle

The words "Tropes Spring Eternal" in front of books with flowers on top

A monthly feature where I examine various reading tropes and share some books that use the trope in their plots.

The time has come to discuss one of the most polarizing plot tropes of all time: The Love Triangle.

Personally, if it is done well, I am generally pro-love triangle. I enjoy drama and love triangles are the ultimate plot devices to add drama and suspense.

Usually, love triangles focus on a girl, whom we assume is pretty, because two guys are falling head over heels for her. But just because all Bella in Twilight was good at was being pretty and clumsy, doesn't mean all girls at the center of love triangles are. Some have mysterious and crazy powers like in Shatter Me or Red Queen, or some even have to protect and save the boys who love them while starting a revolution, like in The Hunger Games.

So the other two points in the love triangle (we'll go with two boys for this example) also fall into some stereotypes. The first guy is usually the one that the character falls in love with first. He's usually perfect in every way, has fabulous powers, but ultimately their love is burdened because of duty or distance.

The second guy is the underdog. While he may not be a classic beta-male, he usually doesn't quite have the same strength in power or stature as the first guy, but generally tends to have quite a bit of intellectual skill and tons of charm. This is the guy who has always been there, but the main character doesn't usually notice until something gets in the way of the relationship with the former guy. For most series, this guy doesn't usually complete the triangle until the second book.

So who will the main character choose?

If done well, this choice should be almost impossible for the protagonist. When this choice comes not only with joy but also with compromise and loss, you’ll have created a love triangle that feels complex and believable. If you want to give a character inner turmoil and galvanize readers to be #TeamHotGuy1 or #TeamHotGuy2, a toilsome love triangle is one of the best ways to do it.

When love triangles go wrong, the stories can become flat, uninteresting, and ultimately frustrating for the readers. The main character needs to feel genuinely torn between these two love interests rather than feel that one love interest is favored from the first page. We’ve all read stories where we’re presented to two hot love interests in the book’s opening pages, but it’s totally obvious who the main character will pick. Or often in a series, the writer will completely change the behaviors of one love interest in the second book to blatantly tip the scales in favor of the other love interest. Or when the love triangle completely takes over the entire plot and the protagonists personality becomes defined by the two love interests rather than her own original motivations.

Overall, the love triangle is not always a bad trope, it is just often misunderstood. The books below all explore the varying angles of this debated trope; Some are acute, some are obtuse, but all are equilateral in romance and entertainment.

Jenny Slate saying, "It's not really a love triangle at all, it's more of a mess."

Three Sides of a Heart book cover

Three Sides of a Heart: Stories About Love Triangles, edited by Natalie C. Parker

These top YA authors tackle the much-debated trope of the love triangle, and the result is sixteen fresh, diverse, and romantic stories you don t want to miss. A teen girl who offers kissing lessons. Zombies in the Civil War South. The girl next door, the boy who loves her, and the girl who loves them both. Vampires at a boarding school. Three teens fighting monsters in an abandoned video rental store. Literally the last three people on the planet. This collection, edited by Natalie C. Parker, contains stories written by Renee Ahdieh, Rae Carson, Brandy Colbert, Katie Cotugno, Lamar Giles, Tessa Gratton, Bethany Hagan, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, EK Johnston, Julie Murphy, Garth Nix, Natalie C. Parker, Veronica Roth, Sabaa Tahir, and Brenna Yovanoff.

Dress Codes for Small Towns book cover

Dress Codes for Small Towns, written Courtney Stevens

As the tomboy daughter of the town's preacher, Billie McCaffrey would rather wear sweats, build furniture, and get into trouble with her solid group of friends: Woods, Mash, Davey, Fifty, and Janie Lee. When Janie Lee confesses to Billie that she's in love with Woods, Billie realizes that she is also in love with Woods ... and maybe with Janie Lee, too. She keeps her conflicting feelings to herself as she comes to terms with the gray areas of love, gender, and friendship.

99 Days book cover99 Days, written by Katie Cotugno

Molly Barlow is back in her hometown near the Catskill Mountains. A year ago, Molly fled to a faraway boarding school in the wake of a disastrous betrayal that left her the most hated girl in town. Now that she's back, all of her fears are justified—the girls who used to be her friends want nothing to do with her, especially not the Donnelly siblings, who used to be her closest friends. The teen plans to lie low and wait out the rest of the summer until she can escape and start over in college. She is getting used to all the bullying, when the arrival of the two Donnelly boys turns her world upside-down. Patrick, Molly's first boyfriend, has a new girlfriend who doesn't seem to hate Molly despite her past transgressions. And Gabe is there for her when nobody else seems to care if she exists. When Gabe wants to spark up a romance, Molly starts to feel like she may be able to right some wrongs and put her past behind her. But things are never simple, and Molly finds herself dreading as well as clamoring for the 99 days of summer to be over.

The Sky is Everywhere book cover

The Sky is Everywhere, written by Jandy Nelson

Adrift after her sister Bailey's sudden death, Lennie finds herself torn between quiet, seductive Toby—Bailey's boyfriend who shares her grief—and Joe, the new boy in town who bursts with life and musical genius. Each offers Lennie something she desperately needs... though she knows if the two of them collide her whole world will explode.

Match Me If You Can book cover

Match Me If You Can, written by Tiana Smith

Mia's best friend Robyn is known for her matchmaking skills, which is perfect, because homecoming is just around the corner. But Robyn refuses to set Mia up with the guy of her dreams, which forces Mia to take matters into her own hands. She manipulates Robyn's matchmaking service to make sure popular Vince Demetrius falls for her. Vince asks her out, but Mia doesn't count on Logan, the persistent school newspaper photographer who seems to like her out of the blue. Now she has to choose between Vince - the guy she knows is right for her - and Logan, who insists that she give him a chance. And she needs to make sure Robyn doesn't find out that Mia's been matchmaking behind her back. Mia has two weeks before homecoming. Can she fix the mess she made or will she have to kiss her perfect match goodbye forever?

The Sound of Drowning book cover

The Sound of Drowning, written by Katherine Fleet

Meredith Hall has a secret. Every night, she takes the ferry to meet Ben--her best friend and first love--who she has a second chance with. Though their relationship must remain a secret, Mer's determined to make it work. She lost Ben once before and discovered the awful reality: she doesn't know how to be happy without him. Until Wyatt washes ashore--a brash new guy with a Texas twang and a personality bigger than his home state. He makes her feel reckless, excited, and alive in ways that cut through her perpetual gloom. The deeper they delve into each other's pasts, the more Wyatt's charms become impossible to ignore. But a storm is brewing in the Outer Banks. When it hits, Mer will find her heart tearing in half and her carefully constructed reality slipping back into the surf. She'll soon discover that even the most deeply buried secrets have a way of surfacing, and as they do, she'll have to come to grips with the fact that nothing is forever--especially second chances.

Further Reading

Wuthering Heights book coverThe Crown's Game book coverRed Queen book coverThe Raven Boys book coverAn Ember in the Ashes book coverWho's That Girl book coverMatched book coverThe Kiss of Deception book coverThe Fixer book coverThe Summer I Turned Pretty book coverThe Selection book coverShatter Me book coverThrone of Glass book coverClockwork Angel book coverFallen book coverWhen We Caught Fire book coverTwilight book coverThe Hunger Games book cover

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