YA Tropes Episode One: The Love Triangle, Square, and other Geometrical Conundrums

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As a YA blogger, I spend a lot of time networking with other bloggers, checking out websites, perusing Facebook pages, and of course, scouting upcoming authors. Lately, I’ve seen several bloggers pose a question about whether or not readers actually enjoy love triangles, squares, etc. Here’s the thing: the love triangle is a delicate, fairly predictable, and beloved trope that can be entirely satisfying and wonderfully written. It’s when the love triangle doesn’t add to the plot or seems like a random filler that things start to go downhill.

The love triangle can be artistic and presented in several forms but typically it awakens something in the protagonist, is a source of temptation and risk, and yeah, all sorts of swoon-inducing feels. Like in film, the pairings are generally opposites. The good boy/bad boy, jaded musician/nerd, sarcastic yet passionate hottie/ the openly nice and there for her best friend; there are thousands of possible pairings and that’s what makes the love triangle so compelling.

The problem with YA more recently is likely one of repetition or similar love triangles, and it’s easy to see how the reader can get bored and find the plot too predictable at that point. Another issue is when there are far too many love interests and you want to slap the protagonist in the head and say come on, make up your mind already when suddenly the triangle morphs into an octagon. It’s not pretty and frankly, it’s irritating. Readers aren’t looking for a love triangle that feels like a plot line inserted just for the sake of some drama, they want some serious build up, internal dialogue, and to see a transformation in the main character as she/he discovers what sort of love they yearn for and the person they should be with. All of this, things were perfect with their boyfriend/girlfriend and then love at first sight to spice up the plot nonsense needs to stop. If the relationship is already in turmoil, sparks at first sight are okay and even encouraged but definitely NOT instalove. Please, turn that off.

That being said, when does a love triangle work? There are many answers to this question but the first that comes to mind is a fleeting love triangle. A fleeting love triangle is one where the initial attraction is arbitrary, it’s normally based on physical attraction and then the third member of the trio is introduced and turns the protagonist’s feelings on their axis. Slowly but surely, the protagonist builds an emotional connection to the other character and loses interest in the first.

Another triangle I find works well is the sarcastic, mystery boy and the best friend. As long as he’s oozing innuendo, sexual tension, and has hilarious lines, he’s a keeper. The best friend is a great parallel because he’s a source of comfort, stability, and what’s known, as opposed to the uncertainty of the other love interest. Balance, purpose, and colorful interactions between the characters in the triangle are a must.

What would I like to see more of? Male POV love triangles. I would thoroughly enjoy seeing this from a masculine perspective. So often in YA, love triangles deal with one girl and two totally different guys. Give me a guy struggling between two girls, I can’t even remember the last time I encountered that. Give me a choice that isn’t obvious. I loathe when one of the triangle suitors has so many flaws that it’s a duh moment when you reach the conclusion. An evenly balanced, weighing of pros and cons with attraction and compatibility as debated by the protagonist is what I yearn for. Give me a choice from the heart that works and doesn’t come about randomly.

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Are love triangles needed in YA? No. A story can work perfectly fine without a love triangle and even flourish. Some YA books don’t feature romantic love at all and do well without it. Sometimes the story calls for something more, for self discovery without a romantic entanglement, for saving the world with friends by your side, or learning to love oneself before venturing out into the dating world.

Regardless, the love triangle has its pros and cons but flat out hatred and avoidance will severely limit your reading in YA. Not all love triangles are bad. Not all love triangles are created equal. Not all love triangles will turn you off of YA. There’s fantastic opportunity for love and laughter through a cleverly crafted love triangle, keep reading, go out and find your perfect triangle, square, or octagon if that’s what calls to you.

Happy reading, let me know your thoughts!

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