I’m hearing this lot in the bookworm community lately:
“Love triangles are the lowest form of storytelling!”
“If I find out a book contains a love triangle, I’ll automatically put it down!”
“If I run into one more love triangle, I plan to projectile vomit the essence of my distaste out onto the street until it floods the planet and drowns the author, at which point I will do battle with Cerberus and dogpaddle across the Styx in order to punch said author in the face!”
Needless to say, I feel differently. It’s not hard to see where some of the vitriol is coming from. Sure, we’ve had a bit of an overload lately of the girl/good boy/bad boy arrangement. Sometimes it does feel like every storyteller feels the need to include that exact setup, assuming the story will thrive by sheer virtue of its presence. The result often looks something like the angsty dumbassery of the plot of Phantom of the Opera, minus the gorgeous Webber soundtrack and the good-guy-with-balls aura of awesomeness surrounding Patrick Wilson.
But just because something can be done badly and excessively doesn’t mean it can’t be done well. All good stories come from the same few basic roots, and the beauty of storytelling comes from finding new ways to express fundamental human constants. Love triangles are definitely a prominent entry on that short list of basic stories. Maybe this comes from having lived a love triangle once (or twice) as a teenager, but I’d say it’s one of the most basic of all.
Finding love is rarely tidy or simple or convenient. Choices are made, people get hurt, and like all universal emotional complications, art reflects this. And in the psychologically symbolic world of fiction (and often in reality), a choice between two lovers is more than that; it’s a choice between two potential selves, a development of one’s own blend of priorities and values.
Of course, two dimensional characters who act only as crude, symbolic archetypes instead of as people, characters who go through their motions and exhibit unwarranted, inexplicable feelings for each other simply because that is what the plot requires of them will ruin any story, however classic.
Saying “no more love triangles” is as silly as saying “no more small, spirited bands of unlikely friends overcoming insurmountable odds.” Like everything else that storytellers draw from humanity’s emotional commons, it’s all in the execution.
That’s not to say I’m not up for a bit more variety in my love triangles too. I love a well-executed girl/good boy/bad boy story, but I could also go for some more love interests who are antithetical in a less standard way, a triangle where I can’t tell who the good boy/bad boy/boring boy is. Or even (*gasp*) possibly a love story with more than one female who’s cool, interesting, and significant at all?
In any case, I plan to settle in to continue enjoying the classic stories that continue to be retold, with and without love triangles, and I’m confident that, in the fullness of time, the rest of the readers and viewers of the world will join me.
So why am I reposting this sentiment today? Because I plan to do more than settle in and wait, of course! I’m going to be devoting the month of August to a countdown of my five favorite fictional love triangles. Check back soon for triangle #5!
Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome! Or join me on Facebook or Twitter for more fictional musings!