Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Really Bad Love Triangles

I've been cursed lately with an over-abundance of really bad, fictional love triangles. By really bad, I mean totally unconvincing: "This is not a triangle! It's a line segment and a disconnected point!" Instead of three people and three interesting relationships, we have three people and only one interesting relationship. There is no uncertainty about who will end up with whom. The "Deciding Point" is going to choose the "Winning Point". There's just this other character who would like to get in (the "Disconnected Point"), but has no realistic chance, so why is he there? Now, since my books lately have had female Deciding Points, I'm going to use "she" for the top point and "he" for the bottom two points, ok?

What made me realize this is the excellence of the love triangle in the Hunger Games. I devoured the trilogy in three days, despite working. At first, it was for interest, but by the end it was just so I could end the main character's agony - a clear sign I'm not planning on rereading those books.

The love triangle itself was fascinating because the main character was genuinely uncertain which guy she would choose. When she was with one of them, she felt guilty thinking about the other one, and vice versa. Each relationship in the triangle mattered, even if one got more air time than the other.

Reading Hunger Games made me realize how important that genuine uncertainty was so that I can believe in the triangle. When I'm reading a story where a lot of the tension is supposed to be about the romantic relationship and it's a foregone conclusion to me, I have a hard time believing in the tension or the plot.

Why would so many authors have a hard making a triangle that is convincing to me? I blame it on having the Winning Point being the main character so often. If the Winning Point is your main character and most of the conflict is about trying to show he's a Real Man and worthy of the Deciding Point's attention by beating the Jerk (Disconnected Point) who is considered to be the main rival, you can be sloppy. Because the Winning Point never gets up the courage to talk to the Deciding Point without blushing, babbling like an idiot, and being vulnerable, the relationships don't really matter. The whole purpose is to have the opportunity to create the relationship. And that uncertainty is fine by me. It's enough to keep the plot moving.

Unfortunately, this sets audiences and writers up to root for one part of the triangle over the other. That means when authors then try to write from the Deciding Point's point of view, they all-too-often have one romantic interest you can tell they are rooting for. I'm not picking on any author in particular because this really goes beyond one book or one author.

The thing is, she only thinks about one of them, is only guilty around one of them, and gives Very Clear signals she's really going to choose that one. Any pretense of indecision on her part is really nothing more than failing a self-awareness test. While that may be realistic, it kills my suspension of disbelief. It just bothers me when the Deciding Point tries to tell the Disconnected Point that, no, seriously, you had a shot at winning my affections. I only spent the entire book thinking about nothing but the Winning Point, but you totally had a chance.

What? Were you reading the same book I was?

Joy points out to me that I don't read love stories for the sake of reading love stories. I read them for the sake of character development. If the characters don't develop, I don't care about them. Among the reasons I love Disney's Beauty and the Beast (another non-triangle, but it doesn't pretend to be one, and here is a comic today about why it is so excellent) is that the characters change and grow. I think that would include all of Jane Austen's works ... the Deciding Point is uncertain and she changes and grows, and our understanding of the guys changes - sometimes a great deal. Yes, thank you, dear. Now I know more about me, too.

Ahhh, character development.