Monday, February 16, 2015

And Now for Something Completely Different: Why YA Love Triangles Need to Go

The love triangle.  We've all read one or hundreds in our lives.  One character gets involved with another and then a third person shows up who is more interesting or cares more or is just more and the world will end if our main character does not anguish over who to choose.  Below are two examples of books I recently read that include the love triangle cliche.

Example 1
Book one is styled as a fantasy, derivative fairy tale meets bizarre but true history and a romantic subplot.  The main character, aka first person narrator, is a seventeen-year-old and unsurprisingly naive girl who is betrothed to the prince.  Their relationship can be called distanced but amicable despite not having seen each other or really spoken to each other in the two years since their betrothal.  No sparks fly between them but there is nothing to say they couldn't make it work.

In comes the foreigner to unravel everything and be love interest number two.  The narrator has led a sheltered life and knows little of the world, so, of course, our worldly introduction will be interesting to her.  However, she almost instantly goes along with what he says and bam!  She's 'in love' to quote her from several times in the book.  Here is someone who has had zero references in her life to what true love and being in love is like, but she knows she's in love with someone who is still basically a stranger.  Their chemistry on page is worse than the chilly relationship between the narrator and her betrothed.  Dramatics ensue in which her loyalties to both are tested for various reasons including 'doing the right thing' and 'saving the kingdom.'

Example 2
In book two, this time a 'realistic' fiction, the narrator main character (again, seventeen-ish and female) is torn between jock perfection who she knows gets around but doesn't really know other than he's the hottest thing in school and that guy blindly devoted to her since childhood who her friends think is weird and kind of a loser.  One insists he can help solve her problems and the other basically just wants to hookup or something.

Both of the example books are being released by big publishing houses this year.  One senses the continuing of a trend.  The trend being the love triangle that drives teen angst.  Here's why it needs a break or to just disappear for a while:

Totes cliche
Everyone is doing it!  All you need to think about are some of the most popular YA series.  It's difficult to find one that doesn't triangle at some point and a number of none genre one offs pull the same tricks to apparently make the story more interesting.  There are authors (John Green whom I don't heart but respect for not triangling his romances) of works for teens capable of crafting realistic teen works without resorting to: 

Forced melodrama
Consider the usual love triangle plot.  Now take out one of those characters (preferably the least believable or most unsuited to the main character).  Yes, it changes the story - sometimes a lot - but it also shows that there might be a more interesting plot that comes to the fore.  Example 1 is a case where the melodrama of the romantic triangle distracted from what was interesting about the book.  I almost missed the good bits at the end because I had to wade through unnecessary relationships.  The main reason for the drama factor?  This:

The relationships themselves are implausible
When I think of most real-life teenage relationships including my own, they don't usually involve someone being forced to constantly pledge allegiance to one person or another romantically over the course of a predetermined amount of time.  I don't think my experience in this is singular, either, which might explain why the love triangle is most present in implausible or genre (fantasy, science fiction) scenarios.  The audience is already tuned to world being different, so why not make expectations of relationships that way? 
This is really a fault of the forced 'do I love him or do I love him' aspect of these type of books.  The romantic interest characters in question (usually hims) are often diametrically opposed.  One's the good guy, the other bad, so you get a whole other cliche can of fish.  The main character (usually hers) is always put in a situation where she doesn't wish to choose one or the other but one of them handles the problem better and thus must be the victor.  Except:

Nobody really wins
The love triangle is a game of cat and mouse where they're all chasing each other for the prized cheese, no exceptions.  It's an angstfest to 'create interest' or 'flesh out the characters' or, as is most often the case, 'show the main character who she really is.'  There are enough coming of age tales available that don't need romantic interests to be relatable to the target audience much less the people who read them for fun outside the target. 
In the end, the main character has always been through the emotional wringer, the love interests usually have gotten into a brawl with each other (sometimes fatally so), and none of them are truly happy despite the pretext that it can end happily ever after even in realistic fiction.  Katniss is a good example of being torn between loyalties and ending up content but not truly happy as well as being a victim of forced triangulation to intensify drama. 

Now, I'm not saying I expect the publishers and authors to completely do away with the triangle or even the rare love square.  They can be done well, but the problem lies in everything I just said above and some ideas I didn't even touch on.  Ideally the romantic interest, one singular interest, would have qualities of both the usual bad and good boys that bring out the best in the main character.  I scoff at the idea that a plausible relationship between two attracted characters can't be interesting without introducing a third (John Green, again, does this well even though I still don't particularly care for his books.)  Yes, the triangles sell and create marketing opportunities.  Yes, it is easier to say you're team whatevs versus team whatnots.  But just because those things are good for selling doesn't mean they're good to read all the time.  So, for a change now and then, let's try something completely different and not force love triangles into all our book.  I suspect the results will be much more interesting and certainly something different.

1 comment:

  1. Have you seen the Honest Trailer for the Maze Runner movie? Its takedown of YA Cliches is delightful.