By Wendy A. Jones
I listened to a podcast on writing romance by Janette Rallison the other day, and it got me thinking about love triangles.
In YA lit, especially, it seems like love triangles are all over the place. Think of Bella-Edward-Jacob (Twilight), Katniss-Gale-Peeta (The Hunger Games), Laurel-David-Tamani (Wings), Cassia-Xander-Ky (Matched), or Evie-Lend-Reth (Paranormalcy). There are more, obviously, but these were the ones I plucked right off the top of my head (although I had to pluck some of the character names right off of Amazon--the ol' memory isn't quite what it used to be).
Janette mentioned that sometimes the love triangle isn't between two desirable people (which, hello, Reth is SUPER creepy) but the power balance is such that the tension about who the heroine will end up with keeps the story moving forward.
As I thought more about it, I realized "love triangle" is just a fancy romance writer phrase for something else: "choice."
A love triangle--so necessary in romances because they focus on relationships--deals with the personal, or private, choice of a character. The character (and the other two in the triangle) are the only people greatly impacted by that choice. Other choices--which job to take, whether or not to move, should he or she step back and watch a robbery or step in and help--which a character makes can become more and more public.
It's when these personal stakes are in direct opposition to the public stakes that we get some real tension: save your family or save the world?
Not every book has someone saving the world, but every good book does have elements of personal stakes and public stakes. Figuring out how to solve both in the best way possible is what makes a really great story.