If you’re writing in the young adult genre, chances are you’re going to come across a love triangle or ten. Love triangles have a purpose. They’re an easy way to insure continuing tension throughout a series, they make a reader take sides and really engage with the books (cheering their team on) and for average female protagonists – it’s a big deal to have two, usually smoking hot, guys chasing you.
But if you’re writing a YA book, do you need a love triangle? Before I start let me just say that I don’t like love triangles. I think they’re stupid. BUT… but, I will say how they can be important too. I guess. [Thanks journalism major, I have to disprove my own point before I can prove it?]
If you spend your days lurking on the internet (tumblr) you will know about OTP “One true pairing”. In terms of books, it’s usually when people match up two characters they believe go together, even if that’s not how it’s written. No matter who you may side with, usually the other characters end up getting more attention than the protagonist anyway. Think about Edward v Jacob. Shh Bella: Men are talking.
“It appears there are three key ingredients for a successful young adult series turned film franchise: A straight, white, female protagonist, at least three books (the last of which can be split into two films for maximum profit), and two boys who want to make out with her.” Lauren Slavin – Feminspire.com
I think a lot of authors hit the love triangle scenario because they’re trying to inspire something sexual, without scaring possibly sensitive teenage girls. You want to make them blush and go ‘wahh! I wish two great looking guys wanted to kiss me!’ (whilst rolling on the bed in pyjamas).
Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I wasn’t exactly the most attractive lass in high school, like many YA protagonists… and yet I didn’t even have ONE date to my year 12 formal. So for me I got frustrated reading these books. The moment the character started to fall for someone else, and I could see it was heading down heartbreak highway, I used to stop reading. Just be grateful ONE guy wants to hold your hand. *grumble*
I think another reason for the love triangle is that it’s very, very unlikely we will end up with the person we first have a crush on or kiss. So brining in another dude sort of solves that problem a little. By the end of the 3rd book (assuming it’s a trilogy) the female protagonist is supposed to be wise, know a bit about the human body and confident enough to make the right choice…also unrealistic.
Love triangles in modern YA are also fuelled by the older readers who are now getting back to, or continuing to, read YA fiction. For someone who is 23, kissing Billy (who’s Billy?) at the end of the 3rd book isn’t good enough. There isn’t that pull that is going to make you keep reading to finally get to that point. I understand that. So love triangles can force the protagonist to make bolder moves that perhaps she wouldn’t if she was happy and settled into staring at her long term crush.
So I guess this puts those of us who aren’t into love triangles in quite a pickle. Clearly, they serve a purpose and by the massive teams we’ve seen of teenagers eating them up, they’re not going away anytime soon. But does that mean that YA authors now have to conform to these rules, in an already tight market, so that their work has a chance of being published?
To be honest, I don’t know. But what I do know is that if it doesn’t feel right, you shouldn’t do it. If your character has her eyes set on one guy, just… make him more interesting! Throw personal battles her way so that her life doesn’t evolve around a guy. Teenage girls and young readers have school, university, money issues, family problems, skin problems and a long list of worries. Use these to fill up the space rather than using another guy. That’s my motto.