Okay, let’s talk about love triangles.
I know, I know, everyone hates love triangles. Even people who don’t really hate love triangles say they hate love triangles, because liking them has become passé, or because you automatically associate them with a certain culturally pervasive YA vampire series and a marketing stragegy based on “Team This or That.” But guess what? Love triangles have been around forever, and they certainly predate those ubiquitous vampire books.
And guess what else? In my experience, people hate love triangles like they hate cliffhangers. Most people say they hate cliffhangers, but those who are honest will then qualify their hate with the admission that cliffhangers do make them want the next book. Badly.
Don’t believe me? Go read the comments on my previous post. I asked people to comment on the subject of cliffhangers to be entered to win this week’s giveaway, and almost ALL of the comments are a variation of: “I have a love/hate relationship with cliffhangers.”
Ever notice how no one phrases that sentiment as a “hate/love” relationship? Think it’s a coincidence that the love always comes first? I don’t.
But back to love triangles. This isn’t my defense of them, I swear. In some cases, I like to read about them, in others, I don’t. It all depends on the execution. But then, just saying that is an admission that love triangles are contrived. Engineered by the author.
Don’t look so shocked. Everything in a book is engineered by the author. Also, wrestling is fake. This is entertainment, not journalism. Know how you can tell? Most authors have better grammar than reporters. (Notice I wrote “most.”)
It’s an author’s job to entertain you. To make you believe and feel things that aren’t real. How do I know when I’ve done that successfully? People start sending me emails with detailed analyses of the characters and their (sometimes poorly made) decisions. People start leaving me messages on Facebook and Twitter demanding I move up the release of the next book. (FYI, I can’t do that. Release dates are entirely up to my publisher.) People start sending me messages on Formspring asking what’s going to happen in the next book. (Sorry, I can’t tell you that. If I did, why would you read the book?)
And here’s what I’ve discovered since my first novel came out in 2007: no matter what the book is about, people will obsess over the romance.
Case in point: my own Shifters series. I didn’t write it as romance. I wrote it as urban fantasy. But the subject of more than ninety percent (Okay, I didn’t really do that math. It’s a very confident estimate.) of the email I get about the Shifters books is romance. While I was focused on the bad guys, and the mission, and the revolution, and the careful guidance of an entire society away from the dark side (oppression by a malevolent leader), you guys were constantly asking me “Who’s Faythe going to choose?”
Did I mind? No. At first, I was highly amused. Then I decided this whole development was one big compliment. Even people who professed to hate Faythe wanted to know who she was going to choose. People cared what happened to my characters. I must have done something right. Right?
But now the Shifters series is over and I’ve turned my attention to Soul Screamers (as well as Unbound, my new adult trilogy debuting this fall) and guess what’s happening? I’m getting those messages again.
“Rachel, who is Kaylee going to choose?”
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know what those people were talking about. Kaylee does have choices. But then, most people do. If you were to dump your significant other right now, would you expect to spend the rest of your life alone? No? Then you have choices. Does that mean you’re currently in a love triangle? Probably not. So let me put forth a radical idea for people to chew over:
It’s possible—possible—that not every romantic development in a book or series is intended to grow into a love triangle. I’m just putting that out there, as food for thought.
Now, here’s why I don’t consider Nash/Kaylee/Tod to be a love triangle, based on what you’ve read through My Soul To Steal:
(SOUL SCREAMERS SPOILERS BELOW)
Reason the first: Kaylee doesn’t know Tod likes her. You canNOT have a love triangle when one of the sides of that triangle doesn’t know the other side is, in fact, a side.
Faythe, on the other hand, knew early on how Jace felt about her.
Reason the second: Kaylee is not being asked to choose between two love interests. She’s not caught in the middle with a guy tugging on either arm. Why not?
From the author’s standpoint, that’s because Kaylee is sixteen, and she’s been through some trauma. I think she needs time to decide how she feels about Nash without the added pressure/temptation of knowing that there’s another possibility.
From Tod’s standpoint…things are complicated. Does he like her? Yes. Does that mean he can come right out and tell her? No. She’s his brother’s girlfriend. His heart is being pulled in both directions. Loyalty to his own flesh and blood, or potential happiness for himself? You might even say that Tod is actually the focal point of this particular not-a-triangle, not Kaylee. He’s the one who has to make a decision, even if no one else knows it.
Does he always make the wise decision? No. Does he always mean well? Um…again, no. But in this case, yes. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone he cares about. So what’s a reaper to do?
By contrast, Faythe knew early on that she’d have to make a decision. In fact, she struggled with that decision for at least two and a half books. (Some might say more.)
Reason the third: The first word in the phrase “love triangle” is love. You can’t have a love triangle unless the focal point in that triangle loves the other two points—both of them—to a degree close enough to make the decision difficult. And that’s a simple love triangle. They can get much more complex, when each point loves both of the other points, or the love travels in one direction all the way around the triangle (Bob loves Sue, who loves Johnny, who loves Bob, or something like that.)
But here’s the deal: Kaylee and Nash are trying to work things out. They’re starting over (at the end of MSTSteal) to see if they can salvage what they had, after what they’ve been through. No guarantees from me either way. Sorry. (Okay, I’m not really sorry. I actually like teasing readers. ) And Kaylee and Tod…well, there is no Kaylee and Tod. As of My Soul To Steal, she doesn’t see him like that, because she doesn’t know how he feels. Because he hasn’t told her. Because she’s going out with his brother.
So how is that a love triangle, exactly? In my opinion (and you’re welcome to disagree with me, but you won’t change my mind), it’s not. It’s a struggling relationship and a third, silently interested party.
Could that change? Of course it could. Just like in real life.
Am I saying it will change? No, I’m not. Nor am I saying it won’t. I’m saying that the relationships in the Soul Screamers series aren’t simple enough to fall into the rather pat label “love triangle.” And that’s without even mentioning Sabine.
And by the way, if you’re bored and have the time, go back and run the Kaylee/Nash/Sabine tangle through the three qualifiers above. Does it qualify as a love triangle? Did things just get a little more complicated?
Why yes, I think they did.