That Which Shall Not Be Named: The YA Love Triangle
By Romina Russell, Author of ZODIAC (that which hath a Love Triangle)
Confession: There is a Love Triangle at the heart of all six manuscripts I’ve ever written, whether the MC is male or female, human or werewolf, teen or adult.
Even though my protagonists are all vastly different people, a common thread links them: They are always lonely and striving to push past their fears in order to truly connect with someone. They all fall in love early and hard, and that decision often shapes them in ways that determine the course of their lives.
I believe Love Triangles get their bad rep from writers who use them as dramatic devices. For a Love Triangle to work, I think we must begin with character, not plot.
In ZODIAC, Rho is a caring Cancrian from a world that prioritizes family, friends, and loving one another—she’s a Nurturer. Yet she’s been slow to emerge from her shell, as shown by the choice she’s made of loving an unattainable guy from afar, in the safety of silence, rather than risk anything. Now that Lodestar Mathias Thais has noticed her at last, I think it naturally follows that she would want to pursue him.
Then Rho meets Diplomatic Envoy Hysan Dax of House Libra, and he’s the first guy to truly see her. Due to Rho and Mathias’s age difference, it took Mathias five years to know what Hysan knew in an instant—and what gal wouldn’t swoon when a handsome, smooth-talking fella falls head over heels for her? Who wouldn’t want to be looked at by someone in that way?
For Rho, particularly, it presents her with the perfect crossroads that parallels what’s happening in every part of her life: The choice between the known and the unknown, who she is and who she could be, House Cancer and the Zodiac.
My advice for writers wondering whether a Love Triangle is right for them is: Ask yourself who your MC is, and who s/he needs to become by the end of his/her journey. What is his/her darkest moment? Greatest fear, greatest strength, greatest mistake? Once you know whom you’re writing about, I suggest building out the storyline—doesn’t have to be a detailed outline, but at least have some general sense of your three acts and what happens to your MC in the climactic moments.
If a Love Triangle hasn’t emerged in your mind by this point, odds are you don’t need one. (Though that’s not always true—sometimes you can begin writing the story, and a love interest will present itself and insist upon itself, until you can no longer refuse to see him/her.)
Love Triangles often feel forced when they’re a late addition to the story—the author gets midway through a draft and realizes something is missing, there’s not enough tension or action, and so s/he inserts a new suitor as a Band-Aid to cover the plot hole. If a Love Triangle doesn’t organically emerge in the MC’s heart, or during the natural unfolding of the storyline, it probably doesn’t need to be there.
Then again, art is subjective, and your book is your expression of truth. It can sail over readers’ heads or shoot straight into their hearts, but it can never be wrong. After ten years of rejections, there’s only one writing rule I believe in: Trust yourself.
Romina Russell is a Los Angeles based YA author who originally hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a teen, Romina landed her first writing gig—College She Wrote, a weekly Sunday column for the Miami Herald that was later picked up for national syndication—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. When she’s not working on a YA novel, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.
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