Welcome book lovers! We’ve been talking about love triangles around here the last few weeks, and after discussing what love triangles are, and what turns people off them, I thought we’d have a look at the positive side: When do readers give love triangles a thumbs up?
1. When there is a genuine choice
Many readers said they enjoy love triangles most when there is a genuine choice to be made. In other words, the character isn’t being forced to choose between obligation and following their heart, and one of the choices isn’t a complete loser or seeking the relationship for selfish reasons. Of course, having a genuine choice has its down side as well: There’s more likelihood of someone being hurt, and it’s easy for readers to become divided over who is the ‘right’ choice.
Then again, author Sandra Orchard capitalized on the divided opinions in her Serena Jones Mysteries series by allowing readers to choose how the triangle resolved, and there has been plenty of enthusiasm on the subject, even from those who were ultimately disappointed. (You can read more about this in my interview with Sandra.) Incidentally, she also managed to avoid all the angst people often associate with a love triangle by having a delightfully oblivious heroine (for the most part), and balancing sincerity with humour!
2. It ups the suspense
As we discussed last week, nothing hooks readers (or viewers) into a series like an unresolved love triangle. It’s one of the reasons why they’ve become clichéd—it can be a cheap ploy to hook readers/viewers into an otherwise sub-par story. But it doesn’t change the fact that some people love that suspense of whom the character will eventually choose (especially when there’s a genuine choice—see above 🙂 ).
3. When it prompts the character to seek the Lord’s direction
Obviously, this is one that is specific to Christian readers. One of the wonderful things about Christian fiction is that it doesn’t just tell a story; it illustrates faith lived out (or not lived out, as the case may be). God doesn’t often drop the answer out of the sky, or whisper it into our ear so that we suddenly know the direction we should take. Often, we only discover His answer by putting one foot in front of the other and coming back to Him time and again.
One of my favourite examples of this is the recently released The Captivating Lady Charlotte by Carolyn Miller. In this case, Lady Charlotte is faced with a choice between a young lord who fulfills all her romantic aspirations, and an older, more reserved Duke, whom her parents have chosen for her to marry.
4. When it causes a character to examine what makes a strong relationship
This one is, in many cases, a companion to the previous point, but not always. Sometimes the choice a character faces can be between following their own desires, and following what they already know to be God’s will. Sometimes a character needs to take deliberate steps to cultivate one relationship over another, and sometimes a character needs to learn what a strong relationship doesn’t look like.
In a genre that often places emphasis on physical attraction and promulgates the idea of ‘falling in love’ as though it were out of one’s control, it is refreshing to have stories that acknowledge that the decision is not always so cut and dried, and that there is a lot more that goes into a successful relationship (and later, marriage) than physical attraction. Of course, this doesn’t always have to happen within the context of a love triangle, but when it does, it has the potential to be particularly impacting.
5. When it contributes to the character’s growth as a person/Christian
Again, this is sometimes a companion to other points I’ve mentioned here, but other times it stands on its own as a reason why an otherwise-painful love triangle can become a powerful read. Nothing grows character like facing difficult circumstances, and love triangles can be painful, no matter which arm of the triangle you’re on. How do we handle that pain—or the potential to cause pain—as Christians?
The Last Summer by Brandy Bruce exemplifies this for me, as the main character, Sara, deals with watching her best friend (Luke) begin to date another girl in their close circle of friends.
6. When there isn’t a pre-existing relationship
We discussed last week the reasons why some Christian readers have reservations about stories where a character is already in a relationship, or even engaged at the opening of the story. I have seen both of these scenarios handled well, but I admit I think twice about picking it up if I know this will be part of the plot. It’s too easy for me to be disappointed in the way the situation is handled.
It’s little surprise, then, that many readers prefer that the characters aren’t in a pre-existing relationship at the opening of the book.