(That lovely image [from Shakespeare In The Park’s Twelfth Night] was found here.)
Bella, Jacob, and Edward. Laurel, Tamani, and David. Cassia, Ky, and Xander. Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. (With a healthy dose of I HAVEN’T FINISHED MOCKINGJAY SO PLEASE NO SPOILERS! attached to that last trio.) YA lit is positively filled to the angsty brim with love triangles — and, I must confess, my WIP is no different. Almost from the moment of its mental inception, INSERT CREATIVE TITLE HERE included two love interests for my MC. When I got deeper into the actual planning stage and reconsidered this choice, not wanting to seem as if I was simply copying some YA formula set down by the greats who came before me, I realized I no longer had a choice. My two love interests had already weaseled their respective ways into being integral parts of my plot. The triangle was inescapable!
So what is it about love triangles that makes them so darn irresistible, especially in the YA world? The way I see it, there are two primary reasons — the literal and the slightly more symbolic.
The literal: YA characters are mainly — go figure — young adults. Even if, like Katniss and Cassia, they’re not depicted in a typical high school setting, most of them are still generally high school age. And what are the high school years notorious for? Hormones and heartbreak. First kisses and first break-ups. “I love you”s and “I never want to see you again”s. All manner of (often-conflicting) feelings swirled together — attraction, jealousy, nervousness, bravado, giddiness, confusion, hope.
I distinctly remember, as a freshman in high school, simultaneously crushing on two boys — with the same name, no less! oh, the agony — and asking my mom how I was supposed to manage the situation. “It’ll work itself out,” she told me. I was not assuaged. But what if I liked both of them and both of them liked me, I persisted, a note of panic no doubt creeping into my voice. “You’ll figure out who you like more,” was my patient mother’s sage response. (She was right.)
After all, isn’t that what love triangles boil down to — figuring out who you like more? And who can’t relate to that? Love triangles in YA tug at the heartstrings of readers and writers because they’re real. Even for those people lucky enough to only experience the most direct paths to high school love (do those people exist?), the essence of the problem still rings true — sorting out your emotions.
The slightly more symbolic: Not only are young adults constantly sorting out their emotions, they’re constantly sorting out, well, everything, from the relatively minor to the literally life-changing. Which extracurriculars do you want to make time for? Which group of friends do you feel at home in? Where do you want to go to college? What do you want to major in? Do you want to study abroad? Where do you want to start your career?
Literary love interests can serve as handy distillations of larger conflicts like these. One point of a triangle can represent stability; the other, spontaneity. One can stand for familiarity; the other, for taking chances. Dueling love interests can personify just about any dichotomy, from the subtle to the wide-sweeping. Particularly in high school, when the ups and downs of romantic interactions are registered with an acuteness unique to the teenage years, relationships often take on symbolic importance. It makes sense, then — and great entertainment! — for fictional characters to sort out their various life dilemmas through the swoonworthy lenses of juicy love triangles.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my MC and I have some decisions to make…