Today I'd like to welcome a very special guest blogger, my longtime critique partner and co-mod on the Writer's Digest critique forums, Liz Penn. She's also the "bestie writer-friend" I referred to in my recent post on co-writing. We've been working together for so long that we actually finish each other's sentences on IM, and every other line we're typing "jinx" because, even though she's in China right now (visiting), we still think on the exact same wavelength. Time zones and oceans don't affect that, apparently.
Liz is not only a prolific writer, but she reads more than anyone I've met, author or not. The year is not over yet and she's already surpassed her goal of reading 100 novels. You think I read a lot? I just reached my goal of 50 books for the year. That's less than half of what she's done. Yowza.
Anyway. Liz is here today to talk about something prevalent in all types of fiction, whether it be adult fic or young adult, contemporary or sf/f -- love triangles. Take it away, Liz!
I just finished reading a delightful group of books that introduced and resolved a love triangle. In the right way and time. It’s a rarity. Most books I’ve read use the love triangle as a tension getter, but mess it up big time. Here’s my thoughts and what I learned.
A love triangle creates tension. That’s what makes them so appealing. When you have one woman and two men, or one man and two women. Or two vampires or two monsters or… yeah, you get the picture, you create an atmosphere of conflict. The romantic tension is lovely, with each group of the triangle with their “hearts on their sleeves” so to speak. Quick to get angry, quick to get hurt, jealousy abounds. What’s not to love?
But what a lot of writers seem to forget is that romantic tension works the same way as regular tension in a novel. You must have a denouement, that tension must be resolved at some point. It’s like a roller coaster. It’s great to go up that hill, rising higher and higher up to that peak, but um… you have to come down at some point. You can’t keep going up.
On the reverse side, for that triangle to be effective you must HAVE the tension. Don’t make this weak. Your love triangle needs to stretch your characters to the brink. Both those who want to be chosen, and those who have to make the choice.
Don’t make it easy. Ever. Make sure both choices have their soft sides, their good sides, and both have negative things about them. Too many writers make it clear from the get-go who’s the better choice for the heroine/hero. Don’t make it easy.
This is the most important of them all. You want to use this tension, this sizzling romantic conflict, to bolster the characters’ growth and your plot. That’s great. But make sure you balance your timing too.
As lovely as that tension is, all good things must come to an end. At some point, you must let that tension resolve itself. Your heroine/hero MUST make a choice. Don’t think adding another choice to the mix gives you more time. (it doesn’t) Don’t think that holding it out over book after book keeps your reader tense and expectant. (it doesn’t).
Personally, I’d suggest no more than three books in a series with that triangle. If you do five or six, you’re playing Russian roulette.
The human mind cannot live in indecision. Everything we do, from picking our clothes to what we eat to who we date/marry/be friends with/hate forevermore is a decision. No one stands in front of the fridge and hovers for days on what to eat. At least, no one sane.
If you, the author, drag out a love triangle over books and books and books, this factor kicks in. The human minds of your readers are going to make a decision for you. And that’s bad.
But it means the reader is participating, right? Yes, but not in the way you want. They’re going to make a decision, but they’ve got a 50/50 chance of hitting the right one. Because you, the author, know who will win this triangle. (Right? You should know to slip in foreshadow properly)
Now what happens if they’ve picked the wrong person? When you do finally have your heroine/hero choose, your readers are either going to cheer and pat themselves on the back for choosing the right one already (but still be annoyed that the hero/heroine took so long to see the truth) OR, your readers are going to be frustrated that the hero/heroine picked the wrong one, and feel tricked.
In the series I read, there’s a heroine, a vampire, and a werewolf. (I love paranormal/urban fantasy. Shoot me) The vampire throughout the three books of the triangle is very up front about being a monster, being ruthless, but we get little glimpses that he regrets things, that he has good qualities. On the reverse, the werewolf is very much the good guy. He seems not to be ruthless, to not be bloodthirsty, to have control over his inner beast, but we get glimpses of things that don’t seem quite… right.
Then comes the peak of our love triangle tension: The werewolf shows a very dark, vicious side and the vampire shows a vulnerable side. At that point, the heroine MUST make a choice. If she holds out, if the author makes the story last longer, the reader will pick someone and rail at the heroine for the rest of the book(s) about it. But she chooses and we, the reader, sigh in satisfaction.
Your reader should be dragged along by the tension, and then feel satisfied at the end by the conclusion, when the tension is at its peak and the timing is right. Anything else can piss off a reader. Big time.
Would you like to be a guest blogger? Send your post idea to lydiasharp4sff (at) yahoo (dot) com and we'll talk specifics.