Maybe it’s just YA fantasy (and all relevant sub-genres), but if I had a nickle for every time there was a love triangle in a book, I’d be so rich, I could PAY someone to publish one of my books.
That being said, I’m guilty of love triangles too. But I like mine to be unconventional. (Here’s the part where I toot my own horn. Sorry I’m not sorry.) Because I’m so over the typical love triangle, I purposely wrote mine to show that sometimes the girl who’s in love with two guys isn’t loved back: Jason likes Olivia who likes Jason but also likes Max who doesn’t actually like Olivia (but is good friends with Jason. Only friends, before you ask if Max is gay. He’s not. He has a girlfriend. Her name is Noelle. SO THERE.)
But I’ve been thinking about YA love triangles for a while and I think they can be divided into 3 basic categories:
A) The Bad Boy vs The Good Guy
I can’t complain about this one because it’s a fairly common idea that’s lasted a really long time, not just in YA. I have a vague memory of an English class where we learned that in classic literature, the “bad” character (a temptress or seducer, etc) is usually dark haired while the “good” character (all innocence and whatever) is fair. I mentally divide the two into Betty and Veronica.
EXAMPLE: Lauren Kate’s Fallen. Blond angelic Daniel vs dark and devilish Cam. Although maybe it doesn’t count because Cam was only an obstacle for the first book and his motivations were never really clear (if he knew Daniel and Luce were meant to be, then WHY was he trying to seduce her?). Or Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland where Cole was portrayed as being dark and brooding and what’s-his-face the other guy (Justin?) was all sweet and gentle (until Ali realizes that Justin is actually CRAY-CRAY, but for a while there, they fit into the stereotypes). I’m sure you can think of other examples.
B) The Best Friend
Oh, unrequited love! Forever fawning over the girl of your dreams while she trails after the other guy who is 10 times hotter and more exciting than you. And to top it off, you’re her best friend so you get to hear ALL the juicy details. Because apparently, in YA, a guy and a girl can’t be just friends without any underlying romantic feelings unless one (or both?) happen to be gay (I can’t really knock the “gay best friend” trope because, uh, I did that too. But Finn is one of my best characters, so I will defend that decision forever!).
EXAMPLE: Cassandra Clare. All of her books. In The Mortal Instruments, it’s Simon-Clary-Jace (and you’d be an idiot if you thought that Simon and Clary were going to get together. Or maybe I’m just biased because I never liked Simon’s character). Admittedly, in The Infernal Devices, it’s Jem and Will who are best friends, but that doesn’t stop them from vying for Tessa’s affection. Or Melissa de la Cruz’s Blue Bloods, which I didn’t finish reading, but am assuming that the Oliver-Schuyler-Jack triangle resolved in Jack’s favour.
C) The New Guy
For some reason, authors find it necessary to add a secondary love interest in book 2 (or book 3…book 4 if you’re really crazy, but usually book 2). That’s fair to think that maybe your protagonist is attracted to someone else, but it’s a waste of time when she (usually it’s a girl) has just spent the past 2 books going on and on about how the hero of the piece is her soulmate but hey look, that guy over there is pretty hot and now she’s in love with two guys.
EXAMPLE: The Immortals series by Alyson Noel. Ever (the protagonist) is in love with Damen. Their love has lasted through the ages (Ever is constantly being reborn and Damen is immortal) and they have to overcome so many obstacles to be together forever, etc etc. And then in book 3, Jude shows up. And it turns out his past selves have always been involved with EVER’S past selves until Damen shows up in every lifetime. And as a reader, you’re sitting there going: “But Damen and Ever are SOULMATES!” I refuse to finish the series (because Ever got really annoying sometime around book 4) but I know that Damen “wins” in the end.
There are also subcategories (I’ll list 2):
I) The Love Quadrangle
Similar to “The New Guy”, but different in that love interests for BOTH MAIN CHARACTERS are introduced.
EXAMPLE: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Caster Chronicles. I didn’t love the second book, Beautiful Darkness, because it introduced two secondary love interests: Olivia (for Ethan) and John (for Lena). They end up playing important roles throughout the rest of the series, but at times I felt it was unnecessary to make them “love interests”. The story would have worked just as well if they were all friends, but adding the romantic tension made it so much more dramatic.
II) The “I Like the Other Guy Better”
I guess this isn’t a real category, but have you ever noticed that sometimes the “other guy” really is the better character?
EXAMPLE: Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange. Sonny, Kelley’s love interest, was fine and whatever. A bit of a fairy (no, literally. I think he might have been a fairy. Or maybe Kelley was? I don’t remember), but pretty standard hero material, if a little dull. But I loved Fennrys Wolf, the “bad boy” who was soooo much more interesting and I was actually sad when Kelley -SPOILER ALERT-picked Sonny over Fennrys. But maybe that’s just me.
And that was my mini-essay on love triangles. I could go on about this forever, but I’ll wrap it up so that you can think about other examples. Maybe I missed a category or 2? Or maybe you can provide some insight as to why love triangles are such a staple of YA fantasy!