Love triangles are one of the most overused tropes out there today. In any kind of writing. Novels, movies, television shows, comics—all of them include characters fighting over who gets to love someone. Like any bit of writing, love triangles can be used well. But they can also ruin an otherwise good story.
There’s no good way to write a love triangle, because the minute you find instructions is the minute your writing becomes formulaic and boring. But there are definitely clear ways not to write a love triangle. Here are some of them.
Make one choice clearly better than the other.
You’re not writing a love triangle at this point, you’re writing a romance with a complication. And do you know what’s less interesting than a character only there to further the plot? A relationship only there to further the plot.
On the flipside, if one choice is clearly better than the other and you try to subvert that by having the protagonist end up with the less interesting and dynamic of the two, your readers are going to be very unhappy. So if you’re going to write a love triangle, make sure both sides bring something to the table.
Focus exclusively on the love interests.
We get it, tension is awesome. And easy to write when two people are fighting over someone. Drama! That being said, if you focus on the love interests to the exclusion of the protagonist, no one is going to understand why they’re fighting over the flat main character to begin with. That’s about the point when people start shipping the love interests falling in love with each other and sailing off into the sunset leaving Mary Sue to pine and cry and hem and haw all by herself.
Even worse: you develop the love interests and not the main character, but you need to show that she’s appealing. So you have other people fall in love with her! All the other people! Even if they’ve spoken to her once! Especially if they’ve spoken to her once! She’s just that appealing!
No. Please don’t. Just write full, well-rounded characters.
Introduce more love interests halfway through.
Just stop. Take a deep breath. Pick up those new characters and start another story.
Two competing love interests is more than enough for one protagonist, even if she’s new to a small town/ faerie kingdom/ insert your bad reasoning here. Readers have a finite amount of care they can invest in your characters, and the thinner you stretch that, the less interested they’ll be. Plus it’s cheap. If you spend a good amount of time developing two competing love interests and getting your audience to invest in one or both, bringing in random significant others for any of the three parties involved without proper development will result in disappointment, frustration, and angry internet rants. I don’t think you want that.
Bend characters to your will because DRAMA.
Keep characters in character. In love triangles, out of them, passing randomly on the street…the best characters are the ones who stay true to how you’ve written them. Making nice guys into controlling assholes because you thought of a better love interest isn’t a good story. Making controlling assholes into change-of-heart nice guys because you’ve put more effort into their quirks, one-liners, and beautiful eyes is an even worse story.
Use the drama inherent in your characters to spice up the story—people sure have enough of it. If you find your characters don’t have enough flaws you can exploit, write better characters. Humans have strengths and weaknesses, and they’re usually tied to the same character traits. If you’re finding yourself contradicting a character’s nature in order to enhance the plot, get yourself back to the drawing board and enhance the characters instead.
Love triangles are tricky and easy to do wrong. But the good news is they’re also easy to do right! Just don’t set out to write a dramatic love triangle. Set out to write real characters—make them interesting, make them multifaceted—and let the drama follow. That’s all you really need.