TVTropes.org lists 13 different types of Triangle relationships. The possibilities, when those relationships get used in tandem with additional characters and sub-triangles, are seemingly endless.
Why, then—seriously, why—is there such a rampant literary run on the basic “Character A must choose between Character B and Character C” scenario? Relationships are not items on a menu.
“I’ll have a steak, medium rare.”
“And what type of Love Interest would you like to go with that?”
“Ooh, I think something rich and robust, with a hint of humor. What do you recommend?”
“We have an excellent selection of Alpha Males.”
“Yes, I’ll take one of those. Surprise me.”
Characters B and C are rarely ordinary. They’re, like, the state-championship-winning quarterback vs. the hottest guy in school. Never someone from marching band, or that one guy who’s nice but has absolutely no ambition in life. They’re always valedictorian-team-captain-youngest-CEO-rock-star heroes. Because that’s realistic, two of the most desired and eligible men fawning over the same Average Everygirl character, as though no other available women exist in that particular universe. (Maybe it’s an ego thing…? The two studs are rivals in everything else, so why not vie for the same girl?)
The whole supernatural angle jacks this trope up all the more, if that’s even possible. Look, Average Everygirl! You’re loved by a fairy prince and a warlock! In a world where both are rare! Because of course!
So here’s my rant about fictional relationships.
I love a good fantasy. You know what’s not good fantasy? When two non-standard (“elite”) characters home in on the same target love interest, whose sole appeal is that he or she is the protagonist of the story.
Let me repeat: whose sole appeal is that he or she is the protagonist of the story.
Houston, we have a problem. This is not storytelling. This is pre-teen girlish dreaming about what if I’m secretly beautiful and ALL THE BOYS can see my inner awesomeness that I don’t even know I have and then they’re all so into me and I have to decide which one is my soulmate for reals and forever??!?!?!?!!
*high-pitched squeeing into a faux-fur body pillow for next 3 hours*
And then, somehow, the pre-teen daydream of hidden awesomeness translates to a Character A who’s outwardly bland or off-putting, with a side of tortured inner monologue to spice things up.
Call me cynical (I do), but I have a hard enough time connecting with most protagonists already. When I encounter a churlish, emotionally unavailable harridan with a buzz cut, and she’s somehow having to fend off two Hot Guy Love Interests™ with a stick, I’m done. Reality has stopped. Verisimilitude has not engaged. My interest is aborted and if I stick around, it’s for mocking purposes only.
The focal point of the triangle has to have some genuine romantic appeal. Moodiness is not romantic (unless you’re Lord Byron). Bitterness is not romantic. Sarcastic wit is not romantic. Most people have egos that are soft and spongy and easily wounded, and trying to have a relationship with someone who is perpetually sour leads to hurt feelings and estrangement, not, “Oh, but I know your true inner goodness and love you for it.”
And yes, fiction is fantasy, but this romantic pattern of “Underwhelming Character somehow attracts not one, but two extraordinary lovers” is beyond fantasy. It’s delusion.
Wake up. Craft a better plot. The end.
(Not really. There’s still one more comic in this set.)