forum How to write love triangles/relationships in general (romantic, preferably, though advice for platonic is great too) that aren't awkward and cliche?
Started by @but-not-for-me group

people_alt 53 followers

@but-not-for-me group

Yeah, so…I'm…not great with love triangles. One thing I cannot stand is insta-love/love-at-first-sight so I avoid that. And I also don't like the love interests only thinking about physical attraction and kissing rather than liking the personality or enjoying spending time with the love interest. Another thing I hate is the love interests only being able to think about the other love interest when HELLO, THERE'S THE VILLAIN OVER THERE TRYING TO KILL YOU!!
So here I am, asking for advice on writing love triangles, or just relationships in general. I was debating about putting it here or on Characters, but I decided to take a risk and put it with the Romance.
Love triangles often feel awkward and cliche; though in Keeper of the Lost Cities (AAGGGHH! ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BOOKS!) the characters have very good chemistry and it feels so natural and even realistic. So I'm just lost as to how to have good love triangles and relationships without feeling cliched or rushed or like the love interests obsess over each other. Thank you in advance for your surely wonderful advice!

@NotSoBeautifulDiseaster group

First focus on the whys (Why can't the center person pick one, Why do they love this person, yadda)
Second make everyone a rounded character, This is kind of common knowledge but still
Give us equally complex options

Deleted user

I'm just lost as to how to have good love triangles and relationships without feeling cliched or rushed or like the love interests obsess over each other.

  1. Doing away with love at first sight or limerence is a big step. It can be what's called a "slow burn" in which the romance has a foundation of deep friendship, or it's already established that they've known each other a long time and have mutual friends, shared interests, shared values, complementary temperaments, etcetera. Even if the main character vacillates in commitment between one or another, the ones being chosen between can be understanding that the main character is allowed to like other people, and, especially if monogamous by orientation, choose one and it won't be them: staying platonic would be satisfactory, and everybody has faith in their own likability and the there's a steadfast love out there for them; and if there isn't, that'd be fine, as they can (and have) other things going on in their life too…their career, loyalty to their family, a supportive clique of friends, discoveries and inventions, charity work, artistic endeavors, etcetera etcetera etcetera…

  2. Doing away with the transactional dimension of romance is another big step. One can make the decision to bow out of the triangle instead of waiting to be chosen: If a decisive commitment towards the character making this decision isn't what's there, then thank you to the main character for being honest (because the main character is honest about vacillating and not being exclusive/committed, right??) but being one of a few options is not that love interest's thing, and that love interest should not be portrayed as bad or controlling/judgmental because they decide to bow out. It could be a bit trickier if one bows out for that reason, the other bows out due to not wanting to have gotten that result by default (or they could still be fine with it seeming that way if they know in their heart of hearts and in the dynamic between them and the main character that what it looks like isn't what it actually is, that they know they're not "the default".) Because how many options there are and who "won" by default sounds like a transactional dating arrangement: supply, demand, competition, hierarchy of assets thing. I think that's toxic dating culture stuff, and not that everybody involved in this love polygon recognizes everybody else as generally good people.

  3. About being monogamous by orientation, the first thing I think of that would subvert the medieval chivalric romance model of Love Triangles is…Maybe they're not monogamous, actually? As in, whether the triangle goes like, Alice loves Bob who loves Carla who loves Alice who loves Carla who loves Bob who loves Alice…or, Amos loves both Bianca and Chiara who both love Amos but are neutral about each other…then, if they all remain informed and consent to the way the situation is, then basically more than two people turn out to be in one bigger relationship dynamic.

Option 3 seems the "quick fix remedy" to the chivalric romance love triangles that very badly need an update for the 21st century—because we don't live in the medieval times anymore. However, despite it not being so common in the mainstream, it's also considered a cliché precisely because it's a "quick fix remedy".

Simply going, "Maybe they're not monogamous, actually" can become a problem if it comes off as saying that nobody is monogamous by orientation, and therefore it's like saying that the easiest way to fix real-life relationship conflicts is to involve more people in the relationship, "and if you have a problem with that, then your thinking is stuck in medieval times"—that's not a fair judgment to put out there. As a "quick fix remedy" it's not realistic, not only because of monogamy versus polygamy as orientation, or because of gender orientation (what if Amos isn't even heterosexual, what if Alice and Carla aren't sapphic), but because of incompatibility such as temperament, the limit on time commitments, and a possible imbalance in emotional investment whether they say out loud that that's what's happening or not. Learning compatible "love languages" is enough of a challenge when you're in a relationship with only one other person: imagine having to juggle!

So, my advice might generally seem contradictory, but first…have fun with it, because what's the point of romance if it doesn't make people happy? But also, be informed and cautious about what you're saying with it (…not that the cliché toxic transactional and obsessive love triangles ever had creators go, "oh hey maybe this is bad for society", instead it seems like plenty of entertainment media producers go, "it has to have a love triangle because that's a total cash grab" and of course that's so contrived and I'm sick of it…but…nobody doing that got told, "that sends a bad message, so be careful or do something else", so come to think of it why should those people who are actually successful with writing cliché stories not be pressured…while you are?)

((So, actually scratch all that! You can actively aim to write a cliché love triangle, but, because your heart is in the right place concerning the character development and character dynamics, it can still result in something authentic, original, and realistic.)

@but-not-for-me group

Thank you both for your wonderful advice! I DEFINITELY need to play around with love triangles (I haven't really had any in any stories I've written so far…and none of my stories have been long or drawn-out enough for me to feel like it's something naturally developing).