This is a slightly revised update of a post I originally submitted back in 2014.
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Back in April I wrote a post about the use of tropes in fiction, and how they don’t have to be a negative. Despite having made the case that any trope can be used successfully with strong writing and characterisation, there is still one trope that I really dislike regardless. The use of this trope in a fictional work has the ability to infuriate me like no other, and can often put me off reading books which prominently feature this trope. I am of course referring to the trope known as the Love Triangle.
The love triangle generally takes shape in one of two forms. The first is known as the Rivalrous Triangle, in which the protagonist competes for the love of the object of his/her affections against a rival suitor. The second type of love triangle is known as the Split-Object Triangle, in which the affections of the protagonist is divided between two characters. This usually results in a protracted struggle to choose one or the other.
Some of you may now be wondering, what is it about love triangles that I hate so much? Well, in truth it’s not so much the trope that I dislike in principle, rather it’s the actual execution that I usually find so objectionable.
Far more often than not, when I encounter a love triangle in a book, it revolves around an unremarkable female protagonist “struggling” to choose between two male love interests. It’s often hard to discern what it is about the protagonist that the said love interests find so alluring, or why they are prepared to be strung along as they compete for her affections. In addition to this, why is it always the case that one of the love interests is depicted as the “bad boy” while the other is depicted as the “nice guy”?
The most annoying thing about this bad boy/nice guy dichotomy is that the former is invariably portrayed as the dangerous but exciting option, which is supposedly always a positive, whereas the latter is portrayed as the safe but boring option, which, of course, automatically translates as: incapable of stirring the heroine’s passions. (So, basically, being a decent person is deemed to be a negative.)
It would appear that this particular representation of the love triangle is one favoured by (some) female authors. This is especially the case in the realm of Young Adult literature. Why that is, I can only speculate; maybe (some) women like the idea of stringing along two men, and having them fight over her? Whatever the case, there is no reason why the inclusion of a love triangle in a book has to be so unpalatable to a reader like myself. Give me a reason not to hate these love triangles, and avoid books which prominently feature them. How about making me actually believe the heroine is someone worth vying for?
Also, why not change up the bad boy/nice guy dichotomy a little? Not all of us nice guys are nervous, shy, socially awkward, clingy, intimidated, submissive doormats. Believe it or not, some of us are capable of being just as confident, assertive and “manly” as the stereotypical bad boys. So why not allow the nice guy to win for once? There is no need to perpetuate the idea of the nice guy always finishing last; sometimes we do in fact come out, triumphantly, on top.
Better yet, why not have both suitors deciding that they don’t appreciate being strung along, before extricating themselves from the triangle, leaving the heroine rejected and alone? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such an outcome in a book before.
In closing, I hope this post doesn’t read too much like a rant; I just wanted to give an assessment of a trope I would like to see improved, as it is one that, currently, often spoils my enjoyment of a good book. I’m also interested to find out which tropes other readers and writers dislike encountering in fiction.