There’s a group of books published in the last 5-10 years for the YA paranormal genre that I like to refer to as: Sucks More Ass than a Futuristic, Sadomasochistic Ass-sucking Machine.
Generally, they tend to be most of the industry’s best selling YA paranormal series. Now, obviously they have some great appeal to be where they are. I’ve certainly come across some very dedicated fans who will defend these books with great aplomb to any and all that are in the general vicinity.
What is it that makes these critically despised books so damn popular?
Mostly, it is that they all deal with similar themes, they recycle very similar story lines and they use all the same tropes. Themes, storylines and tropes that I’m sick of reading and this is why:
#1. Love Triangles (Otherwise known as “The Term Love Triads Misappropriated for Ease of Understanding”)
I did a post on over used tropes, and had to laugh when the overall response was, “Yes, it’s perfectly okay to occasionally use cliches. Just not the love triangle. Ever. Again.”
It’s so true. Every time a secondary love interest shows up, I die a little inside.
See, I understand why it’s so popular. To novice or unskilled authors it must seem like the best kind of math possible.
1 sexy male love interest = X amount of fangirl screams of joy.
2 sexy male love interest therefore = 2 x X amount of fangirl screams of joy!
And I get why fans love it too – what’s not to like about extra manmeat? But here’s the problems associated with love triangles:
1. That extra guy will turn the main love interest into a douche.
Do you remember what it was that made Twilight even worse than it was originally?
If your answer is Stephanie Meyer than… well, that’s a really good point actually. But no, it’s Jacob. Now, before fan girls start manually twisting their panties and rooting around for rotten tomatoes: it’s not that Jacob was a bad character.
I couldn’t give less of a shit about Team Jacob or Team Edward but that his arrival on set turned Edward from an annoying, but occasionally bearable love interest, into full-blown psychopath. You could argue that Edward was always a psychopath and Jacob just brought it out of him and I would agree with you. That would have been an excellent plot twist if Bella hadn’t run off and married the obsessive, controlling psychopath.
Leigh Pretnar Cousins, MS over at Psychcentral mentions the following things about love triangles:
- There is tension in a primary relationship
- Perhaps there is a disagreement
- Perhaps a partner feels a basic need is not getting met
In the recesses of our primitive brains, we may think that it’s sweet or romantic that the guys are fighting over her, because doesn’t that just make her a special snowflake? Yet it doesn’t stay that way and soon it becomes about winning. The main protagonist becomes objectified as a prize to be won, controlled or corralled and pretty soon everyone – including the audience – gets sick of it.
The reason behind the audience’s attraction to the main male protagonist is usually because the story leads us to believe the main character is truly in love with the male protagonist. Yet if their relationship was so strong or if they were truly meant for each other, then why is the second contender needed? When you put another love interest in the mix then a lot of those qualities that originally made the first contender appealing becomes compromised. He either loses confidence or becomes over confident, there is less mystery and whilst he remains in love with the MC, the antagonizing secondary love interest is occupying some of his attention.
2. The story becomes consumed by the relationship dramas
Relationships are important but in literature they can become problematic when they consume the plot with their melodrama.
What was otherwise an interesting plot or mystery becomes more about the main protagonist choosing between her two love interests.
The Southern Vampire Mysteries falls into this category. Fallen by Lauren Kate starts in this category by default because it had no storyline to begin with.
Sometimes it’s not unreasonable to question why the love triangle was included in the first place. Especially if it neither truly adds to the story or the original characters but seems to only have been included to bolster an otherwise lackluster novel.
Such could be said for The Iron King by Julie Kagawa or The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter.
Carrie Ryan is quoted as saying the following (Shamelessly stolen from Melinda Lo’s blog):
To me, that’s the essence of a love triangle — each man is a viable choice for the heroine but each speaks to a different part of who she is. The heroine isn’t choosing between two men, she’s choosing who SHE wants to be and that will dictate who the right match is.
To a point I absolutely agree with this – if the majority of authors used it this way. Yet Carrie Ryan is one of the few who effectively wields this trope in any artistic fashion. Usually, the female protagonist is choosing between two different men and unfortunately the result is…
3. Love triangles often ruin the characterization of female protagonists.
At the tip of a love triad is a character who has a really difficult decision to make. Yet, before they get to that point, they have a fuckton of really bad decisions to make.
Because they have to engage in behaviour that is usually pretty morally reprehensible in order to successfully lead two other people along in a romantic entanglement. This usually rends an otherwise likable character into a weak and unsympathetic person to audiences.
For example – Rose from Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, Georgina from Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead and Eugenie from the Dark Swan series by Richelle Mead. Pretty much everything by Richelle Mead.
Look at that picture of Vampire Diaries up there. Damon and Damon’s brother, Broody McBroody-Faced there are both looking at Elena. Is she looking at either of them to suggest a preference? Or that she cares? Or that she is actually interested in either of them? No. She’s looking at the camera and reveling in the manwichy goodness.
Because it’s all about her. The apex of a love triangle has to engage in questionable behavior along the way and suddenly it becomes hard to root for a character when their biggest problems in life are choosing between rich, handsome, brooding and loving Bachelor #1 and rich, handsome, badass and loving Bachelor #2.
Then there are the illicit smoochies, the using of one Bachelor to aid another, playing them off against each other, controlling them etc.
I think everyone can agree that whilst there may be a Team Jacob and Team Edward – there is no Team Bella and probably for a very good reason.
But at the end of the day, authors seem intent on using this cliched trope. Probably mostly because, in pictures, their protagonist looks great sandwiched between two paranormal studs with perfect profiles.
And in this instance, I can’t bring myself to disagree with them.