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.
Andrea K Höst
Have you listened to ferretbrain's podcasts on "Girl Books for Girls"? Several people who don't read YA paranormal romance having a team read of some of the biggest-sellers of the genre. I think you'd get a kick out of the discussion.http://ferretbrain.com/articles/article-687
This is such a great post! I love it when authors turn the love triangle trope upside down, or even better: don't have a love triangle at all. Where are the girl-girl-boy love triangles?
Nicely said. I'm eagerly awaiting Part 2.
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.I couldn't agree more. Somehow plenty of YA authors tend to omit that issue, dumbing down their books to their cost – as soon as the girl (rarely the boy) in the middle of a love triangle is being objectified ("give me that doll! she is mine!" "no, she is mine!") she loses her humanity, character and plenty of other things, my interest among them.
When I wrote my first fantasy novel, back when I was thirteen, the MC spent most of the book travelling with THREE boys who were all madly in love with her. Then I wrote a SF novel, where the MC attracted pretty much every male but her brother – and if you read between the lines about her brother, you start to wonder. She even had an alien with purple fur in love with her. That was HOT.I am not accusing any YA authors of being thirteen. I am saying, however, that in my case there was a certain amount of wish-fulfilment going on.
I think I will tack onto the last point there: love triangles also ruin the characterization of the male protagonists. Their development stagnates; it's all about who he is in relation to the other guy. So when the two men aren't glaring at each other, or outright sniping at each other, their development is restricted to being sexier than the other guy. The worst part is when the heroine treats the two men interchangeably — not as two different people with feelings, but as abs to touch and lips to kiss. That's all. There's no concern on the heroine's part about how stringing them along might be affecting them on an emotional level. And notice how none of the men in these love triangles ever say, "You know what? Fuck this. You're not worth it." In making the love triangle all about the woman and who will she choose? it's made the heroes emotions secondary to her own. There's no equality in that.
This is an awesome post, Kat. I couldn't agree more.
What a great post! I'm a longtime lurker here and I just wanted to pop in to leave my opinion on something I find a bit frightening.Although it would be better to have love triangles "speak" to the side of our protagonist (usually female), instead of having two Hottie McHottersons there for the sake of Teams(TM), I find it disturbing that a girl needs to have justification for being torn between two guys. Why does she need them to characterize her? I've yet to see a girl-boy-girl love triangle that does this so it feels squicky that "good love triangles" are defined this way. In my opinion, good love triangles should be defined by the choices/opinions/beliefs that the love interests own. The love interests should be their own people first, because that's who the protagonist fell in love with. Not their bad boy/angelic reputation or cardboard cutout reactions (a.k.a. being hot and cold).
Andrea – Thanks, will listen today!Lissa – I don't know. I think they're worried they won't be able to carry the romance in that kind of love triangle.Anonymous Reader – Salutations! I'm on it.Anachronist – Sad, isn't it? There is nothing nice about being a bone fought over by two dogs.Rachel – Oh, I absolutely believe it's about wish fulfillment! Sometimes I wonder if these authors have ever BEEN in a love triangle though. As a seasoned love triader, it never feels very authentic to me.Elizabeth – You're so right. I was going to address that in the Hero is a douche section but I cut it for the sake of brevity and because, honestly, romantic heroes are so objectified in this genre that they barely have a personality, let alone their own interests, desires or emotions.Thanks Stephanie!Ursula – Welcome! I am ashamed. I'm a feminist blogger and I totally missed that point! What an excellent one to make and so absolutely true! Thanks for mentioning it to me! You are so right. I hate how cookie cutter the love interests have become in this regard but the fact that they define her is, in a way, really insulting.
While I agree with this post, I feel the need to argue your use of The Vampire Diaries as an example. I'm getting the impression that you don't actually watch the show and are just going off of heresay and marketing. Elena was never indecisive about the brothers; she chose Stefan from the very beginning and consistently spurned Damon's advances, but he never took no for an answer. (It's amazing how the pairing has the fanbase it does.) This show goes out of its way to discourage those kinds of relationships. In Season 3, when Elena's brother was stuck between his girlfriend and the ghost of his ex, he ended up losing both of them because the living girl wouldn't take his shit, and the dead one moved on.The photo you used is just a PR shot of the three main cast members, and is in no way indicative of what the show's actually about. Basically, don't judge something based on promotional material.
Anonymous – I watched until halfway through season two before I threw my hands up in consternation. It takes Damon killing her brother for her to firmly reject him and I found that annoying. You are right in that she is more firm than most heroines. Mostly I put the picture there because it's pretty and serves a purpose for my illustration.But, and let's be honest here, mostly I'm just baffled that she chose Sir Moans-a-lot. Not that I'd prefer his psycho brother. Just that at least his psycho brother has a personality.
Hi Kat,I think Love triangles are more prevalent in Ya Paranormal than any other form of romance. Most of the straight Regencies I've read don't even have a hint of another love interest, or if there is a third man, he is normally the unwanted arranged partner, someone to escape. I like having a straight forward leading man and leading lady, whose path to a HEA maybe twisted and full of obstacles but they get there in the end and you know from the start that they will. That is the true essence of Romance and the reason so many women read it, and sometimes authors forget that teenagers still like their HEA's as well.
Yes, Yes OMG, YES!!! That sounded a bit orgasmic, but DAMN you hit the nail on the head. Let's move on from this.(Oh, and from first person present tense, but that's another story and another rant. hahaha)
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.That's my favorite part of this post– you've hit the nail on the head, love triangles DESTROY the central female. In fact, I agree with everything you've written here, though I must claim a certain fondness for "rich, handsome, brooding and loving Bachelor #1–" TV version, of course.
That's right, Elise! Let your hormones do the talking!Kate, you totes know I wrote this post for you!
First of all I'm sick of love triangles in stories cause they give real triad relationships a bad rep. why is there always a story or movie where a girl completely messes up a friend or partnership just because the dudes like her and she can't make up her mind of who she wants to be with. they're bot hot and get along and have a common interest…HER!SOOOO why does she have to choose! It's not a real triad relationship if they aren't all together and trying to rip apart the female protagonist just because they're to0 greedy and self-centered to just love her together. It's like demanding a threesome with two girls from your wife and then getting pissed that she wants a threesome with two dudes. It's completely unfair and selfish
Ah, this, this so much. Sadly enough, it seems like “ship wars” are the primary motivation for so many love triangles in YA. I can’t see any good reason for secondary love interests in SO MANY of these books, otherwise. Another issue, I think, is that for some reason, YA series are not allowed to feature heroines in healthy, strong relationships. They have to constantly be engaged in the well-they-or-won’t-they dance, because apparently loving relationships aren’t sexy enough?
But like you say, so many books *become* about the relationship, and I think that’s a large part of it. So much of paranormal YA (and adult fic, for that matter) is not *about* the paranormal, they’re about the relationship. The paranormal aspects are just minor details that make the setting/relationship dynamics “unique”. If a heroine were to only have one love interest with no obstacles between them, or alternately, chose a boy in the first book, then why *gasp*, they’d have to focus more on the plot! I can see how it can be a bit like bait-and-switch. “Come for the paranormal, stay for the ship wars, and please, please don’t notice how shitty my storytelling is.”
On the other hand, I can see legions of fangirls declaring “boring!” and moving on if a book were to only have one love interest, so there you go. Triangles are so obligatory now, and lots of books really have that feel. “I didn’t want a love triangle, but I need one to sell, so…”
The sad thing is, love triangles can actually work when they’re written well. I’d cite Wicked Lovely and Hunger Games as examples. I’m a bitter, cynical, jadad old lady as far as paranormal YA is concerned, and in both of those books, the triangles worked for me. Albeit for different reasons, but they both added something to the books, to the development of the heroine. They made the books harder, made things messier – it wasn’t about upping the sexy quotient. It was about the story.
Er, anyway, you know what I’d love to see more of? A heroine realizing her triangle consists solely of Douchbuckets and either a) choosing no one, or b) telling them both to go fuck off a finding a normal guy to date. The girl having to choose one of them by the end of the series? False logic. They are not the only two guys on earth. I wish more heroines would realize that.
/long comment ^^;
Cyna recently posted…059 – She Smells the Dead by EJ Stevens
That would be awesome, Cyna! I agree. It would be nice to mix it up a little.
Shit I'm Sick of Reading Part 2 | Cuddlebuggery Book Blog
[…] the last Shit I’m Sick of Reading segment Kat covered the highly overused trope: The love triangle. This time I’d like to bitch moan […]
Great post, Kat! I’ve considered adding a secondary character who MAY become a love interest to the female protagonist in my YA ms, but have hesitated for the very reasons you mentioned. Its become an overplayed trope and I’ve afraid of being pegged as a novice if I dare to use -_-
Ikhlas Hussain recently posted…Review: Cinder
Give it a try, Ikhlas. You have to practice stretching yourself as a writer and seeing what you can get away with.
I’ve actually never minded the love triangle much, but you make some really valid points about how it weakens stories and characters and how it could be used well. very interesting and insightful.
I hate triangles. Effing HATE them. You know what my reason #4 is? The guy left in the cold is usually left bitter and alone (or dead) and I feel bad for him. Like Gale in Hunger Games or (inster *sob* here) Ren from Nightshade. Not everyone gets a half vampire/half human soulmate at the end of the saga, you know!
Stupid effing triangles.
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The Unpopular Opinion Book Tag | Cuddlebuggery Book Blog
[…] Triangles – Sometimes these can be really well-written. Other times they completely undermine the heroine’s character growth and the novel becomes a pissing contest between whose dick is better and better than the others. […]
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