Tangled Triangles Revisited

As we mentioned earlier in the series we have can have a relationship with a romantic antagonist who is constantly trying to break up the relationship for their own gain. We may also have the romantic rival who has potential as part of this relationship, I phrase it this way because the romantic rival doesn’t have to break apart a two person relationship they could easily become part of a polygamous relationship. Usually though when we say romantic rival we mean a third person trying to break up a relationship of two people and replace one of them.

However we want the triangle to play out it can be effective to make the rival as potentially appealing as whoever they’re trying to replace. If the rival has no appealing features other than something like ‘they’re very attractive’ it can potentially infuriate the reader that Character A is bowled over by them. This isn’t to say people can’t be blinded by good looks but if their personality is completely repulsive the reader may be less likely to follow along with this potential romance. This can work though if we’re aiming to make the reader go ‘no, no, not them!’ or when we’re creating the ‘romantic antagonist’, mentioned previously, who keeps trying to break apart the relationship but holds no interest for the object of their desires. Another techniques would be to have the rival with the unpleasant personality appear pleasant to the object of their ‘affections’, and I use this term loosely because affection may have nothing to do with it, but show their true self in some other way.

If we want to create a romantic rival who appears to have the potential to usurp the love interest then sometimes the best way is to create someone who is as appealing, though not necessarily in the same way. This does have its own set of potential pitfalls, primarily that in making the rival as appealing some readers will be upset when their favourite is rejected. However, this upset shows emotional connection to the characters which is a good thing, it also creates its own conflict that can be absent, or sometimes appear forced, when the rival has no appeal. If we refer back to Gaston in the recent version of Beauty and The Beast there was no risk of him usurping Beast in Belle’s affections, which I argued made him a ‘romantic antagonist’ rather than rival, the threat he posed was a physical one where he tried to kill Beast. This created a different sort of conflict to the potential of him pushing Beast aside, an appealing rival creates a conflict of choice, potentially a difficult choice.

A lot of triangles in fiction of the 18th and 19th century can appear difficult to understand in a modern context because the appeal of the rival is based on the standards of the time. They may have an unappealing personality but they have a fortune or enough wealth to make the heroine secure. This is why Elizabeth Bennett is considered a revolutionary heroine of her time, she could have married Darcy the first time he asked, when she had a negative opinion of him, or she could’ve married Mr Collins who she loathed and made her situation secure. At the time marriage was often the only security a woman of her class could have, but she said no and risked the lack of security but potential happiness over security and unhappiness.

The primary issue that can appear in triangle centred stories is that the protagonist is mysteriously appealing to everyone. This doesn’t mean people can’t comment on them being attractive in some way, whether physically, intellectually or personality, but that’s not the same as desiring them. A friend can complement someone or an enemy can use a compliment as an insult or recognise a positive aspect of the protagonist, but sometimes what happens is that all the side-characters become potential rivals rather than friends or enemies or people passing by. This is where romantic interest steps beyond a potentially believable love triangle into realms that often annoy the reader because it makes the protagonist appears too perfect and it doesn’t reflect real life.


Article Archive 1

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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