Maybe it’s because I was sucked into Miraculous Ladybug Season 1 like the sappy nerd I am, maybe it’s the fact that Caley (through no fault of her own) ends up in a love-shape drama. But I’ve been pondering on this trope, and why it is awesome and yet awful all at once (because it can be both!).
Why are these things so friggin’ popular? Well, some of it is that I believe we (both the writers and the audience) like to see the characters suffer before they get their chance at happiness. Otherwise, there isn’t much investment in what happens in the end. There is also the fact that no matter how well you do your job to convey the characters, they are still moderately malleable to the reader, who may see the protag better with Love Interest A or Love Interest B or the random character in the diner in chapter three–which is how shipping wars are born. It is the reader’s prerogative and can’t really be argued with (George Lucas tried).
The hardest part about writing a love-shape comes in two parts. On one hand, you have to keep the feelings conveyed as being sincere. If the reader/audience stops believing the love interest really cares for and about the protag, the ship is sunk. This can, however, be a useful tool for the second part–resolving all sides of the love-shape-of-choice. No one can be left hanging alone and heartbroken, but it has to be done in a way that makes sense. You also have to either ease the audience into getting in the same OTP boat (fat chance) or use a shocking event to drive a big wedge between participants.
I am very cautious about the shocking event part of the trope. It can be a good plot point, or it can come out of left field entirely. A good example of the latter is the original Star Wars trilogy, thus my digs at Lucas. The shippers weren’t letting Luke/Leia go, so she was turned into his twin sister (and the writer has since tried to retcon this as being his original intent, which makes it worse really). Did it make Han/Leia easier? Yes. Did it make a lot of sense? No, but it’s Lucas. Lucas can’t keep any of his shit straight.
As much as it kills me to give the series any good press, the sparkle-vampire series actually did a better job of the surprising event. The wedding put a nail in the werewolf-shippers’ coffin, and while its way of resolving all the sides was full of ick, she did resolve them. This doesn’t comment on any of the other numerous problems, but the writer knew how to manage the relationships to milk the drama. I will say her stand alone book (last I checked it was stand alone, anyway), The Host, actually handled the resolving the sides a lot neater, and in a way that was both sad and satisfying.
This gives shows like Miraculous an interesting twist. One of the sides is suddenly two, and makes things so much more complicated. But this can quickly go from humerous and cute to stressful and frustrating for the characters and audience members alike. I think ending the love-shape is a clear sign the series is ending as a whole, because it resolves a plot-line and eases some of the tension. But you could phase it into new drama, depending on the situation, making it more of a season-ender than series as a whole.
Now we get to the worst example of that. Comic books. I don’t care if it’s DC or Marvel, they are notoriously bad about breaking up characters in established relationships on a whim, whether it’s by killing characters for emotional impact, moving the survivor on, and then bringing the victim back to life, or just causing really dumb out of character responses to drama, it’s a vicious cycle. Now, I will say that some of the characters, they make it actually work–Remy and Rogue have never exactly been “easy to handle” in terms of personality, and both are hot-heads. Them going hot-and-cold makes sense. And if the Bartons had divorced much earlier (rather than the shitty timing of it, especially with Bobbi coming off of a form of PTSD and the list is a mile long on the bad set up here), they also would have made sense–they got married within days! Obviously that didn’t happen, but you know, benefit of the doubt here this once.
But others are just flash fiction for no reason. Why? Because some writers just don’t know how to keep the tension going if they are in a long-running series. And that’s fine! If you don’t know how to handle them, you don’t know. But that’s what blogs like this for, and others who are more knowledgeable than me. My biggest advice is this: remember that love squares are tricky to manage, so plan accordingly. Know how it’s resolving, and when and in what way/fallout if you can. If you get an unexpected extension, evaluate what happened previously with your love square. Are there still underlying trust issues? Did someone go from attracted to one person to another, because that’s grounds for serious jealousy problems. Does someone have bad habits or experiences that are coloring the relationship? Falling in love and winning their affections in return isn’t the solution to your problems–it’s only the beginning.