Tag Archives: love triangles

When Your Characters Rebel…

(I’m not saying this is Season 3 Miraculous Ladybug salt… But I am saying it is probably flavored liberally with it. I will avoid spoilers to the best of my abilities in terms of naming characters, but you know, you might get the gists of it anyway.)

So you have been working on this long running series–whether it’s for TV or a book series, comic run or insert other media here–and you have always had a couple in mind for your endgame. This is the pairing everyone needs to love, this is one that they need to get behind and want to be together. You have distractions and miscommunications in mind, whether you have an outline or just a vague concept in your head, but you also have key moments where they are meant to come together and prove that they can work.

So what do you do when they don’t do it organically, and worse yet, your audience soundly rejects it?

I’m not talking about the background characters that everyone is shipping together, cracky or not, or if the fans have decided your platonic best friends who are your main duo are meant to be, and I’m not talking about if you are dealing with a story that has no or only a very small romance plot and you can change the love interest without it changing the story one gram. This is a love-centric relationship that you, the writer, has built into the very premise, and the fans know this from day one. You may have even made the poor decision to use social media to assure everyone that yes, you know what you are doing, and yes, no matter what, the pairing will be endgame.

But remember those distractions I mentioned before? This is where things as a writer can get really gnarly. If I’ve spent time breaking my main pairing apart for the sake of time management, so they can get together in the final one or two chapters/episodes/issues/what-have-you and I have too much time to fill in between them, well… This pokes holes in why my audience is going to believe that this couple is going to work together in the end. (I am not touching my salty examples treatment and twisting of characters to make this possible.) If they fall out of love with this relationship as the characters question their feelings for each other, then when I provide a distraction in the form of new, alternative pairings… I’ve just split my fanbase.

Now, for some marketing people, they think this is a brilliant idea. Ever since Team Edward/Team Jacob, they have been gung-ho about love triangles, since marketing took what was previously a well known if slightly tired trope and fanned it into a fandom war that sold a ton of merchandise and kept people talking about a franchise that honestly didn’t deserve the level of hype and devotion it ended up spawning. See, once a fandom war starts, if you feed the fires right, fans will entrench themselves in their camp and will go out of their way to not prove the other side wrong, but spend a ton of money to show their support of their camp.

But notice my not so nice dig at the franchise? That’s because love triangles have to be written very carefully. In order to actually make sense as a plot device, there needs to be a very obvious reason why one side is better than the other, and writers usually get lazy with this, making it a matter of the nice guy being secretly violent or just saying that the jerkass was the one who really understood the girls promise (and in my opinion encourages abuse way too much). And that’s when they start at the same time! Many franchises spend whole books or seasons establishing a love interest, and then try to throw in a rival in the new season/sequel book. That only works if it’s quite clear to your fanbase that this isn’t meant to be a new romantic angle, and that the new rival is actually really unsuitable for the character he/she is pursuing. While some fans will hop on to the new camp with this rival (it’s inevitable), the majority will stay where you want it–with the mains.

This is where things can get hairy though. If you don’t make the new character unappealing, you can completely split your fanbase. My salty example here did this in two different ways and both failed. For one, they didn’t portray her personality consistently across her episodes, so despite having more screen time than the rival for the other side of the main pairing, it was so inconsistent that fans were irritable over it. That should have been enough by itself for fans to be split on her and to keep attention on their main couple. Except the boy is an oblivious idiot, no matter what the writers say on Twitter, and he has repeatedly stated that he can’t see the female lead as anything other than a friend, but he can see this new girl as a potential love interest to move on from his celebrity crush. For fans, that was digging a grave and a lot of them jumped ship.

But that left the other half of the pairing in the wind, right? Nope, insert our second rival. He didn’t get nearly the level of screen time, but what there is, it is consistent. Now, it’s also too perfect and two-dimensional, so some fans hate him for just that reason. Again, this should have kept everything split up and the focus on the main pairing. But our female lead is not only in the wind as far as her crush and trying to move past it, she has had so many responsibilities heaped on to her that it’s a miracle she’s still standing. And this boy has said that he loves her for who she is, just her, not her superhero self blinding him so badly he can’t see her, but her. And she doesn’t even have to explain everything to her (as our male lead has thrown a tantrum over in the past).

My friends, they not only dug the grave, they put in the final nails themselves. (Supposedly there are two episodes left that will revive it like a zombie, but I doubt it.)

At this point, if I was in that writing room, I would be looking over fan responses and questions, look at my team, and go, “Ya’ll, we have to either spend an entire season fixing this, which by our premise we can’t do… Or we may have to let go of the love square being endgame.” But of course, these are a bunch of men (and one woman) and I can’t see them doing that. What I can do though is take this as an object lesson myself. If you have a couple, it’s fine for there to be complications towards them ending up together–that’s life. There’s also a line in the sand where if you cross it, you won’t get your fanbase back. This is going to apply to me for Sun’s Guard, so I’m going to take this lesson and run.


Writing: Thoughts on Love Squares and Other Shapes

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.