(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.