Sunday was one of those rare days in Denver where it rained all day long, which completely justified my decision to lay on the couch, order takeout, and watch Netflix all day. My roommate and I finished the evening with a viewing of I Love You, Man, which I had never seen and am so glad I watched. Paul Rudd and Jason Segel are America’s boyfriends.
The main three relationships of the movie are a twist on a classic rom-com trope called the love triangle, with Paul Rudd trying to become friends with Jason Segel while planning his wedding to Rashida Jones. It’s highly entertaining, but it made me think about other plays on the classic three-character relationship models.
The Love Triangle #1: Two Suitors, One Heroine
The most obvious three-character relationship model that we all know is the love triangle. However, there is more than one way to set up the love triangle.
The most common in a traditional chick flick is that our heroine is interested in two potential suitors, and has to choose between the two. There is usually no relationship between the two suitors, but sometimes they are friends or relatives in order to really crank up the drama.
Classic examples include pretty much every Jane Austen novel, the Twilight Saga and the Hunger Games trilogy.
The Love Triangle #2: The Jealous Suitor(s)
Another form of the love triangle is more linear, and shows up in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Character A is in love with character B, who is in love with character C, who isn’t really interested in any other point of the triangle, or is blissfully ignorant of the dramatics going on around him or her.
There’s also the inversion of the first example, in which two suitors are interested in the same third person, but the third party is either uninterested in both or unaware of the interest.
The early books in the Anne of Green Gables series have this with Charlie Sloane and Gilbert Blythe both pursuing Anne, who rejects both of them (at first).
The Love Triangle Made More Complicated
These are just the examples of triangles with relationships established in single directions. When relationships between characters become mutual, a new layer of goals can be used to motivate your characters. Sometimes it’s best to become familiar with writing one-way triangles before adding reciprocal relationships as part of the plot instead of as part of the resolution.
Which love triangle in film and literature is your favorite?
Choose one of the three triangular love models above and write a scene with three characters in that scenario. Post your practice in the comments when you’re done.