Tag Archives: The Hunger Games

Creating a Love Triangle, Minus the Eye Rolling

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Love triangles in literature tend to have a polarizing effect on readers. Either readers enjoy love triangles, and their satisfaction of the novel enhances, or the love triangle destroys what would otherwise have been a good book.

Though love triangles are an established part of literature, it’s only in recent years that they’ve increased in popularity. Perhaps not in popularity of readers, but they are more frequently seen in novels, especially young adult novels.

A love triangle is a romantic relationship between three individuals. A few better known love triangles are:

  • Katniss/Peeta/Gale in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Bella/Edward/Jacob in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  • Heathcliff/Cathy/Edgar in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • The Phantom/Christine/Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (the novel that was adapted into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical)

Typically, a love triangle involves one woman and two men, where the woman has difficulty choosing between the two men. While the woman cares for both men, the men usually are in competition with each other and usually fill archetypes. For example, one man is the woman’s childhood friend, while the other is the newcomer, a bad boy, a prince, etc.

Most times I’m not a fan of love triangles because often I find them to be trite. But if done well, a love triangle can be quite the adventure.

What makes a love triangle work?

  1. The protagonist isn’t sure of their identity. The two romantic choices can represent different aspects of the main character. Whomever the character chooses with show who the character wants to be, and who the character ultimately becomes. Will the protagonist become the hardened warrior, or choose a softer version of herself?
  2. Wish fulfillment. When faced with the choice between the bad boy and the good boy, in real life most individuals would choose the good boy. The good boy is practical, stable, and will be someone you can trust. However, in the fantasy world, the bad boy is much more exciting, and since fiction isn’t real, it’s easier to choose the intoxicating, bad boy, who’ll make you miserable in the long run, but who is great for a short while.
  3. The men in the love triangle are opposites. This option shows two different lives the protagonist can have. It’s not so much about the protagonist’s identity, but showing options. Will the protagonist go for the prince, who will provide the protagonist security and all her material desires, but who “was raised to be charming, not sincere,” or the rogue, who will be able to give her nothing but his love and loyalty? (quote by Prince Charming from Into the Woods)
  4. There is intense chemistry all around. The protagonist feels attracted to both men, and she could be happy with either choice. One of the aspects of love triangles that can get very annoying is when readers know that one choice is much better than the other, but the protagonist can’t see that.

A few things to watch out for:

  1. Making the entire story about the love triangle. When that occurs, it’s easy for the characters to turn into stereotypes and for the plot to simplify to the point of foolishness. The male characters do not exist just to be in love with the female protagonist. They have their own identities and personalities, responsibilities, quirks, loyalties, bad sides, etc.
  2. Sticking a love triangle into a work because it’s what’s popular. If the story doesn’t call for a love triangle, don’t put one in. Readers can tell when a romantic relationship feels forced. If there’s no chemistry, readers aren’t interested.

What do you think? Are you for or against love triangles?

(Photo courtesy of Greg Jordan.)

 

Jumping Back in Time: How to Write Flashbacks in Fiction

Flashbacks are scenes that occurred prior to the present story. They can have a powerful impact on the main story and can be a useful tool when writing. Not all stories move from points A to B to C. Some stories must take a look at a previous event to gain deeper insight into the characters, plot, etc. This is when flashbacks become handy.

Let me quickly differentiate between flashback-300x225exposition and a flashback. Information about the past can be given in one of three ways: (1) a character tells another character through spoken dialogue about something that occurred in the past, (2) exposition is used, where readers are told about a character’s past – in both (1) and (2) readers are told something – or (3) readers are shown a character’s past via flashbacks.

Are flashbacks necessary? No, and if a story can be told completely through the main story then that’s great. However, some moments in a character’s past may have had such an influence on the character that there is no other way to have readers understand the gravity of the situation unless shown it.

When using flashbacks, you must:

  • Have the flashback triggered by a present day event. More so, a flashback should come after a strong scene. There has to be a good reason as to why a flashback is being used. By connecting it to an important present day event the transition into the flashback isn’t jerky. There’ll be a natural flow to entering the flashback. One of the last things you want to do is jolt your readers out of the story. This leads into the next bullet point.
  • Orient to space and time. Make sure it’s clear that a flashback is occurring. It’s never a good thing for readers to be halfway through a flashback and not know if the scene is a flashback. Anytime readers are unsure of something, they pause, and chances are they are pulled out of the story. (Also, just as you made sure readers know they’ve entered a flashback, make sure they know when they’re returning to present time.)
  • Get your readers interested first. A story shouldn’t begin with a flashback. It should start with the present day plot, and then continue with that plot long enough to get and keep readers interested. Remember a flashback is a deviation from the main plot. It disrupts the plot no matter how well situated within the story, so use a flashback after the first two to three chapters and during an exciting part in the story, which will make readers want to keep reading to find out what’s happening in the present day action.

An example of a well-used flashback would be in “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, where she uses a flashback to provide crucial backstory on Katniss and Peeta. These two characters are vital to the plot, and how they met is extremely important. It shapes their actions between each other. The story wouldn’t unfold how it did if these two never met in the way they had.

In “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien flashbacks occur to provide a clearer understanding of current actions and increase intensity. J.R.R. Tolkien’s present day plot is so intricate that flashbacks are necessary for readers to comprehend why things are the way they are.

A different style of flashback would be in Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire.” The story begins with an interview taking place between the vampire and a reporter, but as the conversation continues the vampire begins speaking for longer and longer periods. Eventually the reporter’s voice virtually disappears and it’s only the vampire’s voice readers hear, as the vampire delves into his past. The vast majority of the novel is flashback with the vampire telling his life story.

What do you think of flashbacks?

(Photo courtesy of Muse Medicine.)