Triangles have been a common plot device for as long as people have been writing fiction. One man or woman is loved by two other men or women who compete for his or her affection. They can be further complicated by the characters’ society, their culture and whatever issues they face plot-wise.
Love triangles can make the story exciting but there are times where they are used as a gimmick, a very pointless one at that. What writers should avoid doing is introducing a new character just to add some drama into the growing relationship between the main characters. It’s predictable, especially when the character is introduced as attractive and obviously interested in one of the characters.
It’s not going to impress the readers when they already know what the character’s purpose is for; which is to cause problems and advance the relationship between the other two characters. Once the new character accomplishes that they’ll be discarded like trash when the characters finally get together.
That isn’t a proper love triangle at all. A triangle, at least by my personal definition, is one in which the main character is equally torn between two love interests. It shouldn’t be a triangle with a third character having unrequited feelings or just there to tempt the other. The third character should actually be a threat to the main romance, the main pairing. By threat, I mean that they have the potential to be the main romance instead of what the writer originally intended.
Now, you might be wondering how can the writer create a believable triangle, especially with a decent third character. It’s actually not that hard to do. They have to treat that character like they would with their main characters. They need to develop them and have them grow throughout the story. Writers shouldn’t just throw them in because they wanted to cause some romance drama (even if that was the character’s whole reason to exist—to be created in the first place).
The trick is to be subtle about it and let the attraction between all the characters develop over time. For example, what if the third character is in love with their sibling’s love interest? The readers didn’t realize it because the character wasn’t so obvious about it. If the readers went back and read the story again they would be able to pick up the hidden meaning behind their actions and words.
The character has unrequited feelings but that doesn’t mean it will stay one-sided. At some point their feelings will be reciprocate by the one they want. That to me, would make a proper love triangle. Triangles are suppose to contain a character that is torn between two others because they have feelings for the both of them.
Love triangles should be slowly weaved into the story and build up over time, not added in as a after thought. Nor should the triangle subplot take over the main plot completely. When that happens it disappoints the readers because the story turns into something they didn’t ask for. They don’t want the book they’re reading to suddenly go from saving the world to figuring out which of these two attractive characters can ultimately win the main character’s heart (more so when the story isn’t advertise as a romance).
The best thing a writer can do is know whether or not they are going to use the triangle subplot in their story. If they are going to use it, it would help that they plan out how the romance develops throughout the story from each of the characters.