Today's guest post is from author M.D. Waters, whose debut novel, Archetype, goes on sale today. Set in the near future, it's the thrilling tale of a woman who wakes up after a horrible accident with no memory of who she is. Luckily, Emma has a handsome and loving husband, Declan, by her bedside to fill in the blanks. But as Emma recovers, she begins to have strange dreams that contradict what Declan is telling her—dreams that feature another handsome man who claims to love Emma as well. We asked Waters, who lives in Maryland, to share the secret of how she constructed such a suspenseful love triangle.
I’ve been dubious about love triangles since the creation of Edward-Bella-Jacob. Not that I didn’t love the idea. My issue was this: I didn’t believe it. The doubts about guy #2 were right there in the heroine’s thoughts, and you just can’t turn doubt into reality. If she’s in doubt, well, so am I.
As a writer, I understand the difficulty for the author. To resolve a love triangle, there has to be a clear winner, and the reader must be completely satisfied with the heroine’s choice. I even attempted and failed at writing one in an early novel. Why was it a big, fat fail? Because, like Bella, my heroine liked guy #2, but she loved guy #1. Where’s the conflict in that? I gave up attempting to write the triangle after that and didn’t look back.
I’ve only come across two triangles I believed, and to this day I’m envious they pulled it off so seamlessly. The first happens to be a popular TV show, “The Vampire Diaries,” and the second is Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter spinoff series, The Infernal Devices.
To resolve a love triangle, there has to be a clear winner, and the reader must be completely satisfied with the heroine’s choice.
I once heard Cassandra Clare speak on this very subject at a conference in New York City, and what she said about love triangles really made sense. No triangle is complete unless a conflict exists between the boys. (Or girls?) Making them friends, or in the case of “The Vampire Diaries,” brothers. What was missing from all these triangles I’d been reading, and what she managed to show in her Will-Tessa-Jem triangle, was a three-way connection.
It was, in a word, brilliant. But now that I understood, I still faced an industry sick of love triangles, so why bother writing one? Little did I know that I’d already done it. Oy, the horror!
That’s right. It wasn’t until Archetype was in the hands of my Dutton editor that I heard the words “love triangle” applied to my story. Someone even said it was “the best love triangle in years.”
I was in shock. Yes, I’d written about two men in love with the same woman. And yes, she loved them both in return. But for some insane reason I never saw it as a triangle. Probably because I never had the intention of writing one. It was just another accident in a long line of accidents in the history of Archetype. (That’s another story for another day.)
So upon hearing these words, I had to analyze what the heck I’d done. I never set out to make the reader fall in love with both men. All I’d wanted was to mask my real villain and hero from the reader. How? By giving them equal parts good and bad qualities, from personality to lifestyle.
Ultimately, what I’d done was write two men that, as a reader, I wanted to win the girl. I had to stomp on the fact that one of them was destined from the start to be Emma’s #1. I made sure to write scenes with both men that made even me second-guess my plans. I had to—had to—believe every word, because any doubts I had would show in Emma. (Ah, the dilemma of writing first person, present tense!)
Ultimately, what I’d done was write two men that, as a reader, I wanted to win the girl. I had to stomp on the fact that one of them was destined from the start to be Emma’s #1.
This worked really well for me until it came to revealing the entire truth to Emma. She (and I) suddenly had to hate a man she (and I) loved. I couldn’t just point to him and call him “Bad Guy” and let things play out. Motivations played such a huge part in this story. Just about every square inch of this novel hinged on them, quite literally right to the very last page.
I came away from all of this seeing the love triangle in a whole new light. Cassandra Clare was absolutely right about the three-way connection, but I think too that, as the creator of these characters, we have to fall in love with all angles of the triangle or it won’t work. I’m already seeing a ton of Team Declan fans, as well as Team Noah fans. But then there are some, like me, who are Team Both, and I can’t fault them one bit.
Author photo by Crystal Bingham.