Janeen Ippolito: Write a Good Loser: Love Triangles Beyond the Indecisive Protagonist

I love love triangles in romantic arcs. Granted, in some circles, this is akin to saying I love Brussels sprouts or chicken gizzards. But as it turns out, I enjoy those things as well, so I’ll own love triangles—and hopefully convince you that you might love, or at least tolerate, the awesome triangles more than you think. (Don’t worry, I won’t try to argue for the sprouts!)

Love triangles often get a bad rap in fiction because of Twilight. The infamous Bella Swan is the frail, doe-eyed teenager who doesn’t know her own mind or heart fully, clearly hung up on vampire Edward Cullen. Yet she strings along werewolf Jacob Black because she’s, well… a frail, insecure, doe-eyed teenager who doesn’t know her own mind or heart fully. Whether or not you appreciate the triangle depends mostly on whether you can identify with her, which can be a tough sell for readers outside the book’s target audience.

Because the Twilight books were so dang popular, now all everyone thinks of in terms of “love triangle” is two very attractive male characters who for some reason hang around so that the main character can choose between them. If this is your particular brand of wish fulfillment, all right then. However, love triangles existed in many forms before Twilight, and they continue to exist afterwards, in a much wider variety that is insanely useful for great romantic storytelling.

Love and Romance are Messy

Sometimes the “loser” loses his mind…

At their core, love triangles have a sense of realism. They operate with the understanding that love and romance is messy, and that someone can be attractive to more than person. This happens all the time in real life—as anyone who has been “friend-zoned” can attest to. There’s a painful truth to the concept of liking or loving someone who doesn’t reciprocate your affections.

The major growth often occurs in the character of the “love triangle loser.” Whether this growth is positive or negative is up to you, of course—there’s something kind of awesome about a character turning dark because they didn’t get what they wanted. In my steampunk fantasy series, The Ironfire Legacy, it’s revealed that a main villain turned dark because his destined true love was literally taken from him “For The Good Of The Kingdom.” The kingdom overturned their own rules about fated mates and exerted much pressure on the woman, so that the prince could have her instead of her One True Pairing. Major burn there!

A love triangle where both choices are pretty good…

And that’s where I find a lot of the emotional resonance of a love triangle—in that beautiful, brutal realism that you can’t always just get what you want, and if you let that fact embitter you, it can poison the very love you claim to have. You don’t have a full love triangle until you know who loses and why they lose.

Of course, all of this requires a great deal of smart characterization to figure out why these two characters are attracted to the same person. What do each of them uniquely see in this individual? Are they projecting their own ideas onto the person? How do they think the person will complete them—and are they right or wrong? Who is the best fit for the character—or the best fit for the story you’re trying to tell?

Characters Grow From Love Triangles

A love triangle that’ll put your emotions through the wringer…

A love triangle should create plot problems and force each character to grow to figure out where they stand. One of my favorite love triangles is in J.M. Butler’s romantic fantasy series The Tue-Rah Chronicles. Such a wonderful mess of twisting fate! I’ll try to limit spoilers, but the heroine is meant to be with Naatos thanks to an arranged marriage that was sealed when she was a child. But then the heroine is turned towards another man because of outside forces meddling with her soul and his. When the truth is revealed, the heroine breaks up with the other man, even though Naatos, her arranged marriage fellow, is pretty much a huge jerk. In this case, our noble heroine is trying to allow the other man to go off and live his own life. But of course, life can’t be that simple—how awful would it be to not only lose in a love triangle, but to lose it because the person you love is married to a villain who is trying to take over all these worlds? And plus, that soul-meddling has side effects, leaving all kinds of loose threads between the heroine and the other man. Cue much angst and anger and hard situations that contribute wonderfully to the main plot!

…Love triangles are a great way to show how love (or lack thereof) reflects on the individual characters and moves them along in their journeys. It’s about making those hard choices, growing up, and everyone learning more about themselves.

Yes, if you haven’t guessed, we love triangle fans love us some angst, feels, and character growth. The best love triangles come not from the main character merely “choosing between two delicious love interests.” Rather, love triangles are a great way to show how love (or lack thereof) reflects on the individual characters and moves them along in their journeys. It’s about making those hard choices, growing up, and everyone learning more about themselves. This is likely why you find love triangles so much in YA stories, because YA is all about coming of age and figuring out your identity. But if your main character can be wonderfully stressed out by two people chasing them, or if they can be flustered by chasing the same individual as another person, a love triangle is a great fit.

And as a side hustle, you could start a t-shirt business for your various love triangle options. If you do, let me know… I might need them for Team Brussels Sprouts vs. Team Chicken Gizzards!

What are your favorite love triangles in fantasy and why? Share in the comments!

About the Author

Janeen Ippolito writes unique words that change our world. She writes steampunk fantasy with shifters, and creates writing resources, including the reference book World Building From the Inside Out and the creative writing guide Irresistible World Building For Unforgettable Stories.

She’s an experienced teacher, editor, author coach, marketer, and is the leader of Uncommon Universes Press, a small science fiction and fantasy publishing house. She’s also the cohost of the podcast Indie Book Magic. Whether brainstorming a plot twist, developing a course, or analyzing marketing angles, she’s happiest when creating solutions that get unique words written, polished, published, and noticed in the ever-changing publishing industry.

In her spare time, Janeen enjoys sword-fighting, reading, pyrography, and eating brownie batter. Two of her goals are eating fried tarantulas and traveling to Antarctica. 

This extroverted writer loves getting connected, so find her on:

Janeen also writes love triangles in her own work! Her recent release is Lawless, the first book in The Ironfire Legacy series:

A dragon felon, a forsaken prince, and a jaded airship captain walk into a city—and everything explodes.

Dragonshifter convict Kesia Ironfire has one goal: to redeem herself as a soldier in the dragon-human war.

A rogue mission to spy on a new airship is the perfect way to win the trust of her superiors, as long as she collects useful intel. Then the airship explodes into sickening green smoke, leaving Kesia and her tactical partner Zephryn Nightstalker in cold water and under house arrest. Kesia is sure a little more investigation won’t hurt—and her curiosity earns them the death sentence.

Kesia and Zephryn flee to the human military capital, where Captain Shance Windkeeper is furloughed after the destruction of his airship and avoiding a most unwanted countess threatening an arranged marriage. Eager to discover what—and who—blew up his vessel, he helps Kesia and Zephryn infiltrate High Command. In exchange, Kesia must pretend to be Shance’s betrothed. Kesia has never heard of a betrothal, but it can’t be that complicated.

And human social customs are the least of her worries. Dark secrets emerge as Kesia searches for answers in the heart of High Command. Secrets that undermine her criminal status and the war itself.

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

Claire Luana: On Romance Tropes

Tropes often get a bad rap, especially tropes in romance novels. A trope is defined as a common or overused theme or device—which sounds negative—but I would argue that we see the same tropes showing up in book after book because we love to read them! Take the Happily Ever After (HEA), for example. This trope has become so integral to the genre of romance that experts will say a romance without a HEA doesn’t even qualify as a romance.

Many readers are split on whether they love or hate it when certain tropes show up in their latest read. I thought I’d weigh in on a few I see frequently, and give you a few recommendations, in case you love the particular trope, or would like to give it a second chance!

Enemies to Lovers

I have to admit, this is one of my favorite romance tropes! I can think of little more enjoyable to read than the fireworks between two people who loathe each other…until they realize what they thought was hate is actually love! There’s so much great emotion and chemistry behind this trope, and there’s a lot that an author can do with it. This one is solidly in my YES column!

Some great enemies-to-lover romances I recommend:  

Love Triangle

This one definitely gets a lot of heat from critics. I admit, it does seem a bit overused, and it’s not one of my favorites. I don’t like that someone gets left out and doesn’t get their HEA. (Maybe that’s why Reverse Harem has become so popular lately!) But if done well, it can be super compelling. For me, I’ll happily read a love triangle if there’s sufficient depth and character development.

If love triangles are your thing, try:

Soulmates/Mates

This trope is especially popular in shifter/wolf romance, as well as fae romance. I don’t like the mates trope when it is used as a stand-in for relationship building. I want to see the characters fall in love—I don’t like it when they realize they’re mates, and so *shrug*, decide to be together. On the other hand, the slow inevitable realization of soulmate status can be amazing to read. So this is another one that I’m mixed on!

Forbidden Love

I admit, I usually love this one! Is there anything better than two people who are so desperate to be together that they will overcome whatever obstacles and barriers are put in their way? To find love, whatever the cost? (Insert satisfied sigh here…)

Some great forbidden love reads are:

Alpha Male

With the crazy success of Fifty Shades of Grey, for a while there you couldn’t crack a romance without bumping into a controlling, possessive, alpha male hero. I find myself liking alpha males in context. If the society, time period, or fantasy setting they are in provides context for why they are acting all alpha, I’m way more likely to enjoy that type of read. If the book is in modern times and the hero is just a misogynistic jerk, no thanks!

What are your favorite or most loathed tropes in romance? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author

Claire Luana grew up reading everything she could get her hands on and writing every chance she could. Eventually, adulthood won out, and she turned her writing talents to more scholarly pursuits, going to work as a commercial litigation attorney. While continuing to practice law, Claire decided to return to her roots and try her hand once again at creative writing. She has written and published the Moonburner Cycle and is currently finishing a new trilogy about magical food, the Confectioner Chronicles.

She lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband and two dogs. In her (little) remaining spare time, she loves to hike, travel, binge-watch CW shows, and of course, fall into a good book. Connect with Claire Luana online at:

Her latest series is a reverse-harem fantasy that begins with The Fifth Knight, co-authored with Jesikah Sundin.

Four cursed knights. One warrior princess. A faerie sword that binds their lives together.

Fionna’s only hope to save her family lies across the Irish Sea. As a warrior princess of Ulster, the rival clann holding her father and sister for ransom knows she’ll pay any price to get them back. But even she couldn’t predict the task set before her—to steal a faerie sword from a king.

The Kingdom of Caerleon is dying under Morgan la Fay’s dark magic. Her vengeful curse has locked Excalibur in its scabbard, placing Arthur Pendragon’s kingship in jeopardy. Now Arthur and his sword brothers—Lancelot, Galahad, and Percival—have but one hope. The fifth knight. The one foretold by Merlin who will break the curse and heal the land.

But Arthur and his sword brothers didn’t expect the warrior to be a fierce and captivating woman. Or the legendary White Fay, prophesied by Morgan la Fay to destroy Caerleon by claiming the heart of a king and three sworn knights.

The Fifth Knight is a Reverse Harem tale of betrayal and fated love. Get it here!