By Writing Excuses | April 3, 2011 - 9:59 pm - Posted in Announcements & News, Guest, Live Audience

Sarah Eden and Robison Wells join Dan and Howard at LTUE to talk about writing romance. Sarah writes in the romance genre, but we’re not focusing on the genre — we’re talking about writing romance within the context of whatever else we might happen to be putting on the page.

We lead with how to do it wrong, because nothing is as much fun to talk about as bad romance. It’s also educational.

More importantly (and more usefully) we talk about formulas for doing romance correctly. One of the most practical is to pair characters up by finding emotional needs that these characters can meet for each other. We look at examples from each of our work: Sarah’s The Kiss of a Stranger, Dan’s I Don’t Want To Kill You, Howard’s The Sharp End of the Stick, and Rob’s Variant.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: I Don’t Want To Kill You, by Dan Wells, narrated by Kirby Heyborne. It’s true, this book has some great romance in it. Also, murder.

Writing Prompt: Create a character, and then create a complementary character who both meets a need and provides unwelcome challenge.

Everybody’s Lisp: Brought to you by the noise reduction software we used. Sorry about that. It won’t happen again.

The Bonus Game: Bad Romance! Enjoy!

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This entry was posted on Sunday, April 3rd, 2011 at 9:59 pm and is filed under Announcements & News, Guest, Live Audience. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. April 4, 2011 @ 12:51 am

    I think you guys should do a full episode “Bad Romance” game. Let it have some room to breath, so you don’t have to rush it so much. I mean, who knew that Dan was such a romantic soul… or that Howard had such depths in his characters…

    Posted by Mike Barker
  2. April 4, 2011 @ 2:31 am

    I agree with Mike, you guys should do an entire episode dedicated to the “Bad Romance” game. Would be hilarious.

    Posted by William
  3. April 4, 2011 @ 5:59 am

    I felt this really skimmed over romance without saying much. Nothing about some of the most popular romances not ending happily ever after (Kathy and Heathcliffe, Romeo and Juliet, Casablanca). Also, love/romance as a powerful source of conflict and the lure of the will-they-won’t-they style romance.

    A shame most of the cast was spent explaining backstory for romances in books nobody’s read yet. A good topic though and Sarah made some great points.

    Posted by chella
  4. April 4, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    Two rules I always follow:

    No romantic triangles.

    No UST.

    Posted by Rafael
  5. April 4, 2011 @ 9:10 am

    In a world with three sexes, all relationships are love triangles.

    Posted by Tony
  6. April 4, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    Is it true that the audience needs to guess right about the romance or they’ll be disappointed? How do you include a romance that is both satisfying and not painfully predictable?

    Posted by Michael Winegar
  7. April 4, 2011 @ 9:46 am

    Narrated by Kirby Heyborne? That was probably the most shocking part of this entire episode.

    Posted by AlanHorne
  8. April 4, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    […] This was so funny: Writing Romance […]

  9. April 4, 2011 @ 9:55 am

    I am enjoying this series of podcasts from LTUE. I am finding them most entertaining and useful. Thank you.

    Posted by J. Wayne Williams
  10. April 4, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    I second Mike’s suggestion for a full podcast of the Bad Romance game. ^_^

    Good ‘cast. I love hearing guys talk about Pride and Prejudice – though my favorite P&P moment in that vein was at a con, seeing a huge hairy bear of a guy on a panel saying that his current favorite fictional character was Mr. Bennett.

    I’m not much of a romance genre reader, but I care about romanctic relationships in the books I read. They work when I REALLY want the pair to get together. As you guys said, I have to be in love with guy and root for the girl (I presume it works the other way round for straight guys ^_^). Something I’ve come across recently is the author just throwing a gorgeous guy in and expecting that to be enough to make me care, and it isn’t. I didn’t fall in love with Darcy because he was gorgeous, he earned it (misjudging him at first gave him an edge, of course, but that just makes us willing to give him another chance).

    Michael, I don’t consider a romance to be about guessing right, it’s about the audience wanting the pair to get together, but the author keeps them apart, so the tension builds, more and more, until the happy ending.

    Posted by Laurie
  11. April 4, 2011 @ 10:40 am

    Great advice, though I was a bit disappointed that you guys recommended love triangles. Personally, I think they’re way overused and I tend to get really frustrated every time I see one. But that might be just me. I feel that literature, movies, TV, etc, all seem to focus far too much on three parts of romance: falling in love, love triangles, and breaking up. This may be mostly TV, where when two characters get together the TV producers think that suddenly they’re boring, so they make them break up. But in other places, to, when two characters *do* get together, it’s almost always at the end of a story and we don’t get to see what happens next.

    That’s one of the main reasons I love Chuck so much, because (spoiler warning, if you haven’t seen it) Elly and Awesome actually get married, and have kids, and sure they have problems, but they stick through instead of breaking up in order to make for more “interesting” TV. And now Sarah and Chuck, too, after finally getting together are actually STAYING together. Very impressive, in the face of most of the stuff that comes out nowadays.

    Just my thoughts on the issue. Great podcast. ^_^

    Posted by André
  12. April 4, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    What’s love got to do, got to do with it?

    Posted by Tony
  13. April 4, 2011 @ 11:54 am

    […] Today’s Writing Excuses was especially good; Writing Excuses 5.31 – Writing Romance […]

  14. April 4, 2011 @ 1:21 pm

    I get sick of people ending up with the first person they have ever dated/kissed/been interested in. There is only one pretty girl around and they end up together. Too many Fantasy hero quests start this way, science fiction no as much.

    I guess the converse of that is the mysterious stranger.

    Posted by Sean Pflueger
  15. April 4, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

    Don’t know how to post track-backs, but this episode was so awesome, I had to blog it.

    I have to agree with Williams – the LTUE podcasts are particularly good.

    Posted by Samuel Loveland
  16. April 4, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

    Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?

    Posted by Tony
  17. April 4, 2011 @ 6:57 pm

    I miss Brandon, the master.

    Posted by Joe Mc
  18. April 4, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

    @Rafael? Why no love triangles? I mean, competition is a reasonably common conflict, and pow — that’s three in a triangle? Or do you mean the one-way setups, where John likes Alice, but Alice likes Bob — who could care less about her?

    And no unresolved sexual tension? Again, why?

    No rules without rationales, please?

    Posted by Mike Barker
  19. April 5, 2011 @ 1:43 am

    I agree that game rules. A whole episode of that is excellent world build and stealing like a thief material.

    Posted by A to the K
  20. April 5, 2011 @ 6:33 am

    So much to respond to…

    1) The “Bad Romance” game, along with other games, can be heard on The Appendix, a podcast featuring Robison Wells, Sarah Eden, and Marion Jensen. We’re not going to steal it from them (even though we’re really good at it…)

    2) The Love Triangle is just another formula you can use appropriately or abuse carelessly. It is tried, true, and troped to the gills. Saying you will never use it is a little bit foolish, because there are reasons it works well: it happens all the time in real life. It’s possible to write it so that it doesn’t feel like a 90-minute romantic comedy, and it’s a great way to flesh out some characters — especially if the resolution of the triangle is an unexpected one.

    3) If you’re complaining about what gets focused on when we talk about Romance, remember that Romance is about falling in love. It’s usually NOT about long-term stable relationships. You can certainly include those in a romance, but they’ll usually work best off to the side. If you want to focus on a long-term, stable relationship then there will be elements of Romance in it, and you can use many of the tools we talk about, but what you’re writing is something else entirely. I don’t even know what it’s called, genre-wise.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  21. April 5, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    The Love Triangle gone wrong: Your characters are all whores and you know it.
    The Love triangle done right: Your characters that’s doing the choosing is hopelessly indecisive.
    The Love triangle plus roll ones eyes: A stupid fantasy of getting as many guys in a single building as possible in a race to do so. (See Love Triangle Gone Wrong)

    I tend to hate Love Triangles because I can’t quite get past the idea of “Character is a (man)whore” and I tend to dislike indecisive characters that waver back and forth, especially on a whim.

    Plus, really, if a girl is bent on sleeping with the floor of an office of 50 men in the space of 3 months, there is an issue that goes beyond the romance problems, there are also the STI/STDs to consider in such a bad move. I’d also consider putting her up for some psychological care.

    Long Term Romance is hardly done front and center, but I think that’s more Romeo arguing that he doesn’t *have* to do the laundry because the maids can do it and it’s a woman’s job anyway and Juliet trying to tolerate his mannish behavior by telling him they ran away from the palace life together so they have no maids. She’s also figured out what’s in a name–the better to call him with to do his chores already instead of going into town to hang out with the minstrels.

    Or you can go for the slice of life… where personal problems of the couple threaten to tear the couple apart, such as the loss of child, etc.

    Long Term Romance tends to be done more in other cultures than ours. I’ve seen it done in Bollywood, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Filipino films. Older novels used to deal with how to keep a marriage together as well–L.M. Montgomery comes to mind with some of her stories. The US seems more fascinated with the falling in love part, though–the heady feelings, etc.

    Posted by Rachel Udin
  22. April 5, 2011 @ 11:37 am


    1) I find Love Triangles to be unrealistic outside of high school dramas. Either someone is being ignorant or exploitative. I find them frustrating to say the least. It also feels artificial as well, just there to create tension as opposed to something that would arise naturally from the nature of the characters.

    2) Same goes for UST, although it doesn’t happen as much in books as it does TV, where entire series revolve around will they or won’t they. It based on the assumption that one the relationship is consummated/resolved then the audience will lose interest. And of course you need to throw in a lot of secondary characters whose only purpose is to keep the main characters apart (decoy romantic interest) who also create flimsy romantic triangles as well.

    Both are tolerable as side plots, but once they take center stage they feel to me like romantic plot tumors that get in the way of the story. I’m more interested in honest relationships arising and the characters dealing with the challenges/problems there in, not only in the hook-up, but the relationship and even the break-up.

    Ironically I am a fan of romance within any work. Love like War is a great place for conflict, character growth and the like. But I am not a fan of Romance or the Romance genre because it overuses the two set-ups above. It shatters my suspension of disbelief.

    Posted by Rafael
  23. April 5, 2011 @ 11:59 am

    The only love-triangle I’ve read that worked really, really well was the Hunger Games trilogy. She’s too busy stabbing things to think about it most of the time, and the conflict makes a lot of sense — long-term friend, or the guy who shared horrors with her no one else can understand? There’s no time to get angsty about it, because the stabbing kicks back in.

    As for long-term romance, the show White Collar does a great job of this as a side-plot. One of the main characters is in a happy marriage, with the occasional day-to-day kind of quibble. I found this really refreshing because so often, investigator-types are jaded men with a bunch of ex’s behind them. The dynamic between the married couple is great. One of the episodes up on Hulu right now, “Power Play” actually starts with a marital quibble (and I nearly fell off my chair laughing). Later in the episode, when the wife sadly relates the fight she had that morning (the husband’s been kidnapped) another character stares at her. “Have you ever seen a real fight?” Anyway, I find it a really endearing relationship. Realistic people with difference who still love each other 100%.

    Posted by Megan
  24. April 5, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

    I second many of the comments about love triangles. I despise them, generally speaking. I think they’re overused and poorly used. I feel that too often they are thrown in just for the sake of creating romantic tension, as opposed to actually arising from a situation in which or a character for whom it would be believable. The result is that the whole romance feels contrived. I’ll allow that it could be done well, but I’ve rarely seen it. It’s a staple of the romance genre, but does that mean it should necessarily be imported into a romantic subplot in another genre?

    I thought that this podcast was interesting but could really use to be broken down into two or three podcasts going a little deeper into the subject. I’m not usually a huge fan of romance as a genre, but I do like a well done romantic subplot in other fiction. I think the subject needs to be broken down into subtopics and explored more thoroughly than this one podcast allowed, and perhaps more in the normal format of, “Let’s talk about what we mean, and now let’s talk about how to do it well.”

    Posted by Mandy
  25. April 5, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

    I loved the triangle in PRIDE & PREJUDICE quite a bit with Darcy, Wickham, and Elizabeth. I thought it worked marvelously.

    Characters don’t have to be indecisive for the reader to feel a dilemma. Indecision is only one way to make a triangle work.

    I loved the triangle in CAST AWAY with Tom Hanks. It’s a killer. There’s no indecision in that one. Although you might argue it’s not a romance.

    I enjoyed the triangle in SENSE & SENSIBILITY.

    I really loved the one with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond in SABRINA. And that one featured a character who thought she was deciding one thing but wasn’t.

    If you personally hate triangles, then you do. However, I seem to find it can be used quite well.

    Posted by John Brown
  26. April 5, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

    Wait, so Dan’s third book is ROMANCE? Okaaaay, NOW I’m scared.

    Posted by WEKM
  27. April 5, 2011 @ 11:24 pm

    Bravo Mr Brown! Although, personally, in CAST AWAY, I think Tom should have stuck with Willson. The opening love triangle, (package going to cheating husband) was one of the more fun uses of the POV cam in a movie intro I can think of. Perfect example of a love triangle gone bad, (not a badly done love triangle, just bad love).

    Posted by WEKM
  28. April 6, 2011 @ 7:23 am

    Wilson was a cad, leaving him in the moment of his crisis.

    Posted by John Brown
  29. April 6, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

    Hmm. I hadn’t even thought of those as love triangles — usually the phrase brings to mind someone fretting between two people to pick. In the Jane Austen examples, the girls pick…and then unpick the person (or the person unpicks themselves). Or Sabrina — she knows what she wants, until Mr. Ford tells her he’s looking at what he wants…I love the dialogue in that movie.

    Great food for thought — thanks John.

    Posted by Megan
  30. April 6, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

    I think the key is that the options are in the reader’s mind. We can hope and fear for Sabrina and Linus even though neither of them recognize what’s going on. Which his why we feel tension when Elizabeth begins to go after Wickham instead of Mr. Darcy. It’s about reader tension.

    BTW, with CAST AWAY, I’m not really talking about Wilson, but his wife in the beginning and the end. Just in case you thought I was serious. Him wanting to get back to her. And the new husband. Killer. :)

    Here’s another triangle that worked so very well: BACK TO THE FUTURE.

    Posted by John Brown
  31. April 6, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

    […] week’s Writing Excuses podcast was on writing romance, and while I found it extremely helpful in my own writing, I also found the […]

  32. April 6, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

    My favorite love triangles are more like Triangles in Triangles in Triangles.

    In any case, the love triangle isn’t so much of a trope as it is an archetype. It works because it is real. Not writing it would be like not writing stories about orphans. There is a reason why the Orphan archetype works, and it is because it taps into the subconscious drives of humans. Same thing with Beauty and the Beast stories. The same thing works for Dragons in general. It’s why the father/mentor usually dies.

    Posted by Matthew Watkins
  33. April 7, 2011 @ 12:03 am

    no rose gardens, but… a transcript!

    Posted by Mike Barker
  34. April 7, 2011 @ 9:29 am

    @ John Brown

    There wasn’t a love triangle in Cast Away. The girlfriend married someone else while he was away, he comes back and she tries to blame him, and then he leaves. Twenty minutes out of a two hour film doesn’t make a love triangle. After all, he never showed any signs of wanting to ‘win her back’.

    Posted by James
  35. April 7, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    […] Writing Excuses 5.31: Writing Romance » Writing Excuses […]

  36. April 7, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

    @ James,

    It’s true it’s not the main story, but it doesn’t have to be. A triangle is a certain type of problem and can show up in the main line or the subplots or as a turn.

    We start with a couple in love. We’re hoping as an audience he can reunite when he’s on that island. I was. He gets off. We’re expecting a joyous reunion. Instead the bottom drops out with the scene in the airport (at least, that’s where I think it was). But that’s not it. He goes to her house later, it’s raining, they’re out in that vehicle, if I recall. They love one another, but both realize it just won’t work. She gives him the keys to the car they once shared. And they part.

    Of course, he loved her. Are you kidding me? It’s a full plot arc: love, problem, complication, resolution. The audience is put on the horns of a dilemma. I was. Maybe you weren’t. But I certainly felt it. And the killer dilemma revolved around the the third person in the triangle. The fact that the new husband was darkest moment complication instead of the initial problem shouldn’t make a difference. It’s still a triangle. And it was still delicious. :)

    Posted by John Brown
  37. April 7, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

    @ John Brown

    I didn’t say that he didn’t love her, I was saying that as soon as she told him that she was married he backed off and didn’t try to advance anything. Thus, no love triangle.

    Posted by james
  38. April 7, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    I think that the point there is a love triangle doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. There was definitely a time in that sequence of CAST AWAY where it could be seen as a triangle. There were three people, two of them guys who love the same woman, and she loved them both. There is a moment or two when that reality crashes in.

    But she made her choice, thus resolving the triangle. It was quick, and painful for Tom’s character, and absolutely suited the story.

    If the story had been ABOUT the triangle, that would be another matter. But here the triangle was not plot, it was part of the denouement (if I’m using the term correctly). Either way, it was wrap up, not story.

    Posted by Jace
  39. April 7, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

    Simply put; Love Triangles are not entertaining. Who cares if Jack love Jill who is also loved by Pete? Nobody. They’re annoying and need to be abandoned post haste.

    Posted by Some Bloke
  40. April 7, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

    @Some Bloke
    You’re welcome to your opinion but I doubt it’s shared by all.

    Posted by Jace
  41. April 7, 2011 @ 3:10 pm

    The relationship on Cast Away was nothing more than a metaphor. Tom was out on the beach barely clinging to life, contemplating suicide, living like a caveman, and talking to a beach ball. Helen was a symbol of civilization and reason that he clung to in order to make it through. Helen? I couldn’t have cared less about her or hooking back up with her, because Tom returned to society to find that civilization doesn’t wait for anyone and had moved on.

    That was the ‘relationship’.

    PS metaphors don’t have love triangles.

    Posted by james
  42. April 7, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

    That’s one interpretation. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree.

    Posted by Jace
  43. April 7, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

    Er, to clarify, I don’t believe it’s the only interpretation.

    Posted by Jace
  44. April 7, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

    “You’re welcome to your opinion but I doubt it’s shared by all.”

    This was a stupid thing to say. When one states an opinion it is a given that the speaker is expressing his thoughts on the matter without the need to clarify this with the phrase ‘in my opinion’. Pointing out what another says is an opinion does not strengthen one’s argument or aid in a conversation in any way. This is a ploy to shut-down discussion on a topic in which the opinion-pointer-outer has no adequate response.

    Perhaps, for instance, you can point out examples of love triangles which were entertaining to you or even by others. Or perhaps defend love triangles in a different approach such as showing how it can deliver a message or strengthen a particular story. But you didn’t and instead gave a ‘well that’s your opinion’ response.


    If this seems a bit harsh, yes it was. I am getting a bit sick of this crap.

    Posted by Some Bloke
  45. April 7, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

    @Some Bloke
    So what you wanted was a rational, reasoned discourse, carefully and lovingly researched and presented…

    … for ‘some bloke’ who declared “Nobody cares” and didn’t offer anything further.

    Thanks, but no thanks. That’s not conversation.

    Posted by Jace
  46. April 7, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

    Funny how the internet can turn reasonable people into immature eleven-year-olds.

    Posted by Matthew Watkins
  47. April 7, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

    Meaning no offense to immature eleven-year-olds, of course.

    Posted by Matthew Watkins
  48. April 7, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

    I know, and I’m sorry for my part in itn. I just didn’t appreciate the hypocrisy of the criticism.

    If I’ve annoyed anyone other than some bloke, my apologies.

    Posted by Jace
  49. April 7, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    It may be worth noting that over here there are at least 13 types of love triangles listed, along with examples of each. I suspect that part of the difficulty in discussing this lies in confusion of the types — e.g. someone who is thinking of type 1 (A wants B and C, and can’t decide which) and someone who is thinking of a type 3 (B and C want A) are likely to have different views of “the love triangle” (since one is basically indecisive greed, while the other is simple competition). Take a look, then try imagining various relationships between three characters.

    Posted by Mike Barker
  50. April 8, 2011 @ 5:19 am

    […] little procrastination never hurt anyone:  Writing Excuses has a podcast up that’s all about the romance, Catherine Schaff-Stump is working on a series of posts addressing things she wished she’d […]

  51. April 8, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

    @ James,

    I think you and I understand triangles differently. For me the only requirement is for a reader or viewer to feel there is a third party that’s posing an obstacle to two people getting together. That’s it.

    You obviously saw the wife in CAST AWAY as a metaphor and generalized her. And didn’t see them getting back together as a problem. If there is no problem, then there is no triangle.

    But I did see the problem. I saw her as a living human being. I felt a great deal of conflict about their situation. I wanted him to get back with his wife. For the duration of those scenes I felt quite a bit of suspense, especially since there wasn’t a good option. I wasn’t stepping back from the film and saying, oh, yes, this is the film maker’s comment on society moving forward. It wasn’t intellecutal for me. And I can argue that isn’t how the film makers saw it either. Although that metaphor is certainly a generalization that can be drawn.

    But for me there was a problem. The husband posed the obstacle. The fact that Tom didn’t take certain types of actions that you feel are necessary to win her back is really beside the point. As is the notion that you can generalize about the situation and infer a metaphor. A triangle is a type of problem, not a plot. He took the actions he did, plot, and the problem posed by the obstacle was resolved–he lost.

    To me it’s a perfect triangle. But I can certainly see how no triangle would exist for those who didn’t see the problem.

    Posted by John Brown
  52. April 8, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

    To be clear: a third party that poses an obstacle because of the interest of one of the two main characters in that person.

    Posted by John Brown
  53. April 8, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

    “@Some Bloke
    So what you wanted was a rational, reasoned discourse, carefully and lovingly researched and presented…

    … for ‘some bloke’ who declared “Nobody cares” and didn’t offer anything further.

    Thanks, but no thanks. That’s not conversation.”

    I don’t expect the internet to be any of those things you claim I want. This is completely missing the point of what I said. What I want is you and others to stop pointing out when something posted is an opinion as though that means anything not already known.

    Posted by Some Bloke
  54. April 8, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

    And I want you to not claim ‘nobody cares’ when, in fact, it is YOU that doesn’t care and it is quite clear from this thread alone that there are people do, in fact, like love triangles and think them viable.

    All I was doing was pointing out that what you posted was not the fact you phrased it as.

    If you were more careful and less obnoxious in your initial wording, I would not have felt compelled to point out it was only your opinion.

    You get what you give.

    Posted by Jace
  55. April 8, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

    *people WHO do

    And, once again, sorry to everyone else. I guess I still need to learn not to post in haste.

    Some Bloke, please just let it die. This conversation is going nowhere.

    Posted by Jace
  56. April 9, 2011 @ 6:26 am

    Play nice, please. All of y’all.

    On a related note, I love triangles: such useful, fundamental constructs, their three sides laid at varying degrees of opposition, their three points seeming to express both a failure to achieve linear congruence and the triumph of having defined an area. If a thing can be built, it can be built out of triangles. If a thing can be broken, it will leave triangular shards.

    The best thing about every other geometric shape is that you can find the triangles within.

    My only dislike of triangles is that they are too pointy to carry
    around safely. Otherwise my pockets would be full of them.

    Posted by Howard Tayler
  57. April 9, 2011 @ 7:26 am

    “My only dislike of triangles is that they are too pointy to carry
    around safely. Otherwise my pockets would be full of them.”

    Circles are much easier to carry around. They never poke holes in my pockets.

    Posted by Derby
  58. April 9, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

    But with circles, you just go around and around and around. I like dodecahedrons.

    No asthetic reason, it’s just fun to say. Dodecaheeeeeeeeedron.

    Recently I re-read the Empire trilogy by Janny Wurts and Raymond E Feist. It sort of runs the gamut of relationships, and I can’t explain it without getting a bit spoilery.

    First there’s the almost anti-romance with Mara’s first husband, a bullying brute that she marries out of political necessity. He abuses her, almost spoils everything she worked for, and she eventually manipulates events so that he has to commit ritual suicide to avoid dishonor.

    Then she obtains a ‘barbarian’ slave from another culture and ends up falling for him. In that relationship she finds passion and love, and he fills a need in her and the story, in that his ‘alien’ views show her how decadent and stagnant her culture is. It is the impetus for her growth as a character.

    But because he’s a slave, it can only ever be an affair, and she is being courted by the son of a noble lord. She doesn’t feel the same passion, but they are very much kindred spirits. Another need is filled, someone who can support and aid her without being held back by tradition.

    It’s a triangle for a while because she loves the slave, but by her culture’s values he cannot be freed, and will never valued for his own merits. She cannot marry him, and she needs to marry, she needs strong alliances with the other noble houses to keep her family safe from her enemies. But her love for the slave makes her dally and delay, despite what she knows to be ‘best’ for her.

    In the end, she is forced to return the slave to his homeworld, and so she marries the noble’s son and finds peace, contentment, and a like mind that sees the world as she does. There’s even a bit of friction at times, mostly because one knows something the other doesn’t, which informs their reaction in ways the other doesn’t expect. That sort of thing.

    The relationships work because they move the story forward. The slave pushes Mara out of her comfort zone and opens her eyes to the injustice and brutality of her culture. Then he is gone, his part in the story finished, and the noble’s son steps in to help her walk the path she must follow.

    Posted by Jace
  59. April 11, 2011 @ 12:20 pm

    @ Mike Barker: Thanks for the link. That was actually a neat break-down of love triangles. I’m sure we could brainstorm and add a few other options to the list as well.

    @ John Brown: Thanks for throwing the perspective of the reader into the mix. I hadn’t thought about that before. After considering, I think my problem is really one of semantics: I have been defining “love triangle” rather narrowly. I haven’t thought of well done love triangles as being love triangles in my head – because I don’t like love triangles, therefore they couldn’t possibly be love triangles! But I think I’m getting stuck on one type of love triangle that annoys me personally, without considering all the other creative ways in which the concept could be used. In fact, having thought about it more, I reluctantly admit that I might have inadvertently included a “love triangle” (very brief, and relatively unimportant, but there nonetheless) in one of my current projects. How’s that for making a person feel sheepish?

    Thanks for broadening my view of this topic.

    Posted by Mandy
  60. April 11, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

    @ Mandy,

    I like that Barker link as well!

    Posted by John Brown
  61. April 15, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    […] Writing Excuses podcast 5:31—Writing Romance.  Sarah Eden and Robinson Wells join Dan and Howard at LTUE to talk about writing romance. […]

  62. July 19, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

    I was humming “Something there that wasn’t there before” from beauty and the beast the entire time I was listening to this

    Posted by Mattwandcow
  63. October 8, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

    How is “A can’t decide between B and C” inherently greedy? Dating two people at the same time happens in real life, these kinds of situations happen often, and I take issue with boiling them down as a cliche or that character A is greedy.

    There are so many possibilities here. B is more practical while C is more attractive, B and C are so similar that it’s hard to choose, often it is choosing between who to date so there is no impropriety…

    People often don’t know what they are looking for, or even know what they have. It’s usually not an issue of greed at all, but of an inability to commit or understand what one wants out of life. People generally don’t want to invest a lot of time in a relationship they know has a time limit, and when there are many options, you kind of want to know which one is going to work out so you don’t get hurt. So this kind of situation is usually from a position of brokenness, but not necessarily a character flaw.

    But I’ve seen it in real life, so I don’t agree that it’s unrealistic.

    One of my favorite triangles not mentioned is My best Friends wedding, because of how things play out at the end.

    Posted by saluk