Any writer (and most thoughtful readers) will tell you that characterization plays a huge role in drawing the reader into a story. Finding characters that you can picture clearly in your mind and feel like you know can transport you into the world of a story more deeply than any other element of the story (in my opinion!).
Today I want to talk about the role that great characterization plays in crafting a love triangle. Now, this is not going to change the opinions of those who do not like love triangles in general (trust me, I get it, I'm the same way with cliffhanger endings!) but I think we can all agree that an incredibly deep characterization of all the parties involved in our triangle enhances the story they star in. One of my favorite examples of a love triangle that brought the characters to life for me is Jenny Han's Summer series.
For me the biggest turn off in a love triangle is an uneven level of characterization. You know the type*:
1. Well characterized girl MC
2. Almost-as-well characterized, and obvious meant-to-be love interest, boy #1
3. Poorly characterized, doesn't-stand-a-chance-but-might-get-a-kiss-or-two boy #2
*Not naming any names here or talking about one particular example, this happens in a number of books.
How does this enhance the love triangulation? Simple. Because the boys are so realistic, each with his own strengths and weaknesses, there is honestly no clear winner in the war for Belly's heart. In their own ways, BOTH boys are her perfect match which makes the experience of watching their relationship grow and change that much more intense. And for the reader, the many reasons to both love AND hate both of the Fisher boys makes the series that much richer, because as we can truly feel the pull that Belly feels in both directions and the bittersweetness of having to make a choice.
This experience is enhanced further by the amazing job Han does of bringing Belly to life. This is a girl who is at THAT POINT in her life. That point where everything changes and those boys she's been crushing on for what feels like FOREVER finally realize that she is, in fact, a girl. And over the course of the trilogy, you get to watch the Belly you got to know so well in Book #1 grow and change and make mistakes that bring back that feeling of being a teenager again. And because you feel like you know her, you feel all of those moments right along with her.
So the moral(s) of the story are:
A. Go and read (or re-read) Jenny Han's Summer series immediately. You're welcome. :)
B. To create a truly heart-wrenching love triangle, get to know all of the players and what they want individually. Give the reader reasons to love both of the love interest choices. And most of all, breathe as much life into all of the characters in your story as you can, because the characters people remember most are the ones that feel like old friends, long after they've closed the book.