30 May 2017

My Favourite Shape: the Love Triangle

I’m going to break away from mysteries and death for a moment, because no book is 100 percent blood, and talk about the negative space between them. For me, that’s love and relationships, Dr. Hope Sze has a relationship with two different men.
Love triangles fascinate me.
Once Sting said something like, “‘I love you and you love me’ is boring. But if I love you and you love someone else … ” As a kid, I was riveted by that talk show interview.
As an adult, I married my high school sweetheart. So it’s only on the page that I create worlds where women have choices, shall we say. Not in all my books, but one major engine of the Hope Sze series is that two men vie for her affections.
“When are you writing a new Hope book?” asked Kat, one of the nurses.
“I’m working on it,” I said.
“Well, write faster! I need to know what’s happening to the guys.”
I didn’t start by conscious design, but it so happens that Hope solves quite complex mysteries in each book, yet her personal life remains even more complicated.
The first serious man in her life is her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Wu.
As Hope explains in Code Blues, Ryan and I had basically been set up by our grandmothers. He was a smart, hard-working, good-looking Chinese boy. In other words, Grandma’s idea of manna from heaven, and not far from mine, either.
The problem was, his engineering job tied him to Ottawa, while Hope was studying on the other end of the province. They broke up before she made it back to McGill for family medicine, until a chance encounter throws him back in her life.

In the meantime, she meets a mouthy resident (doctor in post-graduate training) who doesn't make much of an impression at first.
John Tucker was a white guy with a shock of wheat-coloured hair. I wondered if he dyed it, while he said in a baritone voice, "Call me Tucker. Everyone does. You can call me Tucker, Tuck, Turkey. I'll answer to anything." He winked at me.
I wrinkled my nose. He was trying too hard. Not my type.

Tucker doesn't know how to flirt or tease the way other guys do, but he ends up proving himself, especially during the hostage-taking in Stockholm Syndrome.

Was it a stupid idea to have more than one love interest? Jennifer Crusie points out in her excellent blog, “Readers/viewers pick a side, and then if their side is the one that isn’t chosen, the story fails for them.”
Another commenter, also named Jennifer, summed it up like this:
“Love triangles usually are a case of:
1. Twilight–the “triangle” is a joke because clearly the game is rigged
2. Stephanie Plum–this … will just drag on forever.
3. Lost–gee, two jerks, which of the jerks will Kate choose? Who cares?”

What do you think? Should it be all monogamy, all the time? More romance? No romance, just plot-plot-plot?

While I solicit feedback, please let me know what you think of my new quiz at http://melissayuaninnes.com/doctor-nasty/ ! You don't have to opt in to get your results, but I'm setting up a free gift for new subscribers by the end of the month. Cheers!


  1. Fun post, Melissa, and I agree that along with the blood there have to be some roses.
    The protagonists in both my series are in relationships, and my subplots often involve other relationships that are going badly, including my upcoming book. In fact, several of my main characters are divorced or dumped. I'm revisiting one of those events in an upcoming book, too.

    Yeah, Stephanie Plum...I quit reading at about 13 or 14, but the Ranger versus Morelli thing had already become shtick more than plot and I lost interest. I agree with Jennifer Crusie, though, and read several of her earlier chick-lit books because both the characters and her dialogue were so good I learned a lot from them.

    Mystery protagonists have to have a life outside the case, too. If they're just detection machines, they come across as less human, which makes it more difficult to care about them as people.

    You've brought that out clearly, so thank you.

  2. Interesting post, Melissa. And yes, I enjoy romance in a mystery, though I don't think it always has to involve a triangle, and I don't think it should be drawn out for too long. My favorite example (I always seem to use Sayers for examples) would be the romance between Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. There's no triangle here--Harriet's clearly the only woman for Lord Peter, and he's clearly the right man for her. But she has serious reservations and has to find a way to say "yes." Their relationship is at the center of three novels, gradually moving toward a resolution as they both learn and grow, and then we have the pleasure of seeing them get married. I think this romance works because both characters are so interesting; because the conflicts between them are grounded on real differences in ideas and character, not silly misunderstandings; because it doesn't drag on forever; and because, in the end, we know they've made the right choice.

  3. I like protagonists to have a real life, complete with love and allergies. And I don't mind relationships that are going badly - if they're going badly for a reason, and not just because otherwise "it's boring". (The Maigrets are not boring, at least to me. And I, too love Peter and Harriet. Good relationships are probably actually the hardest to write about...)

    Lately I've been seeing a lot of the classic stupidity on TV where one party does or says something and the other one runs away, and later, when an attempt at an apology/explanation gets made, responds, "No, I don't want to hear what you have to say!", and/or runs off (sometimes into the hands of the killer), and/or goes out and gets drunk and laid on the basis of it. (I seem to have inquisitive friends: we ALWAYS want to hear what the other person has to say.)

  4. I'm happy to get such thoughtful comments.

    @Steve, thanks! I think a divorced/dumped character could be quite interesting, like Ian Rankin's Rebus. And you're right, we need to have more than detective robots.

    It would be hard to draw out a love triangle over 15 books.

    I think of Jennifer Crusie as mystery, romance, and a category unto herself.

    Food for thought.

  5. @B.K., good point that you don't have to have a third character when it's hard enough to reconcile two complex characters' lives. That can be a dance unto itself.

    However, there are some cases where the main character marries and becomes less interesting. Mrs. Pollifax was never quite the same for me.

  6. @Eve, yes, just slapping the characters around for plot's sake can be quite tiresome, whether it's silly misunderstandings or a thriller setting a bomb off for no good reason. I think intelligent writers respect intelligent readers too much to do this!


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