A lot of stories attempt to use love triangles in their romantic subplots, or even primary plots, and I feel like a lot of them don’t do a very good job of it. I think the problem is that when you, as the writer, know who you want your protagonist (or whichever character is caught in the middle of the triangle) to end up with, it becomes difficult to make the other option compelling because you know that person is going to lose out in the end. But one of the biggest keys to a successful love triangle is that both options for the person who has to choose are viable ones.
I think the TV show Lucifer has actually set up a fairly good love triangle for its female lead. I’m not going to give any spoilers about the show, other than describing the characters involved, and to be honest given some of the recent developments in the show I’m not sure exactly how much the writers are playing the love triangle angle, but either way I think they created a good set up in terms of the people involved that other writers, like you, can learn from.
On one side of the triangle we have Dan. This is Chloe, the female lead’s, ex-husband. Like Chloe he is a police officer, and the two of them have a child together. When the show starts they are divorced because Dan is the type of guy who is overly involved in his work, but he still likes Chloe, and he is trying to make a real effort to be there for her and to be a good father for their child.
On the other hand we have Lucifer, a charismatic and off-the-wall kind of guy who is partnered with Chloe as a consultant to the LAPD. He is fun, refreshing, and very different from Dan. While he’s extremely selfish and often crude or rude, he very obviously cares a lot about Chloe, and though she is sometimes annoyed by him she can see this affection as well.
Given this set up, both of Chloe’s options are actually pretty good. On the one hand there’s someone familiar who she has a past with that was at least somewhat romantically successful, and with whom she shares a child. On the other there is the more exciting and fresh opportunity which could lead to new possibilities, essentially the fun of the unknown. Whoever Chloe chooses, the decision will make sense to the viewer because both characters have their upsides, and both characters also have their downsides. Importantly those downsides are fairly balanced between them, so neither one appears to be a really terrible choice, just as neither one appears to be an overwhelmingly obvious choice.
If you’re planning to write a love triangle in your own story, then I would take a page from Lucifer. When both options in the triangle are solid, this helps to maintain the tension of the plot, and even if romance is a subplot in your story, this is still important in order to keep the viewer or the reader engaged.
Do you guys agree or disagree with my assessment of Lucifer? Are there other shows are books that you think are very strong examples of love triangles? If so, or if you have anything else to add, let me know in the comments.