How To Write a Love Triangle
This article will offer some key pointers on that most time-trodden (and wildly successful) cinematic device – the love triangle – and hopefully assist those looking to craft an original and effective one.
- Using a few films which incorporate love triangles into their narratives, we will discuss the key aspects to a successful and interesting love triangle.
- We will highlight how love triangles are typically a plot device for romance films. Many of these are romantic-comedies, but not exclusively.
- As we will discover, this plot device is also often employed in other genres, such as Action and Musicals.
We will look to some of the following films for examples:
Famous Film Love Triangles…
1. Bridget, Mark and Daniel (Bridget Jones Diary)
2. Bella, Jacob and Edward (Twilight)
3. Katniss, Peeta and Gale (The Hunger Games)
4. Carrie, Charles and Hamish (Four Weddings and a Funeral)
5. Iris, Jasper and Ethan (The Holiday)
6. Satine, Christian and the Duke (Moulin Rouge!)
7. Rose, Jack and Cal (Titanic)
These are just a few characters part of famous love triangles.
What Is A Love Triangle?
As the name suggests, love triangles centre on love and conflict.
“A love triangle (also called a romantic love triangle or a romance triangle or an eternal triangle) is usually a romantic relationship involving three or more people.”
Love triangles typically centre on a protagonist and their two love interests.
- However, all three characters are fully developed.
- The love interests must both have equal development and be equally suitable for the protagonist. They must make the ‘decision’ for the protagonist very difficult.
Despite both being suitable, they tend to be very different. Stereotypically, there is the good guy vs the bad guy. This is most evident in a film such as Bridget Jones Diary.
The plot device hooks the audience and adds drama to the seemingly perfect, smooth narrative. Love Triangles throw the protagonist off their path and help make them appear layered, relatable and real.
Love triangles feature in other genres: dramas, musicals and action, but the underlying common theme is romance despite love not always being felt by all parties. Moulin Rouge!, Leap Year, The Great Gatsby and Titanic illustrate this.
- In Moulin Rouge!, the love triangle is between Satine, Christian and the Duke. The romance is between Satine and Christian. However, the Duke is offering Satine freedom, success and fame.
- In Leap Year, the love triangle is between Anna, Declan and Jeremy. As with Moulin Rouge! a romance develops between Anna and Declan. However security, status, and wealth are what Jeremy is offering her.
- In Titanic, the love triangle is between Rose, Jack and Cal. The ‘Love Triangle’ occurs due to Rose’s engagement to Cal- someone who is offering her financial stability and status. However, Rose loves Jack, a working-class man who is not ‘suitable’ for her.
- In The Great Gatsby, the love triangle occurs between Daisy, Gatsby and Tom. As with the previous example, Daisy is married to Tom for status, wealth and security, however she loves Gatsby.
With all three of the love triangles above, the main concepts to focus on are the protagonists’ NEED VS their WANT.
This is a key aspect to character development and creating an arc in general. And it’s an important factor to consider when writing a love triangle.
What’s The Point In Writing Love Triangles?
Typically, people who enjoy romance films tend to favour love triangles in the narratives as it adds a layer of drama and conflict for the protagonist.
But why write a love triangle?
- A plot device to add drama to the narrative.
- To engage the audience by adding new characters/ altering the seemingly simple narrative.
- Making the protagonist more interesting and layered – revealing their inner conflicts.
- Show the protagonist’s true nature/ personality.
- Involve the viewer- they themselves taking a side on which love interest is most suitable.
The Romance-Comedy Genre In Writing A Love Triangle:
As we have already discussed, the rom-com tends to lean on the love triangle plot device. So, we wanted to briefly outline a few aspects of the rom-com narrative structure with regards to love triangles.
Elements Of A Rom-Com Love Triangle…
- The Set-up: The protagonist (character 1) is introduced as being ‘out of love’ and desiring a partner who is not interested/available (an obstacle). The protagonist has an unfulfilled desire.
- Meet Cute 1: There is a catalyst/inciting incident in the narrative. Character 1 meets their first love interest (or is already seeing/fantasising about them (i.e. Bridget Jones) and develops feelings for them. OR in some cases, there is an obstacle – the other person already has someone.
- An Incident/Event…occurs bringing the characters together: There is a development in the narrative. They happen to meet again. Typically followed by a hook in which the sexual tension is confronted.
- Turning point 1: Characters are together/dating. Romance and the narrative appear smooth.
- Conflict…which leads to a dark moment: A conflict between character 1 and the first love interest (want different things etc). Character 1 is back to the beginning and is feeling ‘out of love’.
- Meet Cute 2: Character 1 meets the second love interest and starts seeing them – typically underlying sexual tension when they first meet. This can be introduced earlier on in the narrative (i.e. Bridget Jones Diary).
- Turning point 2: Character 1 seems content with their new relationship.
- Dark moment 2: A conflict occurs between character 1 and the second love interest. This makes character 1 face their inner fears (love interest needs to leave, becomes ill etc.)
- Confrontation: Character 1 must confront their want vs need and either choose the first or second love interest (or in some instances, neither).
- Resolution: typically, in rom-coms there is a joyful resolution.
This formula is not exhaustive, but these are the stages which typically appear within the ‘love triangle’ structure.
Let’s Dive into the Detail of the Different Aspects and Key Components Required To Write a ‘Love Triangle’.
1. The Set-up Of The Protagonist:
Make sure you set-up your protagonist effectively and fully-develop them throughout the film.
First, you must establish the following aspects:
- Where is your protagonist in their life?
- Are they content with their job/life? (typically not)
- What is the state of their love life? Are they dating? Do they like someone?
- Why are they single (if they are)?
- What is their WANT and what is their NEED?
- You need to know your character inside and out
- Make them likeable and relatable
- What’s their biggest fear? (internal conflict– this will play a key part later on in the film)
Effective Character Set-ups Include:
- In The Holiday, the narrative follows joint protagonists Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) who are both unhappy with their lives. However, the love triangle primarily revolves around the character of Iris.
- Iris is set-up as a hopeless romantic and a woman desiring the unrequited love of Jasper (and as a viewer we’re meant to empathise with her).
- In Bridget Jones Diary, we are introduced to the protagonist, Bridget, in one of the most iconic and amusing film openings: Bridget in her pyjamas singing ‘All By Myself’. This set-up encompasses the idea of an alone protagonist desiring a love interest (the desire and want is clear).
Love Triangle Exceptions…
- In Four Weddings and a Funeral the protagonist is Charles. The love triangle surrounds his interest in Carrie, who marries Hamish.
- We are still introduced to Charles as a person unhappy with his life and desiring love. This is most humorously conveyed through the emphasis on his lack of a partner at the wedding.
- Twilight and The Hunger Games are not Romantic-Comedies, however they do fall into the teenage Romance- Action genres.
- In Twilight, Bella is an outsider. She is the new girl in school and lacks friends.
- Despite there being to imminent WANT for a love interest, in the opening scene there is a meet-cute between her and Jacob hinting at an underlying love interest.
- Likewise, in The Hunger Games, the is no immediate nod towards Katniss desiring love. She is introduced in a maternal way, caring for her younger sister, Primrose.
In ALL of the above cases, we are introduced to characters who are lacking love. They all, to a degree, share a desire and want for a relationship.
Katniss is an exception in that she is an extremely strong-willed and independent character from the offset.
2. The First Love Interest And The ‘Meet Cute’:
Questions to consider:
- Their Meet-Cute. Is the protagonist already with the first love interest?
- Are they likeable? Do they have an interesting personality?
- Do they have a flaw?
- Has the protagonist liked the person for awhile?
- Is the love interest unavailable?
- What is the main conflict/challenge the protagonist faces?
- How is the love interest(s) appealing?
- What is the love interests NEED and WANT?
Examples To Consider…
- In The Holiday, we witness Iris’ devotion and love for Jasper. Her clear affection for him is shown through her Christmas present for him. Here, we see Jasper’s manipulation as he falsely leads her on, only to then announce his engagement to another woman.
- In Bridget Jones Diary the ‘Meet-Cute’ between Bridget and Mark Darcey is when Bridget attends a Christmas party at her parent’s house.
- The interaction between the two is extremely awkward and there is NO hint of romance. But, the relationship and dynamic between the two is established.
- In Four Weddings and a Funeral Charles meets Carrie early-on at the first wedding and they ‘hit it off’ immediately. Later that night we see the two sleep together, solidifying their mutual interest in one another.
- In Twilight, as mentioned, Bella meets Jacob early on in the opening scene. However, much like in Bridget Jones Diary, there is no love element hinted at- they are presented as being friends.
- In The Hunger Games, it is hinted at that Katniss and Peta have a history (we see through flashbacks). However, their first interactions come after being selected to go into the games. There is a lack of ‘love’, seemingly being represented as just friends.
We can assess that for the majority of these first love interest interactions, the characters do not directly convey their attractions to one another. They function effectively at foreshadowing their future relationships and later interest in one another.
The Main Take Away:
- Characters must meet and express some opinion on the other person (in these instances either hatred or attraction).
- The groundwork has been laid for future interactions.
3. Conflict With The First Love Interest (Protagonist’s Inner Fears Are Hinted At)
First, you must establish the following aspects:
- What does the conflict/crisis reveal about your protagonist?
- Does it reveal a flaw?
- How are they being tested?
- How does this conflict impact the rest of the plot?
As we’ve emphasised, there is no set narrative structure for how to write a love triangle. However, a common-thread amongst films which feature this dynamic is that there is frequently a conflict that soon arises between the lovers.
Typically, after the initial relationship develops between the protagonist and the first love interest, there tends to be a conflict. This impacts their relationship, putting a halt or temporary end to their relationship/storyline.
- In The Holiday, as we’ve discussed, Iris is initially rejected by Jasper. Therefore, the first conflict is his engagement to another woman, leaving her alone and depressed. So with regards to the stages outlined earlier, this is the moment in which ‘the individuals want different things’.
- In Bridget Jones Diary, Bridget did not ‘hit it off’ with Mark Darcy, and throughout the film there are several awkward situations/conversations between the two.
- To pin-point an exact moment is difficult as Bridget sees her second love interest Daniel throughout. However, the first ‘conflict’ between her and Darcy is when he and Daniel fight in the street, resulting in her rejecting them both.
- In Four Weddings and a Funeral, the first lovers conflict, is when Charles wants to pursue a relationship with Carrie after sleeping with her and developing feelings. However, Carrie soon becomes engaged to Hamish, reflecting the ‘individuals wanting different thing’ stage.
Love Triangle Exceptions…
However, there is not always a set ‘moment’ that a conflict between the characters occurs. In the cases of Twilight and The Hunger Games the Love Triangle develops and lasts throughout the film trilogies.
- In Twilight, throughout the trilogy Bella’s romantic interest goes between Edward and Jacob. The main conflict between Bella and Jacob occurs in the second and third films, when Bella denies having any feelings for Jacob.
- As with the Twilight saga, The Hunger Games trilogy’s ‘love triangle’ is prolonged throughout the films.
- However, in the first film the initial conflict between Katniss and Peeta is her belief that his love and admiration for her is fake and was only expressed as a means of getting sponsors. This adheres to the ‘stage’ of the lovers ‘wanting different things’.
As highlighted earlier, a central part and cause of a love triangle is the result of the protagonist‘s inner fears. What do they fear? How is this brought out? What’s the flaw with the love interest?
This stage should be introduced to test the protagonist and their relationship with the first love interest. Will this ‘crisis’ be resolved with the introduction of the second love interest?
4. The Second Love Interest’s Introduction And Their Character Development:
First, you must establish the following aspects:
- Why introduce them now?
- What do they add to the plot?
- How are they different to the first love interest?
- What’s their desire?
- What do you want them to bring out in the protagonist?
This relationship can start at ANY POINT. They can be introduced at the same time as the other love interest, however perhaps it is more interesting to have them introduced slightly later to have a solid character development and comparison to the first love interest.
As with the first love interest, make sure you fully-develop the second love interest to make them a layered, real character AND a viable, suitable choice for the protagonist.
The meet-cute typically occurs after the protagonist is again out of love and is desiring love again. They are in the same position where they began the film- back to square one. This is when the meet the second love interest, who seemingly fills the void of loneliness.
However, they may also be introduced (as in The Hunger Games and Twilight) as another individual interested in the protagonist who is offering something the first love interest isn’t (a desired physical appearance, more affection etc), thus is a rival with a vested interest in stealing the protagonist away.
- In The Holiday, it is when Iris has travelled to Los Angeles she meets her second love interest, Miles.
- The ‘meet cute’ occurs when Miles arrives at the house Iris is staying at with his girlfriend. He is a ‘good guy’ in a relationship.
However, as the narrative develops Iris and Miles’ relationship develops (they go on dates etc.) and spend more ‘couples’ time together. He is the ideal match for her. But Jasper arrives in Los Angeles attempting to seduce Iris back.
- In Bridget Jones Diary, from the offset Bridget’s romantic interest in Daniel is evident through their flirtation at the office. Daniel is a ‘bad boy’ type.
As the narrative develops the two date and it becomes obvious that Daniel is not overly suitable for her. She witnesses him cheating and decides to leave.
- In Four Weddings and a Funeral, as already discussed, early on in the narrative the Love Triangle primarily centres around Charles, Carrie and Hamish. In this instance, the new ‘love interest’ is Hamish.
As the narrative progresses, Charles remains alone and still interested in Carrie despite Fiona’s confession of love for him.
- In Twilight, the second love interest is Edward.
- The ‘meet cute’ is during a science class. The first interaction is awkward and cold- there is no hint at their future storyline but it effectively lays the groundwork for the development of their relationship.
- In The Hunger Games, Gale is the second love interest. He starts as Katniss’ friend. Throughout the film and during the course of the film their relationship develops romantically.
The Main Take Away And Questions To Ponder…
- What does this love interest offer?
- The second love interest needs time to DEVELOP and to show how they are suitable for the protagonist
- What is the main difference to the first love interest?
- Is there a vested interest?
- What’s the motivation of the love interest?
5. Conflict With The Second Love Interest:
First, you must establish the following aspects:
- How will this conflict affect the protagonist?
- What will the protagonist have to confront as a result?
- What is their flaw?
After significant character development of the second love interest, there needs to be a conflict/challenge that throws the protagonist off their path. It needs to shake their new relationship and make them question what they need and what they want.
Additionally, the first love interest tends to make another appearance and shake the narrative up.
- In The Holiday, the conflict/crisis between Iris and Miles occurs when Maggie begs Miles for forgiveness. Also, Jasper arrives in Los Angeles and asks Iris to be his secret lover again.
- In Bridget Jones Diary, the conflict with Bridget and Daniel occurs when she finds out that he has been cheating on her. She ends their relationship.
- Meanwhile, Bridget’s relationship with Mark begins and the two begin to date. Conflict arrises when Mark and Daniel fight over her and she kicks them both out.
- In Four Weddings and a Funeral, the love interest aspect is not that significant.
- In Twilight, the love triangle develops throughout the course of the film trilogy. However, in the first film the conflict arises due to Edward being a vampire. He does not want to endanger Bella.
- In The Hunger Games, the love triangle develops over the course of four films. However, the main conflict between Katniss and Gale is Gale’s involvement in Primrose’s death. This ends their relationship and plays a significant role in Katniss ending up with Peeta.
This stage is important when writing a love triangle. There needs to be an instance in which the suitability of the second love interest is tested. This stage should force the protagonist to face what they really need vs their want.
6. Protagonist Must Be Active And Confront Their Inner Conflict:
First, you must establish the following aspects:
- What is the protagonist’s inner fear?
- What do you want the outcome to be? Who do you want them to end up with?
- Protagonist is now alone again- they need to reflect.
Following on from their relationship with the second love interest and the conflict/crisis/new challenge, the protagonist must be active and motivated.
The protagonist is at a low point (similar to at the beginning) and needs to decide what to do/who to choose.
- In The Holiday, Iris has the realisation that she likes Miles and wants to pursue their relationship. We see the two share a kiss during Arthur’s speech (Iris’ greatest fear not finding love).
- In Bridget Jones Diary, Bridget comes to the realisation that she loves Mark and wants to pursue their relationship further. The last scene shows Bridget running and kissing Mark In the street (Bridget’s greatest fear being alone).
- In Four Weddings and a Funeral, It isn’t the protagonist, that has the realisation, it is Carrie. She arrives at his doorstep and the two promise to stay together for life (Charles’ greatest fear not being with Carrie)
- In Twilight, after claiming to love both Jacob and Edward (and kissing Jacob in New Moon), she chooses Edward (believing him to be the love of her life). Her greatest fear is losing Edward.
- In The Hunger Games, Katniss’ love for Peeta is depicted when she cares for and kisses him. Katniss’ inner fear is losing her family and by the end of the trilogy, her greatest fear is losing him.
The Main Take Away And Questions To Consider…
- What is your protagonists inner fear?
- What has the love triangle brought out in the protagonist?
- How do you want the love triangle to be resolved?
7. Decide Who You Want The Protagonist To End Up With:
At this stage the protagonist should have undergone an Arc. They should have changed as a result of the love triangle. It is up to you whether there is a happy ending.
Ultimately, the protagonist will have either decided to be with…
Love interest one,
Love interest two
The ending of the love triangle can have occurred for many reasons. However, this typically is due to the protagonist having undergone a change (an Arc) and come to a realisation and acceptance of what they need.
- The Holiday: Iris starts a relationship with Miles.
- Bridget Jones Diary: Bridget accepts her feelings for Mr Darcey and the ending implies that they are now a couple.
- Four Weddings and a Funeral: Carrie visits Charles and informs him of her separation from Hamish. They will start to see one another.
- Twilight: Bella and Edward become a couple and despite Jacob’s attempts at stealing her affections throughout the trilogy, Bella and Edward end up together.
- The Hunger Games: at the end of the trilogy Katniss and Peeta are a couple.
- This occurs towards the end of the narrative. It is important to know who you want your protagonist to end up with. However, when outlining your narrative, you should have an idea already on the outcome of the triangle at the beginning of your writing process.
You Should Ask Yourself…
- Why is X more suitable for the protagonist than Y?
- How do you want your protagonist to progress? What will happen to them once the film is over?
- How will the love triangle end?
8. Final Questions To Ask Yourself And To Bare In Mind When You Write A Love Triangle:
- What are the internal and external conflicts as a result of the love triangle?
- Have you made sure to write a love triangle with fully developed, engaging and active characters?
- Have you developed all 3 characters equally? Are they flawed?
- Is your protagonist interesting and relatable?
- Have you made both love interests equally as suitable so the decision for the protagonist is harder?
- Does your love triangle serve a purpose?
- What is the love triangle’s narrative significance?
- Does the character need to grow and learn something about themselves that they will only achieve through the love triangle?
- Have you avoided cliche and predictability to keep the audience engaged?
Do not make the narrative suffer for the sake of the love triangle. You need to have a solid plot outside of the love triangle.
The knack of a love triangle is how it adds to the narrative. It’s a complication, a challenge and another bump in the road for the protagonist. Make sure that you’re not resting the story solely on the love triangle and instead using it to escalate the stakes, protagonist‘s goals and dramatic tension.
To write a successful love triangle you must make sure that the triangle fits neatly in the shape of the narrative as a whole, as well as making each end of the triangle as sharp as possible.
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This article was written by Milly Perrin and edited by IS Staff.