I love a good love triangle. Nothing more intriguing than the whole “one dog, two bones” kinda struggle. But here’s the problem: it’s really hard to do a love triangle well. Why? Because you need more than just one girl and two guys. A good love triangle requires the following:
1) A main character who wants a mate, even if she won’t admit it (in fact, it’s even better if she won’t admit it!)
2) Mate option A: someone who appeals to the MC. The reader must believe that this person could make the MC happy, but if he’s already in her life, he can’t actually be doing so. And if he’s new to her life, he has to be failing somewhere. This is very important. There must be a hole.
3) Mate option B: someone who appeals to the MC in a way that fills the hole created by A. The reader must believe that B can make the MC happy as well. Note that the MC cannot meet B before the relationship with A is established nor can she flip back to thinking about A while the relationship with B is being established. This is really important. Both relationships need to be fully and independently established before the tension starts. Otherwise, the reader will not believe that either relationship will work (plus she might think the MC is flighty). Think about the Twilight series here. Stephenie Meyer pretty much spent all of book 1 establishing the relationship with Edward and then all of book 2 establishing the one with Jacob. The real pull between them doesn’t start until book 3.
4) A situation that makes the MC see a hole in B while showing A in a new light. This is the flip back. You can do it more than once but be careful you don’t do it too often or you’ll create the flighty MC again.
5) A situation that forces the MC to make an irrevocable choice between A and B. This means that A can’t be sitting around saying, “Even if you choose B, I will still love you and wait for you forever.” Why? Because if the MC thinks she can change her mind later, then the choice doesn’t matter. She needs to believe that her choice is final.
So there you have it. One girl, two different but equally viable and convincing options, and an irrevocable choice.