Saturday, February 8, 2014

Giving Plot to the Plotless Part 4: The Big Switch

So, let's talk for a minute about love triangles.

I think there’s a reason many people are growing tired with love triangles in literature. I mean, sure, they’re over used and repetitive and often unnecessary, but why are people really tired of them? I think its because they’re boring. In most books with a love triangle, it’s easy to tell who the girl will end up choosing from the very beginning. Usually they stay with the boy they show interest in in the first, say, 30 pages.

The problem is most love triangles don’t present a very compelling dilemma. Either the third wheel is an asshole, or we don’t feel a genuine struggle in the love triangle that gives us any reason to think the main character at the center will change their minds. This is either the Titantic or the Twilight dilemma.

In the Titanic dilemma, the third wheel of the love triangle is a cartoonishly scummy and stuck up upper class citizen who never has any chance of competing with the perfect, charming, struggling artist, Jack. He basically exists as an obstacle rather than a compelling person. Of course Rose isn't going to end up with him. He's a bump in her road to true love (Eventually ending in tragedy, but that's beside the point)

More common as of late though is the Twilight dilemma, where even though we know Jacob is probably a much better choice for Bella, we know she won’t pick him. She has already demonstrated her complete addiction to Edward and his attention by her complete emotional break down during book 2. Maybe this could have been more compelling is she did consider the possibility of being with Jacob but she never really does, except when Edward is out of the picture. Therefore we’re just left wanting the damn triangle to end and for someone to put poor Jacob out of his misery.

It is a rare occurrence when a character starts out with one character, truly caring about them, but ends up with another character by the end because of various circumstances. It is very rare that the reader feels genuine tension over which guy/ girl the main character will choose. I think the most compelling love triangle I ever read was in the Matched Trilogy, by Allie Condie, where I genuinely thought both boys in the love triangle had their worth. I still had a good idea about how it was going to end but it kept my attention.

Love triangles are hard. And we had a love kite on our hands. So, in the original rendition of my friend and I’s book, we originally started with a bit of a Twilight dilemma.

We kept the original pairings together because we had it in our mind that it was necessary and ‘best’ in some way. But in the process their relationships reached a point where they went flat and stopped changing and evolving. The only things evolving were the ‘affair relationships.’ They continued where the other relationships left off and really developed the main characters. All of them. No matter which way I looked at it, the affairs that had happened by chance needed to become the official pairings. And when I realized this I couldn't help but panic.

Oh god… how was I going to tell my friend that we needed to make this HUGE change to the story? This would change so many different scenes and moments. For the better, but it was still a change. And the problem with writing with another person is you BOTH have to be behind whatever direction you choose to take.

Truth be told, I didn't know how she’d take the switch. I thought she might take it badly. I thought she might argue the point. So of course, I do what I do and I wrote a fourteen page analytic argument about why the official pairings had to switch. Fourteen pages. More than 4,000 words if you were wondering. Longer than any research paper I ever had to write.

This is how I deal with arguments.

Funny enough, she took the change well. And she ended up giving a lot of good input on the theories and ideas I had already concocted. After a nearly all night brain storming session, it was official. We were switching the pairings. And the characters were better for it. They had more cohesive arcs ending in a much more satisfying conclusion. And the relationships didn't have quite as many nasty implications as the original ones did. I felt a lot better about the direction we were taking the story.

But while this solved character problems, it didn’t account for how many scenes we had to fit into a book series. Join me in Part 5 for Plot vs. Extras.

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