Monday, September 12, 2011

Bending the Romantic Template: The Eternal Triangle, A No-No in Romance?

One hero, one heroine. Once the hero meets the heroine and vice-versa, he/she can’t look at, drool, or otherwise be attracted to anyone else, much less make love with anyone else. The Romantic Template. Can we break, bend, tweak, or fiddle with or if we do, do we do so at our own peril? The romance novel is a highly successful genre. Is it heresy to deviate from this established tried and true formula? Would it be a fatal mistake to introduce a third party to compete for the hero or heroine’s attention? I think the addition of a third party, known as the eternal triangle, adds the possibility of vengeance and my favorite—jealousy—to the equation. Both aspects can heighten conflict, spice up suspense, add mystery and sexual tension, etc. Who is the villain, which one is the knight in shining armor? Isn’t that what we do in our everyday lives when we date people and choose which one to marry? Plus it could even evoke sympathy for the main character. Nothing is more heartbreaking than watching the hero or heroine think that the love of his/her life has just been lost to a romantic rival. It pulls at my heartstrings every time. And when the tide turns and he/she gets him/her back, nothing makes me happier when I reach the ending of the story. Justice has been done!

The eternal triangle has been around for centuries, playing a central role in both real and fictional life. Many wars have been fought for love. Think Lancelot and King Arthur. Helen of Troy. Many crimes have been committed in the heat of passion, all because of a third party’s unwelcome intrusion. In my stories, I like to either have two women lusting after the hero or two men chasing after the heroine. Their motives can either be good or bad. The trick is to guess which one is doing what and a mystery unfolds as to who the real hero is. I’m not suggesting anything illicit, just good old-fashioned competition. In The Secret Sentinel, Savannah Rutledge is kidnapped by the mysterious Antonio Desada, but still carries a torch for Eric Gale. In The Montezuma Secret, TV star Erica Kingsley is still in love with handsome survivalist Trey Zacco, but must compete for his attentions with his lovely producer, Morgana Montez. One of my favorite authors, Sandra Brown, writes in Envy about a book editor who is married, but has a strange attraction to a mysterious writer. In Brown’s Chill Factor, the main character has an ex-husband who wants her back, but instead falls for a guy who might or might not be a serial killer. It’s so much fun to figure out who she’ll end up with and why.

I remember reading once that romances are usually about “two dogs fighting over the same bone.” Kind of an unattractive analogy, but true. The two main characters are usually squabbling over something they both desperately want: the family business, the ranch, the country estate, a treasure, etc. as well as fighting for each other’s love. The end, we know, will be a happy one. Thank goodness! They get what they want in love and resolve their ultimate quest. And doesn’t it add something spicy and complicate things if they’re also competing with a third party to win the love of their life?

Here's an excerpt from my latest book The Montezuma Secret:

Reappearing ten minutes later, dressed in a tiny gold lame bikini with a fresh layer of lip gloss applied, Erica stopped short at the sight of a half-naked Trey astride his Harley, a pair of sleek wraparound Rayban sunglasses perched atop his head.
Without his shirt and his shoulders buffed to a bronzy glow, he looked like a young Adonis. He fixed her with a mesmerizing gaze, his peacock blue eyes piercing hers, an obvious sexual come-on, she was sure of it. A shock of thick wiry hair flopped forward onto his forehead, adding a charming touch of boyishness that only added to his alluring all-male appeal.
And the way he ogled her in that bikini, she knew he liked what he saw. It hugged every curve, accentuated her ample cleavage and made her legs look as long as an Amazon’s. She felt like one too, brazen, aggressive and totally lacking in inhibitions.
She got on the motorcycle behind him, riding it sidesaddle. This time she needed no encouragement. Her arms flew around his naked waist and she let her long legs dangle so they made contact with his thigh. She leaned forward so her breasts caressed his bare back and when the photographer turned on the wind machine, her long hair flew behind her in the breeze. His body heat and strong muscles acted like an instant aphrodisiac.
The photographer handed them each a glass of champagne in tall crystal flutes and began snapping. Trey could not keep his eyes off her legs, she noted with pride, as the photographer had to keep reminding him to stare into the camera. Finally, he asked them to clink glasses and stare into each other’s eyes. She knew she had him then. She’d apologize to her father later for reneging on her promise not to fall prey to Trey’s charms again.
After a few more shots, the photographer motioned them off the cycle, then removed the vehicle and the backdrop, leaving them awkwardly standing next to one another, half-dressed, champagne glasses still clutched in their hands.
Trey broke the stalemate first and grinned mischievously before downing his champagne in one gulp. Erica copied him and they both laughed. Trey walked over to the food cart next, slathered some caviar on a cracker and popped it into his mouth before pouring himself more champagne and re-filling Erica’s glass.
Suddenly feeling wanton and not the least bit self-conscious, Erica picked up one of the sinfully rich pastries loaded with whipped cream and fed it to him. When some of the cream landed on the corners of his mouth, she wiped off the excess with her index finger and made him lick it off. She watched his tongue slowly swirl off the cream and take her finger in his mouth until he stopped at her knuckle.
“Mmmm,” she purred in approval.
“All right, you two. I don’t want to get out the fire hose,” the photographer joked.
He’d changed the scenery again. An oversized wing chair, one big enough for giants, sat where the motorcycle once stood. The Paris skyline, complete with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, now served as the new backdrop.
“All right, Trey. Climb up into that chair and Erica, you sit on his lap. Get it? ‘Lap of Luxury.’ And fill those glasses again.”
After pouring them more champagne, Trey clambered up onto the huge chair while Erica held the glasses for him. He gave Erica a careful boost so as not to spill any of the champagne and then she maneuvered herself onto his lap, throwing an arm around his bare shoulder. The liquor had loosened his inhibitions and that was just the way she wanted it. Getting him back again was going to be easier than she’d planned.
“Feel free to ad lib some dialogue, guys,” the photographer instructed, zeroing in on both of them with his lens. “So far, it’s looking great.”
“Contrary to public opinion,” Erica began, a little giddy, as she downed another glass of champagne, “Trey and I do get along. Even though we’re from opposite sides of the program guide. As a matter of fact, I like wild things and I think wild things like me. Tune in to see the fur fly.”
Trey laughed uproariously at the pun.
“Cut!” the photographer yelled.
Erica inched up higher on his lap, feeling Trey’s swelling erection poking her bottom.
“Do you like it wild, Trey?”
He shifted uncomfortably, suddenly eager to remove her from his lap. He shimmied off the chair, leaving her sitting alone and feeling foolish perched atop the gargantuan thing, still wearing the tiny bikini. She wondered what she’d done to cause such a strange transformation.
Straining to see what was behind Trey’s agitation, she scooted off the chair seat and leapt down, then followed him to the doorway, her high heels clacking on the slick hardwood floor.
Morgana Montez, Trey’s beautiful producer and his most recent ex, stood in the door way. And behind her lurked the threatening hulk of Gordon Gosich.

The Montezuma Secret available from
Click on the cover at right to purchase.
Also available on Smashwords
FIVE STARS on Amazon and Goodreads
Next Week: Who makes the bestsellers? You and me or the news media?


Beth Trissel said...

Really good post! I enjoyed this.

Sandra Koehler said...

Thanks, Beth! I'm really happy with the good reviews I've got!

Sandy/Alison Chambers

Calisa Rhose said...

I enjoyed this post Alison. Good article. I haven't tackled the two to one scenario yet, but maybe one day?

Sandra Koehler said...

I guess it's the perpetual love of mystery in me that makes me go this route...Sandy/Alison

Lynne Marshall said...

Hi Sandra - All valid points. I think you can work in the competitive love interest in a book to add that extra conflict button, but depending where you're trying to sell the book, it would have to be handled with a fine toothed comb.
Isn't it beautiful with e-publishing that the traditional rules can be bent a bit here and there.
Great blog!

Sandra Koehler said...

Thanks, Lynne, that was my question. It has to be handled carefully. For example, I still stick to the premise that once she meets the hero, she doesn't have sex with anyone else...Sandy/Alison

Sandra Koehler said...

PS, that doesn't mean she doesn't think about being tempted by someone else...Sandy/Alison

Kellie Kamryn said...

Great post!

Lynne Marshall said...

Sandra/Alison said: For example, I still stick to the premise that once she meets the hero, she doesn't have sex with anyone else...Sandy/Alison

Lynne says: Exactly! However, I recently did an interview with Kristin Higgins (who breaks all those rules!) and she is famous for having the heroine engaged or involved with someone else at the beginning of the book (to the point of sleeping with them) yet still having her become involved with the true hero as the book progresses. She's great! (If you're interested the interview is posted at my website under articles)
We can't all be Kristin Higgins, (wish I could come close!) but sometimes ignoring the rules gets you noticed - as long as you're brilliant, which you are! :)

Sandra Koehler said...

Hey Lynne, thanks...I'll check out Kristin and your interview with her, haven't read anything of hers yet. I think the most important thing is to keep the reader intrigued and tell a good story so they keep guessing and turning the pages...Sandy/Alison

Sandra Koehler said...

Read the Kristin Higgins interview. Great questions, Lynne. I like her comment about being nosy re: relationships and getting ideas for her books and about breaking the rules. I also think it's important if you can tug at someone's heartstrings with rejection and jealousy.

Check out Lynne's great interview with Kristin:

Lilly Gayle said...

I've read a few "triangle" books. And Lifetime Movies do the triangle quite a bit, not always with an HEA. Sometimes, the heroine shoots the would-be hero because he's a psycho. :-) I think the triangle works when the writer gives the reader a "heads up" rather than allowing the reader to become emotionally invested in the hero only to learn the heroine's got her eyes on someone else too. If the reader sees it coming , then the reader will be "choosing" along with the heroine. But the heroine (or hero, if that's the case) can't seem to wishy washy. And, the author must make sure the heroine chooses the hero most loved by most readers. Tricky. But doable. And you're right. It can add a lot to a romance.

Sandra Koehler said...

Great points, Lilly...Sandy/Alison

Claire said...

This is a timely post for me. I've been writing what I thought was a contemporary romance and out of nowhere the true hero emerged. The guy the heroine has been sleeping with isn't going to be the guy she ends up with. Personally, I think that makes it a contemporary romance-as in realistic for our times. I doubt I'll change any romance publishers' minds though. I've decided--women's fiction.