Literary Geometry

I’m writing today about the awesomeness that is the love triangle. Ever since my grandma sat me on her lap and read Little Women, I’ve enjoyed a good love triangle, or tetrahedron, or–well any more than that, and it’s probably a hot mess. Ditto for one poorly done which happens more often than not. Although a poor love triangle does not a poor book make.

Little Women Cover


There are no even sides and often one angle is obtuse. That is it’s such a stretch it doesn’t make sense. I’m going to use heroine and two heroes since I think that’s most common. So this is girl meets up with two guys, one a really good choice and one really bad. No matter how this plays out, it’s a problem. Although making the wrong choice and having to live with the consequences to add some good drama. This is the stuff of good tragedies.


Two sides are even and one is short. This is the majority of triangles. We know who the heroine is going to end up with, but there’s enough tension between the two angles with the short side, it’s not a total bore. Typically, the wrong pair come together for a time but then it doesn’t work out and the heroine ends up with her true love. Formulaic, yes but it can be done well. It’s best done when either off screen or in the first few chapters the heroine is with the wrong guy and the hero comes in and rescues her. The remainder of the story doesn’t even have a triangle. Although sometimes wrong guy comes back to mess with the even sides. This is pretty much the formula for many a romance novel.


Now this is literary gold. There’s a heroine with two equally great choices. Better yet if they’re both great guys but completely different. The best love triangle I have ever read falls into this category, Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices. [Disclaimer–this is not a Christian book. It’s mostly clean but there are a couple of objectionable scenes.] I’m not going to spoil it but you need to read about halfway through book 2 to even realize there’s a love triangle. I  read the synopses (which are spoilerish) and wondered how there could even be a triangle when there was an obvious couple. Let alone for me to gain sympathy for the second pairing when I was so in love with the first one. The author brought it! Did she ever.

Infernal Devices

Other Geometries.

Sometimes there’s more than one option. Take Little Women. There are four sisters and one handsome next door neighbor, Laurie (Theodore Laurence). One of the few love stories with more than four sides that works. I think many people who read Little Women are surprised and disappointed by who Laurie marries. For me, probably because I was young, and in many ways his choice is my favorite character, I was satisfied with the outcome. I also recommend Little Men and Jo’s Boys to see how truly right Louisa May Alcott was when crafting her story. Then again, it’s quasi-autobiographical, so she drew upon reality.

Two more Alcott books I love are Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom. In Rose in Bloom, Rose returns to be with her eight male cousins as a young woman. While several of the cousins are too young, four of them are candidates to win Rose’s heart. Various circumstances narrow the pool until she ends up with one of the cousins. Never mind the ick factor of first cousins pairing up, this is one of my favorite love stories.

Rose in Bloom

What is your favorite love story? And what geometry does it take?

12 thoughts on “Literary Geometry

  1. The unfortunate trend I’ve been noticing in YA is the heroine always ending up with the “bad” choice while the respectful, loving, non-psychologically-issued guy is sidelined because the spark/passion is with the anger-issue-riddled, controlling, massively flawed other guy.

    I agree – Infernal Devices has my favorite triangle. To the point where I’d had the last book since July and still have only read the first few chapters because I just *know* she’s going to end up with the one I’m *not* rooting for!! (And I’m terrified of being spoiled so thank you for not ruining it for me!!)

    I haven’t read Eight Cousins & Rose in Bloom since my early teens – I barely remember them except for a scene where she stands up when an elder walks in the room and everyone is so astonished at her manners. (I learned all my etiquette from books like these and I thinks it’s a real shame we don’t teach these things anymore.) Now I’m going to have to find a copy and refresh myself on the romance.

    I didn’t mind who Teddy ended up with and I approved of Jo’s ending, too. And the sequels (so few people read those!). Little Women was the series that introduced me to “abridged” versions of stories. I had read the story so many times and it ended when their father came home. Then someone gave us another copy and I discovered the story continued so far after that. I felt massively betrayed and was so angry at the nice, little hardback that had deceived me. lol


  2. Leave it to the engineer among us to come up with such a clever comparison!

    I have to say i don’t like stories where the guy is an out and out creep. I know guys like that exist but i guess i’d rather not read about them. I like my heroes flawed but caring, realistic not too perfect, it’s okay if he’s clueless like guys can be but sweet is great quality.


  3. Ooh, math geekery and literary geekery all in one! 🙂

    And yes, on The Infernal Devices. Awesome series!


  4. I like the way your mind works! I will never think of love triangles the same way again. I liked the low-key triangle between Hermione, Ron, and Harry. It was a subtle sub-plot and didn’t take over the main story.


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