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?

Back in Time

Date: September 13, 2013 Location: Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, Indiana

I have a few minutes before the First Timers session at the ACFW Conference, so I explore the hotel. BT Level. This button looks different than the others but it’s the lowest down, so I press it. In a woosh of light and sound I descend. The doors open to terrazzo floors. I walk up vaguely familiar stairs and spill out to a different place. Time too judging by the big hair and stonewashed jeans. When I see her, I know the date and time. It’s September 13, 1991 and like today, it’s unseasonably hot. Her hair is long and blond with short bangs not unlike mine now. Hot from the walk from her dorm, she’s sprawled on the terrazzo floor wearing a jumpsuit in emerald green with legs that look like genie pants. I want to tell her that she’s too young to wear those maroon Aigner sandals. That the outfit doesn’t make her 115-pound frame look fat and eyebrow waxing is painless. I owe it to her, she’s me at 18. A freshman at Purdue waiting for her CHM 115 lecture outside of Wetherill 200. Something stops me. A few other things need to happen in 1991 and 2013.

Date: September 16, 2013 Location Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, Indiana

It’s early Monday morning. I can’t sleep because I have to catch a cab at 4 a.m. and I’m afraid I won’t wake up in time. I slip out of the room and go back down to BT Level which takes me Back in Time.

This time I don’t arrive in Wetherill but in the tunnels near Shealy Hall. I assume it’s still 1991 so I go to my freshman room. I use my room card from the Hyatt to jimmy open the door. I creep over to the bed and wake my younger self to a responsive dream state.

40 Me: Hi Gretchen, I’m you at 40. I’m going to tell you something really bizarre.

18 Me: I’m meeting future self. I wouldn’t expect normal.

40 Me: You know how you’re reading This Present Darkness. Well, I just came from a conference and was a few feet away from Frank Peretti. He just got a lifetime achievement award from American Christian Fiction Writers. They’re having a writer’s conference and I slipped away to talk to you.

18 Me: I write novels? Let me guess, historical romance.

40 Me: No, something called speculative fiction. It’s like real world but with a supernatural twist. Not quite science fiction or fantasy. I know you hate science fiction and fantasy but you learn to love it. A lot.

18 Me: I do?

40 Me: Yes, remember I’m you only older, so I can kind of read your mind. Anyway, there’s this guy, I think you met him at Inter Varsity Friday night. A couple of years ago, I was on Facebook. How do I explain Facebook? It’s like that meet book thing with all of the students’ pictures, only on the internet. And you don’t know what the internet is. Think email on steroids. So, I found out his wife writes Christian fiction and one thing led to another and I started writing this story. Now, I’m in Indy pitching a novel to agents and editors. And you’ll never guess who is doing the same thing?

18 Me (her voice is a little sarcastic, probably because 40 Me knows more than she does): Who?

40 Me: Professor M. your, our computer science professor.

18 Me: He’s a Christian too? And writes books? That’s awesome. I knew he was cool. I can’t believe we can e-mail our FORTRAN assignments to him. So high tech. What other weird stuff is there in the year 2000? (18 Me counts on her fingers) I mean 2013.

40 Me: Computer screens look like real pictures. Not those green and orange screens. In a couple of years, you’ll use Windows machines. Like those only better. By 1996, you’ll use a laptop and modems evolve to be so fast you can watch movies. And read books on an electronic tablet. And smart phones. They’re like little computers. In 2013 you use an outdated flip phone but it’s still high tech for 1991. It’s smaller than a deck of cards.

18 Me: Wow. (18 Me reverts to default boy-crazy mode) Who do I marry? Have I met him? Do we have kids?

40 Me: I can’t tell you those things. But I’ll give you a hint. In two weeks, September 28. You and your roommate and a couple of other girls are going to go to a crew party.

18 Me: Do I decide to become a coxswain for the guys’ team? I marry a hot guy on the rowing team, right?

40 Me: Listen to me. You’re going to run into someone you know. She is going to be with some guys. You’re going to join her and go to Taco Bell and watch Saturday Night Live with them. I know, I know. That sounds lame compared to a party with hot crew guys but trust me on this. The crossroads of your life are at Northwestern and Grant. There are two kids who don’t want to do a Marty McFly and fade into oblivion…