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Short Story Course – More about Plots: The Triangle

Updated on June 7, 2014

The Love Triangle - a Great Plot Idea

A Short Story about a Love Triangle Makes Good Reading
A Short Story about a Love Triangle Makes Good Reading | Source

Lesson 4- More about Plots: The Triangle

  1. There need not be anything furtive or squalid about this triangular love relationship. In fact, the story can be pure and wholesome. Two men are not necessarily violating any law, human or divine, in trying to form a relationship with a woman.
  2. The woman who is usually the viewpoint character is the only one to know about the triangular relationship. This circumstance affords ample inner conflict for a story with dramatic tension.
  3. A popular type of story in the magazines has the two men completely different from each other. One is unreliable and dashing and the other is dependable and rather inarticulate. The woman may be enamoured by the first type but gradually begins to appreciate the qualities of the second lover.
  4. A note here to writer of romances. It’s important for readers to identify to some extent with viewpoint characters. Avoid making the heroine too emancipated, too cold or too bitchy. Doing so can make it difficult for at least half of your readers to identify with her. Neither should you make her too weak or downtrodden which will also eliminate all chances of identification.
  5. Make sure that the love story is satisfying for the reader. It should be a source of wish fulfillment and not end in tragic way. After all, the reader identifies with the heroine, or should. Also make sure that the heroine chooses the man who you have depicted in a more positive light. This doesn’t mean that you must end with wedding bells, although that may be implied. The simple fact that the girl happily chooses the better man is in itself a happy ending.
  6. Forget about writers who say they’re only being ‘realistic’ by writing bleak endings to love stories. The world is harsh enough. The reality is that people read fiction for escapism and entertainment.
  7. If you’re writing about adultery or an illicit love affair, remember that many editors prefer stories that uphold truth, beauty and goodness. If you do write in this vein, make sure that your message is that immoral behaviour does not lead to happiness. The heroine could fail in her ambition, her nefarious plans could go wrong and she certainly will not get her man.
  8. However, a credible heroine or any protagonist, for that matter, should have display both positive and negative character traits. She may show the weaknesses, the foibles, the wrong judgments, the errors and defects which belong, to some extent, to all human beings.
  9. It could be that the triangle involves a dead person. A rival who is no longer alive may be more formidable than one who is. The girl being wooed could be pledged to her dead lover. It’s a fascinating situation and many stories have been written round it.

The exercises asked for the submission of plots for the next two stories which did not need to be triangular. The dramatic idea which would hold the reader’s attention, had to be pointed out.

Dear Mrs. Johnson July 22, 1990

Short Story Course Lesson 4

I am writing to you so late because I’ve just finished my SF novel, ‘Undersea’ and I’m busy typing it all out. Phew. It was tough writing 25000 words but it’s been worth it. My favourite character in it is the dolphin, Kea, very kind and mystical, a lot like Castaneda’s Don Juan. I would say the book has both myth and science.

On the mythical side, there’s the Selkie who is looking for her seal father (and who is told by a mermaid that he’s dead), mermaids, the Flying Dutchman, a phantom ship an old, old man seeking a few more years to live so that he can complete his masterpiece by finding the Land of Youth. Tir Nan Og, The Old Ones who sleep entombed under the sea, waiting to be awakened, so that they may return to save their ravaged forests from the hands of the white man; there is Varuna, the Indian Sea God. I am much tickled by the Yogi who suddenly found his way into my story. He has adapted to the water through his yogic powers of mind over matter. I think he leans more towards science. He even goes to the Thought Dimension to destroy the Nuclear Ghouls and so avert a nuclear war, but he cannot return because his body is now just a collection of atoms, invisible.

There is no way to return from the Thought Dimension. And guess how he is transported there? Through the strange transporting powers of the Bermuda Triangle which lies above the sunken Atlantis. Of course, I write of Atlantis too, a society of clones who had been adapted to life in the seas by the Atlantean scientists long before the continent sank.

The Clod Seeker is another part that gives me great joy. He knows everything and so do the dolphins who speak of him as their teacher. The yogi takes my hero Aditya through a time gate in the sae, so they can witness the mythical ‘churning of the ocean’ by the Indian gods and demons. Later he travels into the time of Indian pirates through the time gate.

I have also devoted two chapters to the Killer Whale and in another chapter, Kea swims with an autistic child to heal him. These experiments with disabled children and dolphins are really being carried out in the U.S. It’s absolutely fascinating.

In the end, Cloud Seeker informs Aditya the hero that his father (the geneticist who created the boy) si being threatened by a violent mob that scoffs at his claims of adapting humans to water, for there is no proof. Risking capture, Aditya speeds back to Calcutta in an Atlantean flying saucer (all through the story he longs to return to his father). There he tells the mob about the seas and returns to his true home, the ocean. This SF novel is aimed at children above 12 years of age.

If this book which is liked by everyone who’s read it, doesn’t win an award, I don’t think I’ll ever enter an India writing competition again.

You were right about ‘Best.’ They asked me to resubmit in 3 months. Caroline Upcher hasn’t replied. I sent in a couple of children’s fantasies and an informative letter with an SAE.

I was aware at the time I wrote ‘The Golden Comb’ that the change of viewpoint to the father’s diary could prove too disturbing. But I wasn’t absolutely sure till you pointed it out. If I ever take it up again, I’ll concentrate on the feeling of being alien that my heroine suffers from, it could even become a novel.

Dear Miss Saran July 31, 1990

Short Story Course, Lesson 4

Thank you for your letter of July 22, 1990 and for sending your fourth lesson.

I’m pleased to hear that Undersea is finished. It sounds fascinating and we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed for the competition. Don’t be too definite about never entering another Indian competition again! Funny things can happen in competitions and the important thing is to keep trying, though obviously, if you have achieved the situation where you are being published regularly, then it may be uneconomical in all sorts of ways to take time out to write for competitions.

You could write to Caroline Upcher again. I’m not sure that it was right to send her children’s fantasies but at least they give some clue to your abilities.

Your first outline is good and there is a strong conflict situation, but this is certainly not your average women’s magazine story, mainly because of the intellectual calibre of the characters. It is not at all that good an idea to write about writers for popular fiction – it makes the reader too aware of the fact that there is a story being written when what she is looking for is an escape into another world. However, if you think you have a market in mind, or you want to develop it for its own sake, you can use it as the basis of Exercise 2 in the next lesson.

You can write the second outline as a complete story for Lesson 6. Again, the market for stories which are essentially fables, intertwined with myth, is not good in the U.K., but you seem to have found some interesting outlets in India so there might be a chance for this one.

I hope next time you write you will have some news from somewhere, but in the meantime I look forward to Lesson 5.

Yours sincerely

Hilary Johnson, M.A., Ph.D.


If you enjoyed this, you might like to read the other articles in this series:

Writer's Block

Essentials of the Short Story

Plotting the Short Story

Story Structure and Plot


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    • Monis Mas profile image


      5 years ago

      Great tips, thanks a lot! Voted up and Useful!


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