I don't like them.
Because, honestly, it feels that usually the love triangle is tacked on by the writer to create tension. It's a way of purposefully throwing in a problem for the main character, build angst, and--more often than not--give the writer a chance to be Mary Sue.
Some love triangles are really well done. And when they're done right, I adore them.
Love Triangles Done Right:
- THE HUNGER GAMES: Katniss-Peeta-Gale
- What makes this one work? Because we, the reader, understand perfectly why Katniss is torn between both guys. She exists in a world where love as an emotion is honestly not valued--she can't afford to love. Although Peeta's love for her is true, it's based on emotions, not survival instinct.
- Would Katniss recognize the love triangle around her? Yes--but she wouldn't revel in it. She doesn't want to make this decision. It's another constraint of the world in which she lives.
- THE IRON KING: Meghan-Puck-Ash
- What makes this one work? Because there's no conflict of emotion. Meghan is physically attracted to Ash, Ash is attracted to Meghan based on his relationships in the past, and while Puck has grown to love Meghan, Meghan justifiably doesn't notice that love because she thinks of him as a friend.
- Would Meghan recognize the love triangle? No. She legitimately does not see Puck's love for her.
- THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH: Mary-Travis-Harry
- What makes this one work? Because Mary lives in a world where marriage is not an option, and the selection of her husband is not up to her. While she loves Travis, she cannot go against her society when her marriage is arranged with his brother Harry. Additionally, both Travis and Harry are good men, making the love triangle more angst-y.
- Would Mary recognize the love triangle? Yes, but her world dictates the terms.
- EYES LIKE STARS: Bertie-Nate-Ariel
- What makes this one work? Bertie loves Nate, but Ariel's obsession with Bertie gets both of them in trouble. Bertie may have some physical attraction to Ariel, but she doesn't love him emotionally and prefers Nate despite Ariel's creepy stalker-ish-ness.
- Would Bertie recognize the love triangle? No--to her, there's Nate, and Ariel's obsession with her isn't mutual.
- PS: Doesn't the cover of the sequel, PERCHANCE TO DREAM, look awesome? Seems like the love triangle will be a huge influence in this one...
- A love triangle works best if the triangle exists because of world constraints (i.e. arranged marriages) or when the love triangle is not conscious of the main character. If the main character knows that two guys are totally obsessing over her (*cough*Twilight*cough*), then the love triangle doesn't work (at least for me) because then I feel that the main character is basically playing the other characters, stringing them along and soaking in the attention.
- When there are world constraints, a love triangle becomes believable. It also becomes a part of the plot--it's not an excuse for angst, but a driving force in the plot of the novel as a whole.
- When the main character is not conscious of the love triangle--and this must be done in a believable fashion so that the main character doesn't look gullible--then the love triangle is not essential to the plot, but does build on the characters. For example, in EYES LIKE STARS, Bertie's dismissal of Ariel and devotion to Nate is an essential part of her characterization--which leads to the plot twist when Bertie must turn to Ariel for help and Nate must pay the price.