Side-Stepping the Triangle: Why I Write Non-Monogamous Characters

This week we welcome a guest post by the wonderful BR Sanders covering the all important topic of the Love Triangle. Nothing like a little conflict to keep a book interesting. Thanks for stopping by Wordwraiths.com! 

Love triangles are a staple of narrative fiction. In books, in films, on TV–they are everywhere you look. The reason this is such a popular narrative device is because the love triangle forces a choice. The person at the center of it is a source of conflict, and conflict inherently drives a story forward. The reader races through the pages dying to know who the person in the middle will pick–suitor A or suitor B. A good love triangle sweeps you up and leaves you waiting on tenterhooks for the outcome.

But I tend to avoid writing love triangles, personally. Partly because there are plenty of love triangles out there already, and partly because I like to mine conflict from other areas of romantic relationships. But mostly because I write secondary world fantasy, and one reason I write that particular kind of fantasy is so that I can question things we take for granted. And in the case of love triangles, one thing I question is this idea that we might have to choose between one person and another. Why not have both? Why not a canonical OT3?

In my novel Ariah, this is pretty much exactly what happens. There is Ariah, the titular character. There is Sorcha, a man who loves him, and there is Shayat, a woman who loves him. And he loves them both. Typically this would be a love triangle set up. But it didn’t go that way.

Ariah and Shayat come from a background with similar expectation as our own culture–heterosexuality is normative, as is monogamy. But Sorcha doesn’t. He was raised in a family and setting where queerness and non-monogamy is acceptable. His understanding of what love and family look like is different. Ariah has seen it first hand; he’s seen it work. The tension in the story is not derived from who he’s going to pick–it’s which culture he will align himself with. Is he going to go back to his roots? Will he pick a life with Shayat, with whom he has at least the appearance of a straight relationship? Or will he choose both of them, aligning himself with a foreign culture that he’s seen can work?

Ariah, Sorcha, and Shayat represent a non-monogamous and queer triad that is functional. And happy! People like that exist in real life, and they deserve to see themselves reflected in fiction. Each of them have their reasons why this relationship model works for them. For Sorcha, this fits with how he was raised; monogamy chafes his expectations. For Ariah, relationships are complicated, period. You’ll have to read the book to see why (it’s to do with magic). For Shayat, there are practical concerns. She runs caravans; she’s gone half the time. She doesn’t want someone pining after her when she’s not there, and she wants to be free to do what she wants when she’s not with her partners, so an open relationship works for her. Sorcha and Ariah are a perfect match for her.  

Plenty more happens in the story after the three of them decide to set up a life together. I’m not completely spoiling the book for you. But this is to say that there are ways to side-step the ever-present love triangle. There are ways to tweak it and subvert it. I chose this particular way because it felt true to the characters, but also because it felt true to me. I live in a triad. I am raising a kid with two co-parents, and it’s frustrating to so rarely see households like ours reflected in fiction.

When we talk about diversity in literature and the importance of diverse creators, this is often what it comes to: we write ourselves into books. Writers from the margins are key to bringing authentic marginalized experiences to light. And my experience has been that sometimes you don’t have to pick. Sometimes you can create a new kind of family. What was especially rewarding for me, as a writer, was creating Sorcha’s culture where that new kind of family was normative.

About the Author:

Pronouns: they/them/their. B R Sanders is a white, genderqueer writer who lives and works in Denver, CO, with their family and two cats. Outside of writing, B has worked as a research psychologist, a labor organizer and a K-12 public education data specialist. Stay in touch with B with their newsletter, at their blog, over on facebook or follow them on twitter @B_R_Sanders.

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