Guest Post: The Love Triangle as a Complete Circuit By K.C. York
In electrical science, a “complete circuit” refers to the flow of electrons from the source (a battery) to the load (bulb in a flashlight) and then back to the source.
That seems like a very heavy-handed way to start a blog post about writing a romance novel, but think about it in terms of the traditional “love triangle”, where one person is in love with/loved by two others, and must choose between them. Some of the greatest romance stories of all time feature this particular trope, and it remains popular in books and cinema to this day.
But what if the three points were a complete circuit? What if the main heroine falls in love with the two men who are both in love with her and also each other?
For me, this always made so much more sense. Why should one person be devastated (the one not chosen) and the heroine left with only half of what she wants? Even as a young girl watching Casablanca, I remember asking mother why Ilsa (Ingrid Berman’s character) had to choose. Couldn’t Rick and Victor fall in love too? They all seemed pretty well matched to me. (…as you might guess, I grew up in a fairly liberated household!)
That sentiment never left me, and at a much older age I discovered the concept of polyamory. While I, personally, have not been in a polyamorous relationship, it has a very romantic appeal to me, much stronger than most monogamy-based plotlines. Some of that was directed into my love of “slash” fanfic, where the romantic relationship is between two men. Still, I often returned to the idea of a “love triangle” where three people fall in love with each other.
When I sat down to write my book Wolves of Harmony Heights, I decided to do it differently. It has a love triangle in it, but unlike a lot (most?) books with a romance centered on a strong female character and the two attractive, single, and desirable men pursuing her, my book ends up with all three of them together in a polyamorous relationship.
That’s right: together. They are a closed circuit of three points.
This was a bit of a risk, as there are not a lot of romance books with this kind of polyamorous relationship as the focus. It’s popular in erotica, but not quite as popular in romance. Even in erotica, though, it is usually more of a “V” where the woman is in the center, and she has two men, but the men only each have access to (and desire for) her. She is always between the men, figuratively and literally, and there is absolutely no man-on-man action in those stories. Often when you see “threesome” or “ménage” listed on a book’s description, this is what is meant unless accompanied by tags such as “bisexual” or “M/M/F” (M/M/F means male/male/female).
What I wanted to write, on the other hand, was a story where the three characters are all wrapped up together in all the ways that matter, a closed circuit. It is actually pretty rare to find a book like this in the romance section.
The question is whether that’s because people don’t want to read it, or because it’s an underserved market?
I don’t have an answer for that.
But, I also don’t care. This is the kind of story I’ve been wanting to read for most of my life. I’ve longed to see the romantic fantasies I harbor reflected in the books and movies I enjoy. I know it’s still considered a “kink” or a “fringe lifestyle” by the majority of people, but again: don’t care.
Of course when writing Wolves of Harmony Heights, I had my self-doubts. I was writing a massive, long story about a single mother and her bi-racial son and her estranged father and a small town with a long, secret history involving werewolves and witches. It’s a romance story, no question, but it is so much more than that, and I worried that readers would not become absorbed in the world building if they were turned off by the closed-circuit love triangle.
I also had to decide how to handle the polygamy as a relationship option – would the characters themselves be shocked and appalled at first? I think it’s a cliché of queer literature to drag out the “self-realization/coming out” story, and while that can make for incredibly powerful storytelling, I did not want my book to be about the characters discovering polyamory. I wanted to be simply an option on the table, one of many.
That, to me, makes the story much more radical. While the characters know that getting into a long-term threesome romance with each other is unusual, there is very little quandary and self-doubt about it. In fact, the bisexuality of the men is treated with less drama than the fact that witches are a thing that exists (in the book, anyway!). This is not something that is common at all, in polyamorous stories, especially ones set in a “contemporary” time and place. It’s easy to make polyamory a common and socially accepted option when your story is set 200 years in the future, but I did not want my characters to wait that long.
In a lot of ways depictions of successful/happy polyamorous relationships is behind the queer curve, but it’s catching up fast. It took decades for gay fiction to move past the often depressing and tragic “stuck in the closet” storyline, and then a few more years to get beyond the “every story is a dramatic coming out story” theme to the point where a story could simply be about queer characters falling in love or solving mysteries or coming of age.
I’m hopscotching over both those earlier eras in regards to polyamory, with “being in the closet” not even considered by the characters and with no explosive coming out drama in the plot anywhere. The romantic plot line is about whether these three people believe they can make a go of it together, and what that would mean in the context of the story’s main plot which is a deadly conflict between werewolves and witches. There is some discussion of it being an unusual option, but at no point does anyone believe it is an impossible option.
I think it’s possible I created a much larger story arc than I originally intended simply in order to make the eventual threesome more organic – perhaps in the hope that people would become so engrossed in the story of the family at the heart of the novel that they could suspend any disbelief they have over the polyamory. Which, I think, says a lot about the tenor of social acceptance of it at this point in time: I was not at all concerned about whether readers could suspend disbelief enough to enjoy reading about magical witches, werewolves, and a baba-yaga, but polyamory? That I needed to set up very carefully to be believable!
I’m happy with the result, and I hope readers are too. I doubt that Wolves of Harmony Heights will be my last polyamorous romance story, and I not-so-secretly hope it is part of a growing niche.
Wolves of Harmony Heights is now available on Amazon.