I am not a fan of love triangles. I think it's hard to believe a character is in love if he or she has spent half the film or book in love with someone else.
But I've been noticing that Jane Austen uses love triangles in her books, and most of the time, I never doubt the characters’ love for each other at the end. How does she do it?
Here are some patterns I see:
(Sense and Sensibility): Elinor and Edward are in love with each other, but Edward is trapped by a foolish match he made when he didn’t know any better. The tension comes from will he be honorable and stick to his engagement or be with his true love? When the engagement is broken, and he finally is free, we feel their joy.
(Pride and Prejudice): Elizabeth is misguided in her preference for Wickham. He flatters her and seems more “open.” The fact that she is even interested in him is an illustration of her character flaw, her extreme prejudice. When Elizabeth changes, she sees Darcy’s good attributes and falls deeply in love. At the end of P & P, you have no doubt that Wickham was a passing fancy, but Darcy was the real thing.
Pretending to be in love to make the person you really love jealous:
(Persuasion): Captain Wentworth flirts with Louisa and seems to be on the point of marrying her , but really this is his reaction to how hurt he is by Anne. Once he forgives Anne, we see his true feelings. He never loved Louisa, and so that makes his love for Anne all the stronger.
Granted, many of the plot points in Austen’s work wouldn’t work for modern readers, but the way she uses love triangles—not as vying between two equal loves—but as illustrating how the person truly loves the “right” person is really effective. It’s why we return to Austen again and again.
Maybe it’s not whether you do a love triangle, but how you do it.