Today I'm thinking about conflict, and classic triangles. The classic character triangle gives writers fertile conflict. We can play characters off each other, in a wide number of combinations. In our own lives, we find triangles between real people every day. My favorite, the mother-in-law, husband, wife triangle. But I digress.
Common triangles in literature include the love triangle, the hero-sidekick-villain, or the hero-sidekick-mentor. What other triangles are out there?
One of my favorites is the Hero-Sidekick-Villain. I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Was there ever a better hero-sidekick? Maybe it's the new Sherlock Holmes movie, complete with Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law that makes this dynamic duo so easy to recall. Holmes was always in the lead, but Watson never let him down. Dr. Moriarty served as the ultimate villain, a mysterious presence.
A more recent trio comes to us from the Hunger Games, with Katniss, Peeta and their mentor Haymitch. Katniss and Peeta are rivals until their survival depends on each other. Haymitch is a wounded mentor, a man that never reveals the true price of participating in the Hunger Games until the end of the journey. Is this an example of the Heroine-Sidekick-Mentor trio?
Another recent trio, more lighthearted, can be found in Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, with Stephanie, Morelli, and Ranger. This trio plays both sides of the street with professional danger and romantic tension. I often wonder how long Stephanie can go back and forth between Morelli and Ranger without choosing, yet the audience seems to enjoy the indecision and prolonged sexual tension. Sixteen books and counting. Has any other trio been so frustrated?
I'm thinking about trios and triangles as I contemplate my next project. Are there other classic triangles that give mystery writers a great example of archetypes for the story? Do you recognize a triangle when you see it early in a novel? What about novels that don't have a triangle, but instead rely on the duo structure? Like Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series. Or what about the stories with four characters involved in the mix, like Star Trek (with Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scottie)?
More and more, I find myself drawn to the trio, but don't know why. Could it be that the classic triangle has a power I don't recognize? Could it be the pyramids? Who knows. One thing is certain. The classic conflict triangle gives me the structure I need to create great conflict. The recipe : three characters, each with a conflicting agendas, and a willingness to say what polite people will not.
So what impolite, politically incorrect thing do the folks in your triangles say?