Six More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Employment

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Most characters in most settings have to make a living somehow, which generally means they’ve got a job. How important that job is or isn’t to the story is going to depend on the story, but if we’re spending a lot of point-of-view time with that character, we’re likely to see them on the job; even if we don’t, what their work is should have some kind of tangible impact on who they are. I can’t count the number of romances I’ve read where one or both of the leads has a profession but is never seen at work and never mentions it; or they work in such a generic office setting doing such generic tasks (if anything) that I have no idea what the company they work for actually does. And while I’m most familiar with the romance genre, that’s not the only culprit–how many movies have I seen over the years where I couldn’t tell you, after the movie ends, what any of the characters did for a living, despite being set in modern day, with adult characters?

(I can’t find the source again, but years ago I saw a quote about how, for a while, everyone in the movies was an ad executive, because it meant they made good money but had little responsibility. The implication being, they could do whatever or be wherever the plot needed them to do or be, and also, it was blanket permission to be smarmy, like you’d expect a Hollywood ad executive character to be. I really, really wish I remember the quote better so I could find it again and credit it properly.)

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve just seen a fantastic example of characters with jobs that matter: Steve and Robin slinging ice cream at the mall in Stranger Things 3. Steve needs the job because he’s not going to college. Robin’s reasons aren’t as clearly articulated, but it’s not unusual for kids to have summer jobs, so we can roll with that. Where they work places them both in a position to be involved with the plot as the season unfolds. Same for Nancy and Jonathan interning at the newspaper.

So, with all that in mind, here are some questions to consider when giving your characters a job, or not.

1. If they don’t work, is it by choice, or are they incapable for some reason such as disability, legal status, etc.? How do they support themselves otherwise?

2. Is this job their dream job, a step along the way to it, or completely unrelated? Do they even have a dream job?

3. What’s involved in the day-to-day work? Is it physically demanding? Mentally taxing? How much time does it take out of their day, and how do they feel when they’re done? Does this effect serve the larger story, or work against it?

4. How long have they been at this job? How did they get it? What sorts of privileges come with their position, if any?

5. Are any of the scenes of your story going to take place at that character’s job? If so, how many coworkers are likely to be there, and how many do you intend to utilize? Are they friends with your character, rivals, indifferent? How does their presence mesh with your story’s needs?

6. If nothing story-related is going to happen on the job, how much of the stress (or happiness, or satisfaction) from working does your character bring home at the end of the working day? How does it affect their mood? Does it affect their relationships, like if they work late constantly, are they missing dates or time with friends?

As usual, some or all of these questions, this advice, might not apply to your story. If you’re not working with a real-world setting, you’ve got world-building to do that’s going to include jobs, some of which might not exist yet. Or if you’re working in a historical setting, you’ve got research to do about what sorts of things people did in that place and era, again, jobs that might not exist anymore. In either case, some of my advice will still be relevant, but not everything. Use this as a jumping-off point to think about to make sure your story isn’t two incredibly bland office drones falling in love outside of work while I, your reader, am shouting internally, but what do they actually do all day?

5 More Writing Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Tattoos

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What comes to mind when you think of people with tattoos?

That answer is going to be different for everyone, but according to the bulk of the romance genre, the major types boil down to “bad boy” and “hippie/free-spirited girl.”

Authors, we can all do so much better than that. Tattoos are so often used as shorthand to make a character fall into a certain stereotype, but in reality, many people get tattoos for personal reasons that have nothing to do with fitting into one of those types. If you’re going to give a character tattoos, why not make them mean something? Why not use them to add depth to their character instead of pigeonholing them?

Now, in modern times, a tattoo is a completely voluntary thing that someone pays to have added permanently to their body. (If it’s not, none of my advice applies, and you’ll have a different sort of explaining to do–I’m not touching it here.) So the first question is:

  1. Would your character have a tattoo, and why or why not? “Why not” might not be relevant to the story if nobody’s going to have tattoos at all, but “why” definitely is, because somebody’s probably going to ask them, at some point, what the story is behind their art.
  2. Where is the tattoo? Generally visible to the public, partially hidden, completely hidden? How did they choose where it went? Does their line of work require no visible tattoos? Does their family have strong opinions? Or does the character simply consider it private?
  3. How willing are they to share the story behind the tattoo with other people? Do they tell one story to strangers and another to friends or lovers?
  4. Are any of their tattoos, if they have more than one, mistakes? Do they regret any of them? Have they had any removed, or wish they could?
  5. At this point in their life, would they get another one, and why or why not? What would it be, and how would that decision interact with the story?

6 More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Living Space

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Time to dig into wherever your characters call home! Whether or not it’s an actual setting in your story, knowing where your character sleeps at night can tell you a lot about them and provide important background for how they live.

As always, I’m using “they” to refer to a singular character of any gender.

  1. Do they live alone? With a significant other? A roommate or two or three? Are they living with family? And whatever the answer, are they satisfied with their circumstances, or would they rather live with (or without) someone else? Why?
  2. Where is their home? City, suburbs, country? How far is it from their job, the grocery, other important destinations? If there’s a commute, how do they travel, and how inconvenient is it for them?
  3. What is the physical building like? Old or new? Run-down or well-maintained? How big is it, and how much of that space is theirs? What interesting physical details make it different from other buildings in the neighborhood (if there are any?)
  4. Are they living where they want to be living? If not, why, and what are they doing to change that?
  5. How are they paying for their living space? Do they own or rent? Is someone else responsible for the bill? Are they living above or below their means?
  6. (For any given room in the place that’s actually used as a setting) How comfortable is this room? Why would they want to spend time there? What could be better? How clean is it kept?

It can be difficult to invent a whole structure out of thin air, or furnish a room without relying on places you, the author, have visited or lived in yourself. This is a great time to search online for reference images–I got the one here from Pixabay with the key words “apartment building;” originally I’d intended to use a more traditional high-rise, but I just love the coziness of small British towns, ever since I visited Nottingham.

And that’s another point to consider–if you’re writing in a real-world setting, the country definitely matters, both socially and structurally. You’re not going to find many American-style front-lawn neighborhoods anywhere in Europe, for example. So if you’re using an actual location as a setting, whether it’s direct or just inspiration, looking at images of that country/city will give you an idea where to start when answering these questions.

Good luck, and having fun building your characters their homes!

Let’s Talk About Tropes #7: Second-Chance Romance

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There’s a special place in my heart for a good second-chance romance story, but when this trope goes bad, it goes super-bad.

Why?

To answer that, let’s break down the basic elements:

#1 – Establishing the previous relationship and conflict

For the current story to qualify as a second chance, there needed to be a first one. Were the characters already dating/engaged/married? Was this a childhood sweetheart situation, all innocence and cuteness, but then they went off to different colleges? If the separating conflict is too serious (cheating, abuse, etc.) it may be hard to show the characters recovering from it believably. If the separating conflict is too weak or mundane, our beloved second-chance aspect of the new romance may feel shortchanged.

#2 – Reconnecting the characters

By far the most common one I’ve seen is for one character to move back to their hometown–second-chance romances are often paired with a Small Town Setting™ to up their charm factor. But that’s not the only option by any means. If the characters work in the same field or related ones, one of them could take a new job that puts them in the other’s sphere. They could run into each other randomly in a Big City Setting™; they could both attend the same important event, like the wedding of a mutual friend; they could stumble over each other on social media somehow. The Internet is a magical thing, after all.

But with all these viable options and more, why do so many seem forced? Well, because, to some degree, they are. If the point of the story is the romance (which it is, of course, to us romance authors) sometimes we’re more focused on getting the relationship going again than how the characters reconnect, which means we’ll slap any old reason on the face of it to put our two leads into each other’s faces. Take a little extra time to think through reasonable situations. Ask your friends where and how they’ve run into people they used to know, and what (if anything) came of it, whether the relationship is romantic or not. I mean, I ran into someone I had a crush on in junior high while we were both in line at the post office to send Christmas presents to our families. Absolutely nothing came of it–no number exchange, no attempt to contact each other again, I haven’t seen or heard from him since–but for a pair of fictional characters, that meeting could have had different consequences.

#3 – Layering old and new conflicts

Every romance has to have conflicts; the best question to ask is always “Why aren’t they together now?”

But second-chance romances have an extra layer to handle: resolving the old conflict somehow while maintaining new ones. Your leads aren’t the same people they used to be, no matter how familiar they may seem to each other–they’ve changed. What is it about how they’ve changed that means the unresolved conflict from their previous relationship can be overcome?

Sometimes I’m disappointed by the couples rekindling their flame too quickly, because they toss the old conflict out the window with barely a pause to breathe. Make sure the issue is given the weight and consideration it deserves (which will depend, of course, on how serious it was to begin with) before letting your couple fall into bed together.


So, my lovely readers, do you like second-chance romances? What is it about them you enjoy, and what pitfalls are you tired them falling into?

Let Me Tell You a Story #27: The Line That Changes Everything

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(Spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron, but for some of you, this is probably very old news.)

When I was in college, I took a creative writing seminar. The format was one three-hour class a week, and the dozen or so students in it wrote a short story for each session, printed copies for everyone, and passed them around to be read before the next session.

So every week, we produced a new story and got feedback on the previous one.

One of my classmates wrote this zany little plot about a guy who was paid to guard a billboard, one of the big ones you see on the highway. I don’t remember why–I think it was something controversial that had been vandalized previously so the organization hired him to guard it. In a way, the premise seemed preposterous, especially when the unmarked black helicopters showed up, but the tone of the piece was serious, very matter-of-fact. Overall, we all (professor included) considered it to be a strong story.

For our final assignment/exam, the last week of class, we were told to revise one of our previous stories instead of writing a new one, based on the feedback we’d received.

My classmate chose that particular story to revise and managed to make it worse, according to the professor, by adding one line of dialogue addressed to the main character, Mr. Billboard Bodyguard:

“You’re paranoid.”

I didn’t catch that, when I read the new version and put together my critique. I was woefully inexperienced at picking apart stories to see what made them tick, and as soon as the professor launched into what I can only describe as a diatribe, a light bulb burst in my brain. It can only take one line to ruin a story.

Having a character question the mental stability of the protagonist put the entire narrative in a different light, when the author clearly hadn’t meant it to. The unbelievable plot we were originally forced to accept by the serious tone of the piece, reporting everything as if it were fact, came completely unraveled by the suggestion of paranoia. The narrator became unreliable, so nothing could be viewed as real, which altered the fundamental intention of the story.

I hadn’t thought about this in years, and then, I watched Avengers: Age of Ultron. Which, on the whole, I thought was a decent movie. But I only saw it a few weeks ago–my husband and I have embarked on a project to watch all the MCU films in order, because I’d only seen a few, and out-of-order at that, so some of them made NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. When it came out, I did hear vague rumblings on the Internet about the movie’s treatment of Black Widow, but since I wanted to avoid spoiler territory, I didn’t know what, specifically, the issue was.

Comparing her forced sterilization to Bruce Banner’s Hulkitude, calling herself a monster? For shame, Joss Whedon (both director and screenwriter). For shame.

I see what the intention was, and I don’t entirely disagree with it. BW was trying to connect with Banner by revealing an aspect of herself, her body, that caused her emotional pain, that was outside of her control. On those levels, presented with that reasoning, there are parallels between her and the Hulk. It could have worked.

But simplifying all of that into a single line: “You still think you’re the only monster on the team?”

Directly equating an inability to have children with being a monster? Not cool, Joss Whedon. I see now why you lost some of that feminist street cred you were famous for (though arguably didn’t always deserve, even before this.)

Now, what that line did to her character doesn’t undermine the entire movie the way the line about paranoia did my classmate’s short story, but I hope my point comes through. These types of game-changers should be used sparingly and intentionally. If you want to throw the story on its head with a twist, go for it, but do it on purpose!

Because when something slips by you like that, it could be the line that ruins everything.

Writing Homework #7: Character Flaws From Life

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I’ve tried several different methods of character building before, and I always seem to struggle with flaws.

Lists of flaws are invaluable for ideas, but if that’s your only resource, they run the risk of being an a la carte menu that won’t add up to a whole person–the flaws you choose might not complement each other (absent-minded but fanatical?) or illogical given your characters’ strengths.

Writers always steal from life, from the people they know, and now it’s time to flex that muscle on flaws.

So, for the exercise, think of someone you know and an obvious flaw about them–something that annoys you or makes your life difficult in some way. Write up a short summary of how the flaw presents itself to you, then speculate on why they might be that way, if you can. (Yes, you’re playing armchair psychologist. Don’t attach their real names to their flaws, if that’s a concern.)

Finally, extrapolate from there how a character might present the same flaw in other ways.

An example of mine:

Nancy is a perpetual competitor. If I’m not feeling well, she’s sicker than I am, or she’s been sicker longer. If I tell a story about an awful teacher I had in school, she’ll dredge up a story about how one of hers was worse. If I mention I went out to dinner somewhere nice, she’ll counter with a restaurant she thinks is better, or some incredible home-cooked meal her husband made for her.

I can rarely say anything in her presence that she will not try to one-up in some way. She has to have the last word.

Why? Probably insecurity. For whatever reason, she feels she is less than others, and makes everything about herself to feel important. But that’s not the only possibility–it could also be a true case of self-absorption, that she doesn’t actually realize she’s competing with others, only that she thinks we’re all interested in whatever she has to say and it never occurs to her not to share.

One motivation skews in favor of self-knowledge, and the other is more passive. They’d both be interesting, believable flaws for a character, but let’s focus on insecurity.

How might that more basic flaw present itself in other behaviors?

Nancy never lets anyone have the last word, but she doesn’t express any insecurity physically: my character, let’s call her Jenny, might. She might always have to have the latest fashion, or wear the perfect makeup or hairdo, to never be seen at anything less than her best.

Going further down that train of thought, Jenny could have a host of different body-image issues, depending on her size relative to what she considers ideal: she could be too thin or too fat, too short or too tall, or it could be focused on a very specific body part, which she dresses to hide. If she does consider herself beautiful, she may over-value her physical aspect because she feels she has more looks than brains; or she may be the plain-Jane type who disregards her physical appearance because she knows she can get by on her brains, but secretly she wishes she were gorgeous. We’ve all seen that trope, but if you don’t resolve it with the Important Makeover That Changes Everything, then it’s still got plenty of potential.

At work, Jenny might be a perfectionist because she’s terrified any errors in her work will cost her the respect of her peers, or even the job itself. She would be deferential to her superiors, of course, but she might treat her subordinates high-handedly, projecting a confidence in her position she doesn’t truly feel.

In relationships, Jenny might come across as attention-seeking or clingy. She might rely on gifts to show her affection, because money has an assigned value that isn’t dependent on how she feels about herself. Jenny might be the type to bail on her friendships or romances when the going gets tough, because she doesn’t think she’s up for the challenge, or because she doesn’t think she deserves to be happy.

So, now,  you’ve got a whole host of potential character traits stemming from a single basic flaw. Not all of them would work together for a single character, and certainly a character with only one flaw wouldn’t be well-developed. But expressing the same central flaw in multiple ways gives a character more richness, more believability.

I know I’ve just made Jenny sound like a terrible, shallow person, but pair up her insecurity with some strengths (maybe she’s charitable, because she knows what its like to feel worthless, so she wants to help others; maybe she’s hilarious and entertaining, having developed a keen sense of humor as compensation for her fears about being unlikable)–she’ll feel real in no time.


Need to get caught up on your assignments?

5 More Prompts to Develop Your Characters: Stress

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A person who never suffers any kind of stress would be rare, and a fictional character, next to impossible. What drives interest in a story? Conflict. And with conflict comes stress.

Reactions to stress can be as simple as a single beer after dinner to mellow out from a hard day at work, or as complex and life-altering as self-destructive behaviors like drug abuse.

Both of those, and everything in between, provide tons of meat for your characters’ personalities.

So, let’s find out what sends our characters in search of their happy places.  As always, “they” = the character in question, regardless of gender.

  1. What do they find stressful? External sources, like work, politics, illness, family, trouble with a significant personal relationship, social obligations? Internal sources, like perfectionism or poor time management or forgetfulness?
  2. How to they react in the moment to a stressor? Physical reactions (flight-or-flight response, upset stomach, nervous tics, for example); internal/emotional reactions (anger, anxiety, or grinning and bearing it); or some combination of both? Do they react differently to different sources of stress?
  3. How aware are they of their stressors, and do they actively seek to avoid them?
  4. What do they do to wind down after becoming stressed?
  5. Are there any preventative measures they take to compensate in situations they expect to be stressed?

I hope I’ve given you a new angle to come at your characters, because while they might be reacting to the conflicts of the story, you shouldn’t be stressing about how they’re going to react.


Want more character development prompts?

Let’s Talk About Tropes #5: Stoicism

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The tough guy, who feels no physical pain, who never cries. We’ve seen him a thousand times in a thousand stories. He shrugs off bullets with “It’s just a flesh wound,” or shuts down rather than project any emotion but strength or confidence.

He’s boring. Worse than that, he’s harmful. Idolizing the stoic male figure tells boys they have to deny or hide their pain, and if they don’t, they should expect to be ridiculed. (Usually by being called a girl, or otherwise being compared to the “weaker” sex. Don’t get me started on that, it’s a fruitful but dangerous tangent that will quickly devolve into me ranting about how strongly gendered most common insults are.)

The first step down from the perfect stoic male is a common character archetype: tough guy in public, teddy bear in private. He’s popular, especially in genres aimed at women, like romance, because he’s pretty lovable–a wall of muscle who can protect the heroine from danger, but turn around and be sweet or cuddly when his guard is down. And that’s fine.

But why aren’t we going farther?

Here’s what I want you to think about, when you’re building your male characters. (And yes, a lot of this applies to women, too, but the stereotype definitely skews male. As for trans or non-binary characters, the pitfalls surrounding their gender identities are too deep for me to dive into as part of this trope examination, but you could certainly use some of these ideas as jumping off points for how they might relate what they feel about themselves to what society expects of them.)

  • Let your male characters feel the effects of physical pain. I’m not saying they can’t be influenced by the boys-don’t-cry expectations of Western society. They can certainly try to tough it out–but that has its own consequences. A runner who sprains his ankle might not give himself enough time to heal before hitting the pavement again, which could lead to a more serious injury. An office manager working through his terrible headache might slip up on some paperwork, which could lead to all sorts of dire situations, depending on the job and what he screwed up.
  • If he accepts the pain and alters his behavior, don’t let the other characters shit on him for it. Okay, no one likes covering for the coworker who goes home sick, but unless the guy’s boss has been established as a complete ass already, having his superior guilt-trip him is crass. Or if the character has to cancel a date, let his significant other believe him! Don’t make the other person assume he’s lying to get out of the date. (I hate that one in particular. Sometimes you just get sick, right?)
  • Let your male characters have, and express, emotional pain as well. Men cry. It happens. And it doesn’t always need to be the heart-wrenching, “something terrible has happened and I trust you so that makes it okay for you to see me cry” scene. And it doesn’t always have to be crying, either! Anxiety, frustration, snapping anger. They all work, too. And yes, the expectation is often that a man will try to hold himself together, try not to give in. But show the conflict. Let the reader see the struggle to stay composed, instead of pretending he was fine all along.

I’ve only scratched the surface of all the ways this character aspect could be approached, but I hope I’ve encouraged a little challenging of common assumptions. Pain makes characters relatable, and denying your male characters that aspect of their character won’t help anyone.

Love Songs are My Favorite: Inside the Music of WHAT WE NEED TO SURVIVE

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This article was originally a guest post @ In Desperate Need of Words. . .and Caffiene. With Valentine’s Day coming up, love songs have been on my mind…

Music has always been a huge part of my life.  Everyone in my family sings, and some of my earliest memories involve that—sitting between my parents in a church pew and hearing my dad’s booming baritone and my mother’s flawless sight-reading of the alto harmonies, listening to my brother singing along with the radio or spouting out random bits of song from school choir.  I started to sing along almost as soon as I was talking.

My elementary-school years were dominated by fantasies that someday, I’d be like Madonna or Janet Jackson, a huge pop star.  My teenage years were taken over by grunge and alternative, staying up late and listening to that new Smashing Pumpkins song just one more time before I really had to go to bed or I’d be a shambling zombie in class the next day.

I do my chores to music, I run to music, I turn off the sound in my video games sometimes because I’d rather listen to my favorite tunes.  A day when I don’t have a chance to listen to music is usually a bad day.

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that even my plague-ruined dystopian world still had to have music in it.

Paul, our romantic hero, used to be a musician, a singer-songwriter trying to make a name for himself with the power of his voice, his words, and his hands on the keys of a piano.  Even after the plague, he still carries a notebook with him to scratch down lyrics whenever he can, because his dreams of success may have died with the old world, but that doesn’t mean his passion is gone.

But, of course, I’m not actually the songwriter I made him out to be.  So, if you want some idea of the sort of songs I imagine him writing and performing, I give you the What We Need to Survive playlist.

(Spotify Playlist Link)

Thinking Out Loud – I’d started the book before I ever heard this song, and when it was constantly on the radio (which I didn’t mind a bit!) I couldn’t stop thinking about how this was Paul in a nutshell.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues – Paul’s a tenor who plays piano.  There was no way he wouldn’t know everything Elton John’s ever done.

Ever the Same – Another song that’s pretty on-the-nose for Paul’s tenderheartedness.

Annie’s Song – This is on the list because it’s hands-down one of the best love songs ever written.  He’d know it, he’d sing it.  In an early draft where I was actually including the songs he sang, he did.

An Innocent Man – What is true for Elton John is just as true for Billy Joel.  In his piano-bar days, Paul was probably playing “Piano Man” every night, but this is a better fit for his early troubles working his way into Nina’s heart.

Something in the Way She Moves – Okay, James Taylor is a guitar man, but still, you can be sure Paul knows all his songs.

Let Me Serenade You – This one’s self-explanatory, right?

All That I’m Asking For – Because nothing ever goes perfectly the first time.

Nightswimming – One of the most beautiful piano pieces I know.  The first time I heard this, I wished I knew how to play piano, just so I could learn it.

Better Than Love – Though I didn’t know it at the time, Griffin House is pretty close to how I imagined Paul’s voice.  (I started out thinking he sounded more like Jason Wade of Lifehouse, but then I heard this song, and I knew better.)

Something To Say – Toad the Wet Sprocket is reaching a little past the singer-songwriter groove, but the lyrics are spot-on for Paul’s willingness to listen just as much as he talks.

New York to California – Mat Kearney was another early candidate for Paul’s voice, and even if he didn’t win, I couldn’t pass up a song about devotion.


Interested?  Read the first chapter and find all the purchasing info here!

It’s Time to Talk About Tropes #3: Love Triangles

So many readers abhor love triangles in stories, and yet it’s an incredibly common trope.

Why?

We’re going to have to dig a little deeper on this one, compared to the easy fixes for long hair and glasses.

Why is the love-triangle trope so prevalent, particularly in romance and YA?

It’s an easy source of conflict.  Don’t have enough stumbling blocks between your heroine and her one true love? Time to shoehorn in another potential romantic interest.  Bonus points if he’s the dark, mysterious, brooding type, because portraying the second guy as a bad boy gives the heroine (and the readers) an excuse to swoon over him, without him really threatening Mr. Destiny’s chances to get the girl in the end.

It’s an easy way to make the heroine seem attractive without actually developing her personality.  Because she must be amazing if not one, but two men are attracted to, or in love, with her, right?

It’s an easy role to toss onto a character that isn’t doing much else.  Need an extra guy around for some plot point, for whatever reason, then we never have to see him again?  So why was he there at all?  Because he’s got the hots for the heroine, problem solved.

Okay, so here comes the tough love.  How can we, as writers, fix this?

First–do you really need a love triangle?  Deep down, at the heart of your story, is that the point?  Because if it is, it can be done, and it can be done well.  Your romantic lead can feel conflicted about choosing between two partners–that’s a story.  But if it’s not the story, then you probably don’t need it.  So just don’t do it.  Find another minor conflict to throw at your lovers instead of a third wheel.

Second–okay, so the story you want to tell really is a love triangle.  Make both choices equally compelling.  Don’t set it up from the start that Mary and Jim are meant to be together, but that Rick, woooo boy, isn’t he something.  Give equal development weight to both options.  Make their personalities different in ways that aren’t just nice-guy/bad-boy.  Give them different appealing qualities, and give them different flaws.  Maybe Mary is initially attracted to Jim because he never fails to make her laugh.  Rick isn’t nearly as witty, but then, he’s got an adventurous side that makes her want to stretch herself, to try new things.  On the downside, as hilarious as Jim is, he’s got anger issues he’d rather live with than address, and Rick’s so fun-loving he can’t always meet his responsibilities.

See?  Yeah, those are just quick sketches, not actual characters, but neither choice is perfect.  If I sat down to write that story, I don’t even know who Mary would end up with, because neither man is perfect–neither is obviously the right choice.  And that creates real tension.  The guy who wins her heart in the end could be the one who decides to work on his flaws, to be the better person for her, instead of dismiss them–and that could be either one.

Third–Don’t pit the two love interests against each other directly.  No fistfights, please! Again, that’s an easy source of conflict, but a lover isn’t a bone for two dogs to fight over. And if for some reason you just have to have that fistfight…make her disgusted with both of them for acting like angry boys instead of adults, or something.  Let’s not reinforce another horribly-handled trope, that women (and the love/sex that come with them) exist as the reward for men who prove themselves in some way.  Like winning the fight, ugh.

So that’s my take on what needs to happen for a love triangle not to make me rage and throw the book across the room.  I haven’t even come close to covering every angle, so chime in on what else can be done to save this trope from the trash-heap!