From Scarlett O’Hara to Sookie Stackhouse: A Look at Love Triangles and Hero Choices

Hello all you wonderful readers at Cocktails and Books!  Given my penchant for curling up with a dirty martini and a fat historical novel…or a spicy contemporary romance…or some mind-bending science fiction, I feel as though I fit right in here. J

Given the obscenely early hour as I write this blog, let’s make my cocktail of choice a Mimosa.  Champagne seems appropriate, because I’m celebrating the July 2 release of my epic medieval romance, By Royal Command (Harlequin/Carina).  Set in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest, it’s the story of a daughter of royalty who must choose between the Devil’s minion and a would-be bishop to save the English throne.  Two brothers, one woman, three hearts at war—a medieval love triangle.

Although love triangles appear in many of the classic historical romances I read growing up, I haven’t seen as many in recent years on the page, although they remain very popular both in cinema and television.  In fact, I learned a lot about writing love triangles from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and Charlaine Harris’s True Blood series. 

Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind

In this Civil War-set classic, Southern belle-turned-businesswoman Scarlett O’Hara stands up against invading Yankees, rapacious Carpetbaggers, crushing poverty and the ostracism of her conservative Confederate neighbors.  Yet this strong, dynamic heroine can’t stop pining for scholarly gentleman Ashley Wilkes, who is virtuously married to bluestocking Melanie.  But he’s not above a few searing kisses for Scarlett that keep her dreaming of him for eleven years.  Ashley is so obviously not the right hero for this fiery heroine.  This reserved, suffers-in-silence gentleman-scholar lacks the backbone, determination to survive, and passion for living that animate Scarlett.  For her part, she hasn’t an intellectual bone in her body, and Ashley’s constant prosing on about Gotterdammerung and the end of civilization bores her silly.

I would argue that Scarlett’s childish obsession with Ashley is linked to her immaturity as a woman.  As she progresses through her character arc from spoiled child to powerful defender of her home and family, the elegant Mr. Wilkes very gradually begins to lose his fascination for her. 

Meanwhile, Scarlett’s willful blindness to the roguish charm and sexual allure of blockade runner Rhett Butler, so obviously her perfect match, is guaranteed to frustrate any reader.  Rhett is clever, canny, sexual, sophisticated, wealthy and amoral, though he is capable of being moved by suffering and sacrifice—as when he turns his back on his lucrative smuggling career to enlist in the faltering Confederate Army for honor’s sake.  Stunningly portrayed by Clark Gable, he’s every woman’s dream…yet the immature Scarlett is indifferent to his charms.  It’s only when Melanie’s death forces character growth in Scarlett that her eyes are opened to her love for Rhett—just in time to see him abandon her and vanish into the fog.  She’s taken too long to see the light, and he’s finally given up on her.  Frankly, my dear, he no longer gives a damn.

Reading and watching Gone with the Wind a ridiculous number of times helped me understand the critical connection between the heroine’s character arc and her hero choice.  As the heroine grows, her feelings for both heroes evolve.  Indeed, the heroine’s choice (for Scarlett, the discovery of her love for Rhett and her decision to win him back) illustrates and externalizes her growth.

Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood

From the classic to the contemporary, from the silver screen to the TV screen, let’s take a look at Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse stories.  First, a disclaimer:  I love this stuff!  But as a writer on constant deadline, I’ve only read the first three so far, and I’m in the middle of watching Season 3 on Netflix.  So I’m working from a partial storyline, with the strong inkling that vampires Bill and Eric are about to be replaced by werewolf Alcide in Sookie’s affection, making True Blood a love quadrangle. 

Nonetheless, the connection between character arc and hero choice holds true.  When we meet Sookie, she’s a naïve, virginal cocktail waitress in rural Louisiana—a bit of a local misfit because her telepathic abilities make people think she’s nuts.  She’s ripe to be swept off her feet by gentlemanly Civil War-era vampire Bill Compton, the knight in shining armor who saves her from a brutal attack.  Romance blossoms between them, and the two fall in love.  But it’s Sookie’s eventual disillusionment with Bill, in light of his questionable motives and some negative developments in his own character, that spurs her growth.  The gradual discovery of her Faerie origins and the flowering of her psychic abilities both contribute to her character arc, serving as external manifestations of these inner changes.

A bit warier and worldlier, Sookie draws back from Bill and grows increasingly intrigued with Viking-era vampire Eric, a darker and less courtly hero.  Interestingly, Eric is also less human.  His brief human lifetime occurred a millennium ago.  Eric is older and physically stronger than Bill; he manifests inhuman, almost godlike qualities like the ability to fly.  And he is largely devoid of human conscience or morality, though he too is capable of strong attachment and deep loyalty.  Sookie wouldn’t have been ready for this hero when the series opened, but by Season Three, the couple works. 

In addition, Eric’s amnesia in Season Three, his childlike naivete and relative helplessness permit a “softening” of his character.  Sookie becomes his protector during this vulnerable period—in essence, the two exchange roles.  When she gives herself sexually to Eric, Sookie’s choice is a milestone in her own growth.

Lady Katrin of Courtenay in By Royal Command

This connection between character growth and hero choice was an insight I wanted to explore in my own medieval romance.  My courageous heroine, Lady Katrin of Courtenay, is an exiled royal struggling alone to hold her northern lands against the invading Danes.  The willful widow believes that she must be subtle to survive, and that manipulation and deceit are a woman’s only weapons.

When her ruthless uncle the King of England sends a Viking warrior of rough edges but unbending integrity to escort Katrin to a marriage she’ll do anything to prevent, she seeks to manipulate and seduce him from his duty—but falls in love with him instead.  For Eomond, the world is black-and-white, and he’ll always choose the honorable course.  For the youthful Katrin, Eomond’s directness and lack of complexity are appealing.  So is his strong sword arm.

Then Katrin encounters her reluctant bridegroom, Rafael le Senay:  a brilliant and enigmatic would-be bishop with a tortured past who harbors ambitions for the papal throne.  Rafael is subtle, secretive, powerfully ambitious and morally complex, a perfect match for Katrin—although she erroneously believes this foreign-reared scholar will have little appetite for her bed.  In order to discern her heart’s desire and make her own hero choice, Katrin must learn her own hard lessons about desire and loyalty, love and honor, damnation and redemption.

Free Extended Excerpt of By Royal Command

Interested in reading more about the Katrin-Eomond-Rafael love triangle?  You can read an excerpt here:  

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Happy reading!


First published on Cocktails and Books website


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