A recent read has got me thinking about how three shows up in stories–specifically, stories centered around three lead characters. There are romantic triangles, of course, but I’m thinking of a different kind of triangle, of three people all connected by friendship, and with no more than one romantic tie.
Anton Chekhov said, “Let two people be the center of gravity in your story: he and she.” That’s a story that works well too–but sometimes those two people need a third. And sometimes it’s that third character who really steals the show! “He and She” are in some ways locked into their roles; they’re on a character-growth journey, or they have to be the moral center of the story, or they’re a reflection of the reader in order for said-reader to relate. The third character gets to break out of the mold, to be the comic relief, or the dashing rogue, or the morally ambiguous semi-ally.
Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series is a perfect example, with Percy, Annabelle, and the comedic Grover (my favorite character!) Harry Potter probably came to mind for everyone: Harry, Hermione and Ron, although Rowling shifted the romantic pairing away from the lead. I would argue it even applies to Star Wars, at least in A New Hope: it’s really Luke’s story, with Leia as the heroine and Han as the roguish third character.
Sometimes the third character is an animal sidekick. In Hero by Alethea Kontis, there’s heroine Saturday, hero Peregrine, and shape-shifting sidekick Betwixt (my favorite!) Or in my novel (although I didn’t think all of this through when I wrote it), there’s Jasper, Julie, and snarky, talking-cat Tom (who seems to garner the most fans…)
There are variations, of course. The weight of the story doesn’t always rest quite so neatly on two people, with a third in satellite. I’m thinking of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, with September as heroine and her two friends, A-through-L and Saturday. Mostly it tends to be male and female leads, with a male third character, but not always: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid focuses on the two title characters, with Etta as the third.
And then sometimes the third character becomes the lead character. I’m pretty sure Pirates of the Caribbean was supposed to be Will and Elizabeth’s story, but in true pirate fashion, Captain Jack Sparrow stole the movie.
I can’t ignore my favorite triumvirate either, of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Some would say (and the recent Star Trek movies suggest) that Kirk and Spock are the leads with McCoy as satellite–and as the irascible, possibly comedic character he has some of those trademarks…but nevertheless, I maintain absolutely that those three all have equal weight, and trends to the contrary represent a serious lack of understanding on the part of those currently running the franchise (not to get all soap-boxy about it or anything…)
Anyway…I find I really like this kind of character set-up. So now I’m eager to find more examples! What are some books or movies you’ve enjoyed that feature a Friendship Triangle? Who are your favorite Third Characters?
And if you’d like to read a book that accidentally followed this set-up, you can win a signed copy of my fairy tale retelling, The Wanderers! Just put #WanderersGiveAway in your comment to enter. Only open to the end of the month!