From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

T is for Three

Three has become my magic number.

There are all sorts of artistic studies that show how groupings of three are the most aesthetically appealing and I believe it. Not just in art, but in literature. Think how many stories involve the number three. The Three Little Pigs, Golidlocks and the Three Bears, The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

I don't know why, but structurally, three is a good number. If your protagonist succeeds on her second try then it may seem too easy, but if it takes four, you may have lost us. For some reason, three is the sweet spot.

The number three has helped me in a lot of my plotting troubles. Although the normal story structure is to have one climax that you're building to, I have found it helpful in this novel to think of it more as the third step in a series of events. Still building up to that big scene, but providing stepping stones along the way.

It has also helped with some of my own problem areas. In my first novel a common bit of critique was about wanting more explicit emotion. I tend towards the sparse side of that spectrum. I don't like it when people spend paragraphs using cliche to describe their characters emotion. So, I developed for myself the rule of three for emotion. When there is something my character is feeling that the reader needs to understand, I try and express it three different ways. For example, a metaphor, a physical thing, and maybe something more explicit. That sounds very formulaic and obviously its not like I take a ruler for all my characters emotional reactions. However, it does help when I feel stuck, wondering how to get something across.

Thoughts? Do you agree that three is a magic number that can help you out of stuck places?



  1. My mother was born on 3/3/1933 at 3:33 in the morning.

  2. 3 is an awesome number. It's my husband's default answer whenever a number is required. Maybe there's some genius to it, eh?

  3. In fairy tales, the numbers 3, 7, and 12 are magic numbers. Three is the best.

  4. Three makes a triangle and that is a great way to create tension in your writing!

  5. Oh wow, I like the three emotion rule : )

  6. 1 is too little, 2 is just not enough so 3 is good, it's great. also, it seems certain things just happens in 3's. I like your 3 rules. it sounds reasonable.

    hope you have a sweet day.


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