Hope you had a joyous Easter!
Before the snow I wrote about in a previous post came and went like a drive-by shooter, a friend’s mom gave me these from her garden:
Pretty, huh? But would you say this arrangement is more satisfying than it would have been had there been only two daffodils?
The rule of Three is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. (Wikipedia)
Want some more on that? Here you go:
The Latin phrase, “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete) conveys the same idea as the rule of three. (Wikipedia again)
You’ve seen this rule played out in literature: for example, stories have a beginning, middle, and an end; the three-act structure of a work (setup, confrontation, and resolution); three tasks someone has to perform in fairy tales; stories from the Brothers Grimm like “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes,” “The Water of Life,” and others involving three characters in specific situations (usually a quest); “God in three persons” (from the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy”); and trilogies like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell and many others.
How many duologies have you read? Probably not many, right? I can only think of a few duologies off the top of my head: one by Sherwood Smith, another by Robin McKinley (I’m still waiting on the second book of McKinley’s duology to debut), and a third by Juliet Marillier. (See, the rule of three still comes into play, even in a discussion of authors of duologies.)
Many series I’ve read involve an uneven number of books, namely three, five, or seven books. Some dare to be even-numbered series, like Stephenie Meyer’s four-book Twilight series. But three is the popular choice.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why I’ve chosen to write a duology, rather than a trilogy. I know. I’m violating the rule. Though I haven’t yet written the second book, the story arc as planned seems complete not with three books or five, but two.
Sorry, trilogy lovers. I can’t stretch the story over three books just to satisfy a rule. If I might borrow the words of Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring (though he referred to himself), the story would
Feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. (Tolkien 54)
See what I mean? Bilbo understands.
My hat is off to the many, many writers who can pull off three good books. I’m not one of those writers. That’s why I’m glad to know that good things also come in twos. Think about it: two arms, two legs, two eyes. Do you feel incomplete because you lack a third eye or a third hand? My guess is, you don’t.
Are you a firm believer in the Rule of Three? Would you prefer to write a trilogy or a duology? What is your favorite trilogy? Duology? Sandwich? (I threw in the latter to see if you were paying attention.)
To show that there are no hard feelings between me and the number three, check out this Schoolhouse Rock video, “Three Is a Magic Number.”
Another good post on the Rule of Three: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RuleOfThree
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Ballantine Books, 1955. Print.
Numbers 2 and 3 images from iconarchive.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins photo from middle-earthencyclopedia.