Fantastic Four


The “fantastic four” as perhaps you’ve never seen them. They’re willing to fight crime. But I’m not sure how effective they will be at it.

When I asked a friend the other day for advice on my WIP, she reminded me of the rule of three. What’s that? Wikipedia says:

The rule of three or power 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.

Perhaps that accounts for the large volume of trilogies out there. And nursery rhymes, folktales, films, and books like:

• “The Three Little Pigs”
• “Three Billy Goats Gruff”
• “Three Blind Mice”
• “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”
• The Three Investigators series

The Three Musketeers (Dumas)
Three Times Lucky (Turnage)
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time (Mortenson)

Three the Hard Way (1974 film)
¡Three Amigos! (1986 film)

But I think we’ve all been disappointed by a trilogy or two at some point, haven’t we? Maybe the first two books or movies were good. Yet the disappointment we felt at the close of the third—the crucial one—made us wish we’d never started the series in the first place.

Still, I’ve enjoyed stories with the rule of three firmly in place. Aladdin had three wishes. Macbeth consulted three witches. Cerberus had three heads. Three princes set out on a quest to free an enchanted princess.


Um, this does not count as the rule of 3. But it’s fun all the same.

Though I appreciate the rule of three, I’m partial to the number four for a number of reasons. As a kid, I read the Fantastic Four comic books. (Yes, I’m looking forward to the reboot of the movie franchise.) I was born in the fourth month. I enjoyed The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle. A four-book series of mine was published ages ago. (Now out of print. That’s the downside of publishing, kids. Stay in school. Don’t do drugs.) The character Four (below left) in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth is hot. And though we usually associate three ghosts with Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, he actually talked to four ghosts, if you count Jacob Marley. But Dickens followed the rule of three with the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future.

Theo-James-as-Four 608474

fantastic-four-comic-200 5338

Yet as fantastic as four is, I can’t say I’ve deliberately put four of anything in a book with the view of making it funnier or more satisfactory. I’m hesitant to do so unless I’m certain that what I’ve added is organic to the story, and not just a plot device. Because that’s the thing about rules sometimes, isn’t it? Sometimes, they’re just gimmicks that get in the way.


Here’s where I confess that I’m toying with the idea of adding a fourth main character  to a young adult novel I started last year. I had hopes of making it work with three perspectives. The rule of three, you see. Months ago, I put that project down in favor of the one I’m working on now. But a fourth character’s perspective keeps coming to mind, one begging to be explored. Who knows? Four might be the charm.

Do you follow a rule in your writing? If so, how has a writing rule enhanced your story?

In honor of four, here’s “The Four-Legged Zoo”—a Schoolhouse Rock video:

Christmas Carol scene from Book covers from Goodreads. Number 4 from Rules of Anime 3 from Fantastic Four comic from “Fantastic four” photo by L. Marie.

38 thoughts on “Fantastic Four

  1. Well if a POV keeps suggesting itself to you, it’s probably going to make a good addition to your story. I always find that my subconscious knows much better than I do what needs to happen to my writing.
    The one thing I do always do is search for the quirk in my character. Until I find it, I can’t write a character well. It doesn’t have to be a big or noticeable quirk, and it doesn’t have to necessarily feature in the story, but I need to know it’s there for me to feel like I ‘get’ my character.

  2. Odd thing is that reading this made me see how ‘4’ is used for serious stuff and ‘3’ is used for comedy. Though you do have the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers (4 when Zeppo was around). I do seem to have trouble with 3’s for some reason. Chapters and books that are multiples of 3 tend to give me the most trouble. I think because there HAS to be something big that happens there. 1 is a set up, 2 is a continuation to lock a person in, and 3 is where you need to hit the high note. Maybe that’s why some trilogies fail. They hit the high note too early or miss it entirely. I’ve heard ‘things’ about the last Hunger Games book.

    By the way, can your friend explain the Rule of 3 to Seth McFarlane? The man doesn’t know it and his habit of pushing Family Guy jokes far beyond the point of funny makes me want to hit my copy of Hellboy 2. I won’t since Ron Perlman is awesome, but the thought is there.

    • Ha ha! So true about Seth. I know what you mean though. (I also have a copy of Hellboy 2.) And you’re absolutely dead on about the need for three to hit the high note. That’s why I doubt I’ll ever write a trilogy. Usually, I think of plot enough for one or two books.

      Yet the Avatar series managed to keep getting more and more awesome as it went into its third season! This is a textbook example of how to finish well.

      I neglected to mention that the Twilight series had four books. I didn’t want to bring that up since the series is so polarizing. You brought up a good point about four being used for serious stuff. Now I need to investigate that. The book I want to return to is even more serious than its predecessor. The fourth character I’m contemplating has a sad part to play in the story.

      • There’s also the Star Wars trilogy and the Lord of the Rings books. 3 does seem to be a magic number, but maybe a higher interest in TV and movies has reduced its usage. People want stuff to keep going. Hence, you get so many Terminator movies that continuity is an evil word to the franchise.

      • I liked the original Star Wars trilogy and the LOTR. But I liked only the first two Terminator movies. I hope the new one is good.

        I can’t help thinking of The Matrix. I only liked the first movie.

      • Most people are like that on the Matrix, so you’re not alone. I was ‘meh’ on the 3rd Terminator. Not holding much hope for the new one. Arnold being back will be great (there’s a video of him pretending to be his wax statue for charity, which is hilarious), but I’m not sure about the story.

      • I avoided the Terminator trailer that everyone was saying showed too much. YouTube forces you to watch those teasers whenever a video comes on. They show the same one with Arnold. My expectations are at basement level for this movie!

      • Yeah. They definitely put a bit too much in there. I think it shows that they don’t have faith in the movie. Showing Arnold is understandable since he’s a main character, but they reveal major plot twists.

      • I’m surprised they made another one, especially with so many blockbusters debuting this summer. But summer is the time for it, I guess.

  3. I try to follow the rules, but it seems for every rule out there, a successful writer has broken it. I try to go with what works for the story, but I still stick close to the ‘rule book’ for now.

    • I’ve also noticed, Carrie, how many writers break the rules and get away with it. I’m reminded of a guy who lectured at my school. He was a classically trained artist who illustrated children’s books. He said he first had to learn to draw well to prove that he could. Once he became great at that, he was able to relax enough to break rules.

  4. I try to follow the rules. It seems to be a must if you want to go the traditional publishing route. When journaling, I break all of the rules. 🙂

    • I constantly break rules, sometimes because I forget there are rules. 😀 But in journaling you can do whatever you like!

  5. Nothing wrong with 4! That is my favorite number! I love how even and symmetrical it is. LOL. I didn’t realize how many things of 3s there were until you pointed them out. You go for your 4th character, girl! 🙂

  6. The rule of threes seems to be all over the place. Even down to the sentence level. I may follow some of these, but not too consciously. Good to have in your back pocket.

    • It is pretty universal! We might not be conscious of it. But it’s prevalent in fairy tales.

      By the way, I really enjoyed your story excerpt.

  7. I like the rule of three in the details of writing. Like a waltz, a three-part description has a pleasant rhythm. A three-act play has a nice symmetry. In painting, three of anything is easier to work with than four. Four is too balanced, as though you’re working with a square, each side equal. I prefer informal balance. I don’t know if any of this applies to the number of books in a series.

    • The rule of three is so integral to society. I think of triptychs, which are lovely. Four is pretty balanced.
      I’m a fan of the duology and the tetralogy, though I realize I might be in the minority on that.

  8. In Chinese art, four painting, one for each of the four seasons is very popular.

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