Fantastic Four

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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

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 iam2.org. Book covers from Goodreads. Number 4 from raggedglories.blogspot.com. Rules of Anime 3 from gabriellevalentine.synthasite.com. Fantastic Four comic from comicmegastore.com. “Fantastic four” photo by L. Marie.

Is There a Perceived Age Limit for YA Authors?

I hope you had a pleasant St. Patrick’s Day. Though I’m not Irish by any stretch of the imagination, I celebrated with some friends who throw a fabulous party every year.

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Jordie mistakenly believes that the wearing of the green means this.

Moving on, last week I had an eye-opening conversation with a teen. I’ll call her Sarah, though that isn’t her name. We started off talking about Veronica Roth’s announcement on Twitter concerning her new book contract. If you have no idea who Veronica Roth is, I’ll tell you. She’s the author of the Divergent trilogy, a young adult dystopian series. A movie adaptation of book 2, Insurgent, will premiere on Friday, March 20.

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When Sarah asked what type of book Roth would write, I shrugged, having only read the Twitter announcement, which was understandably succinct. Here’s how part of the conversation went.

Me: What if the new series is for adults? Some YA writers go in that direction once they have a successful series under their belt.
Sarah (frowning): She’s still in her 20s, right?
Me: (shrugging; remembering back to the time when I saw Roth at Anderson’s Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Naperville): I guess.
Sarah: Well, she should write YA.

We continued talking about the issue until Sarah’s brother asked me which videogames I’m looking forward to this year. But I couldn’t help reflecting on whether or not other teens had a perceived age limit for young adult authors. I’ve written young adult fiction. While I won’t tell you how old I am, I can say that I was in my 20s when Noah got the call to build the ark. Does that mean I shouldn’t write YA novels if I’m not in my 20s or even early 30s? (And yes, I could keep going higher up the age chain.)

Perhaps the question sounds ridiculous to you in light of authors you know who are “seasoned” in age, yet write YA novels. But some teens, as Sarah proved, have definite assumptions about age. I think she would be surprised to learn that the average age of the people in my grad school program, writing for children and young adults, was well above 30.

Oddly enough, when I was in my 20s, I tried my hand at writing adult fiction—the result of being told that “real” writers wrote adult fiction. I failed miserably at it, but at least had entertained myself for a time.

f1f21692fb02f3442735a930b8b09539A friend and I started writing YA fiction when we were 14 and 13 respectively—the result of reading a boatload of outdated books from the 1950s at our local branch library. (That library really needed some new books.) The stories involved people “going steady” while hanging out at the “soda shop” and listening to records on the “jukebox.” Never mind the fact that neither of us had seen any of those things outside of an Archie comic book. So those stories weren’t realistic. Actually, they were closer to parodies than anything else.

Since we also were heavily influenced by Harlequin romance books, we wrote novels with adult protagonists also. We made sure that we included first-kiss scenes that took place around page 106 in our handwritten novels and a betrayal three quarters of the way through the story, as per the formula.

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Old Harlequin romance books

I never once thought I had to be a specific age in order to produce a story for a certain age level. I guess I’m weird that way. So when someone has a preconceived idea about the age “best suited” for a project, and I don’t fit whatever mold he or she describes, I usually feel the need to challenge that expectation. After all, sometimes you have to take a metaphorical rock and send it flying through the glass window of a preconceived notion. That’s the only way to evoke change.

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Whether you’re 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, or 150, if you’ve got a story for a particular age level, write it. And don’t let anyone else—especially society’s preconceived ideas—stop you. If someone tries, feel free to give that person the look.

gopher-lookBy the way Cleveland.com had the scoop on Roth’s new series:

“I want to continue to write for my teenage readers,” [Roth] says. “I finally can announce my new project. It’s going to be a space opera. I’m still in the early stages of writing, but I’m really excited about it.”

What story are you excited about? Have you ever been told that there are certain age levels for certain audiences? How did you respond?

Veronica Roth from hollywoodchicago.com. Book covers from Goodreads. Shattered glass from jazzadvice.com. Dramatic prairie dog gif from boingboing.net. Archie comic book from pinterest.com. Harlequin books from etsy.com.