Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more than six hundred shorter pieces. It is our pleasure to welcome him to our blog.
Three Times Three is Nine
by Stephen D. Rogers
The other day, I read a story written by my nine-year-old daughter. The character in the story, searching for her hamster, looked under the couch, behind the bookcase, and in the closet.
"The rule of three."
I sometimes think that "what?" is my daughter's default setting. "You had the character search three places for her missing hamster. Three is a magic number. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They consist of dialogue, action, and description."
"Characters lie, tell the truth, and leave something out."
She shrugged. Which is mime for "what?"
"You might not even have understood what you were doing. That's because you've learned the Rule of Three even though you've never been taught it. And that's because examples of the magical three are everywhere. Every joke you tell. Every story you read. Every show you watch."
"Can I watch TV?"
"No." The Rule of No is also very important. "Because we've soaked up hundreds if not millions of these tripod structures, we expect them. If your character had only looked in two places, readers might have thought she didn't try hard enough to find her hamster."
"What if she found the hamster in the second place she looked?"
"Then you'd add a new second place and make where she found her hamster the third. If at first you don't succeed (one), try (two), try again (three). Look at Nancy Drew. There are three people in her house: Nancy, Dad, and Hannah Gruen. They are three friends: Nancy, Bess, and George."
"Don't forget Ned."
"Ned has three letters."
"Dad has three letters."
"Sorry, but that has four. So let's say Nancy has a mystery to solve. What are some of the things she's going to do?"
"Look for clues."
"Talk to people."
"I don't know."
"How about seek help from others? Maybe Nancy will discuss the case with her father or the police or someone who's an expert in a subject related to the investigation. Or maybe not. But whatever you decide the third thing is going to be, you'll make your story stronger. A tricycle is more stable than a bicycle. In your room, you have a three-legged stool. You don't have a two-legged stool."
"I know someone who can balance on one stilt."
"I can't even balance on two. But I could on three. Probably."
"You'd probably fall."
"But I'd climb back up. Fall again. And then climb back up and stay. That's a story. If I succeeded the first time, the challenge was too easy. If I succeeded the second time, it could have been luck. But if I don't succeed until the third time, I've earned that prize. I've overcome the urge to quit and I've conquered those stilts. Now, standing astride them, I march through the lava pit of death."
"But what if you try three million, seven hundred and forty-nine thousand times, and you still can't stand on the stilts?"
"Then I'd go back to writing. After all, what editor is going to pay me to walk on stilts?"
Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and my be reached at his website, http://www.stephendrogers.com/ which includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information. He is teaching a class called Knock'en Dead:Writing Mystery and Suspense at the Writers U July 5-30th.