by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
For starters, three creates a pattern which isn’t feasible with just one or two.
Books that feature only two people are enjoyable, sure. But when you add a third character, like a loyal sidekick or a rival or a mysterious neighbor, the trio is all the more entertaining.
Two stories -- say, an original and its sequel -- are perfectly all right. But when you add a third book and make it a trilogy, sales rise far higher.
A two-act play can be pleasurable to watch. But a three-act play, which forms the essence of most story structures, feels more integrated…more complete.
The Romans had a saying, “Omne trium perfectum,” meaning essentially “whatever comes in threes is perfect.”
We see that in stories from our earliest years of childhood:
Such storytelling continues into adulthood with stories (turned into movies) like:
You see the rule of three in other art forms, as well. Photographers divide their image into three horizontal or three vertical segments. Comedians talk about how an X, a Y and a Z walk into a bar. Orators treasure the power of phrases like “Friends, Romans, countrymen” and “blood, sweat and tears” and “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
So, it makes perfect sense that:
Right off the bat, we have the beginning and middle and end. And we have narrative, dialogue and description. And we have thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
All of which can be useful in storytelling.
But even more useful than any of those trios, as far as I’m concerned, is something incredibly simple: the basic braid.
I’ll bet you know already what the first two strands of that braid are. (No, you romance writers, they’re not Hero and Heroine. No, you mystery writers, they’re not Cop and Criminal. No, you literary writers, they’re not Protagonist and Antagonist.)
They’re the good old timeless classics of any story...Plot and Character.
In theory you could probably get a pretty decent book out of just those two strands, but adding the third is what gives you a really strong strand. Or a really strong story, as the case may be.
Now of course, some writers prefer to avoid what booksellers refer to as genre fiction. Instead, they’re busy writing what might be called mainstream, or literary, or philosophical novels.
But even so, their readers have certain expectations -- same as other readers have certain expectations of what constitutes a great crime, dystopian, fantasy, historical, horror, inspirational, mystery, paranormal, scifi, suspense/thriller, Western or women’s fiction novel.
EVERY reader expects certain things of a book. Even if they picked up a title at random, vowing not to look at the cover or blurb or reviews but to just dive in and start reading, within the first few chapters they’ll have an idea about what kind of story they’re in for.
And while surprises along the way are just fine, your reader doesn’t want to feel confused throughout the entire book. They want you to deliver the kind of experience they feel like they’ve been promised.
So it’s important to know what these readers expect when they pick up your book -- and THAT’s why genre is the third strand of your braid.
Absolutely not. We’ve all seen decorative braids with two similar strands plus a more sparkly one adding some extra glitz.
Some books direct far more time and attention to the plot than the characters or the genre, and that works just fine. Some devote most of their attention to character development, which also works fine. And some focus primarily on the genre highlights that draw readers to this particular type of story, which also...yep.
But a book that weaves all three strands together from beginning to end, regardless of how big each strand is, will likely be a more complete, more natural, more satisfying read.
That’s the magic of braiding.
We’ll go into more detail on what shapes your particular book during the September 6-30 class on “Your Plot-Character-Story Braid,” but while you’re thinking about tremendous, terrible and triumphant threesomes, I’ve got a question for you:
It might be people, it might be settings, it might be titles, it might be something not even mentioned here. Just recall some story you’d happily read (or view, or listen to) again, and what triad in it you especially like.
If at least 25 people post an answer, one of ‘em will win free registration to the Braid class coming up a week from Monday. So I can’t wait to see what comes in before this weekend’s drawing.
In fact, I’m getting more and more eager…more excited…more enthusiastic…by the minute. By the hour. By the day. (Okay, enough with the trios.)
Somebody stop me. Call a halt. Cue the band.
Quickly. Right away. Lickety-split — Aaaaack!
* * * * * *
Laurie Schnebly Campbell (BookLaurie.com) always loves creating a class, so when a writer asked about “braiding” she was delighted at the chance to explore an untouched subject. Although she enjoyed braiding her own books, including one that beat out Nora Roberts for “Best Special Edition of the Year,” she enjoys teaching even more. That’s why she now has 51 first-sale novels on her bookshelf from authors inspired by her classes.
Top Image by Mabel Amber, who will one day from Pixabay
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Hello Laurie, What immediately comes to mind is the modern 3 act story structure--set up, confrontation, resolution. .(I think Shakespeare used 5 acts and The Hero's journey seems a touch more complicated.) Three acts works beautifully (The Hunger Games, Twilight, The Matrix.... I like this structure for reading watching and writing because it ensures a good, fast pace.
Janet, you're right about the effectiveness of three-act structure...and even Shakespeare's and the Hero's Journey stories could probably be described within that structure. Hmm, next time either of us is on a long plane ride with nothing to do, that'd be a fun project!
Dave, you're welcome; I'm glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
Here are a bunch.
The Three Stooges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg7qRhqz3Ns
The Pointer Sisters: the pointer sisters
The Andrews Sisters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcyiC79l910
The Marx Brothers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbUrsot6oeY
The Bee Gees: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuoWykVNwyI
The Kingston Trio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7Jw_v3F_Q0
Alvin and the Chipmunks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1B0eIdwFvI
And, of course, the Holy Trinity
Paula, talk about eight greats! Aside from the Holy Trinity, I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite of the bunch...although if I could go with three, it'd be Alvin from childhood and BeeGees from teens and Andrews Sisters from adulthood. Thanks for some fun memories.
And The Maiden, Mother and Crone 🙂 (to make it 3x3)
My love of story began with my grade 3 (yes three!) teacher. Our class sitting at her feet captivated, carried away to the land of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
And Fern, Wilbur and Charlotte taught us the value of courage, conviction, and compassion in Charlotte’s Web.
Both tales had all the feels: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Powerful stuff.
I will never forget that teacher, nor her perfectly apt name:
Miss Monica Jewel.
Jay, what a lovely tribute to Miss Jewel -- talk about a treasure! It'd be interesting to see how many of your third-grade classmates have a greater appreciation of story than average; I'll bet there are quite a few of you who still cherish those memories.
Love, Love LOVE this post! The best I've ever seen it explained, Laurie. Off to write some!
Laura, that's great -- nice to see the day off to such an exuberant start!
Years ago I read Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon (a reimagining of the Arthurian tales) told through three powerful women in King Arthur's circle: Morgaine (Morgana), Gwenhyfar, and Viviane. At the time it was a unique perspective on familiar characters. Thanks for this great post on "threes".
Wow, Lisa, I never would've thought of those three but now you've got me wanting to read The Mists of Avalon...it's been way too long since I read the Mary Stewart or the T.H. White versions, but this UNread one is gonna come first.
A favorite threesome that comes to mind are the three main characters in the TV show Killjoys. Dutch and Johnny are partners (futuristic bounty hunters) and in the pilot, Johnny's brother Dav joins them. The backstories, GMC, and relationships between the three weave a much more complex story throughout the show than we'd have with just two of the characters.
Natalie, thanks for a perfect example of how a third character can make all the difference -- now I see why my son was raving about this show, and knowing you like it too makes me all the more excited to check it out!
I just approved some comments, Laurie, so you'll want to take it from the top. One of the reasons why I've remained a Nora Roberts reader all these years is her trilogies. Even when I re-read them, I know I get to be immersed for THREE books. There are three friends, three different sides to a mystery or ghost, three different battles. Trilogies make me happy and in my fiction, I almost always naturally gravitate there. (In fact, I'm writing one right now that I'll bring you your braid class next month. 🙂 )
Jenny, there's nobody like Nora Roberts for trilogies -- in fact, the few times she's done a quartet or a single I always feel kind of a "hey, WHAT?" sensation. Isn't it nice knowing there's never too long a wait before a new one is coming out?
As always, you've written a gem that got me thinking. The trio that popped into my head is Harry Potter, Hermione Grainger, and Ron Weasley. Any of those two together would have been a fun buddy-type story, but adding the third to the mix created opportunities for tons more conflict - a necessary part of the story braid, IMO.
Luanna, wow, you're right about Harry & Hermione & Ron -- it's hard to imagine the series without all three of them on board, beginning to end. In fact, they might very well STILL be the most famous threesome in another fifty years...who knows?
I am glad to see the braid strands don't have to be even. I learned in landscaping that you want three, but that one should be of a noticeably different size. It's a relief to know that unlike with hair, the emphasis, the role, can vary in each case. Having never been great with hair, that's a relief!!
Lisa, I like landscaping as an illustration of "make one different" a lot better than hair -- and yet in a way that seems backwards, because surely hair grows faster than landscaping. Or, well, maybe it depends on what you plant...where's a horticulturist when we need one? 🙂
Laurie, You remind us of many classic tales which jog my memory. I have taught units in my school library and local public library presentations about Cinderella tales from around the world. Who can forget Cinderella and her two stepsisters or the stepsisters and the evil stepmother. Most cultures have passed down these stories "by word of mouth" and there are traditionally 3 balls. Darn Disney for changing the structure.
Beth, I had no idea the Cinderella story traditionally contained three balls...one more reason to love chatting with writers (and especially those who know libraries); you learn so MANY cool things!
The braid - what a wonderful visual for weaving story elements together! Thank you for this post, Laurie. Love it.
I'm a sucker for happy endings but I love the thrill of watching characters overcome incredible odds to reach it. So whether I pick up a stand alone book, or the first book in a trilogy (and I SO love trilogies), I'm ready to ride that wave from *hope* to *despair* and then on to *satisfaction*.
Debbie, I like your callouts of hope, despair and satisfaction -- that's a lineup I don't think I've heard yet, and it sure highlights the drama throughout the entire story. Or the entire trilogy, although they're we're getting into nines. Hmm, Nine Men Out...Nine Coaches Waiting...Nine to Five...oh, dear.
Laurie, thank you for this! I love your explanation of the three strands braided together. It's something I often do instinctually as a writer, but it's also good to be reminded because for the times when I'm stuck or the story isn't working quite the way I envisioned. Remembering this can help get me back on track.
As for my "trio" I am fondly recalling the show Burn Notice with Michael, Fiona, and Sam. And as someone already mentioned, I'm a sucker for Nora's trilogies.
Carrie, I'm amazed that I never heard of Burn Notice -- you inspired me to Google it, and now I'm wishing I had discovered it a long time ago because what's not to love about former spies? Thanks to you, I'll be more aware of the braid in it once I start watching. 🙂
Fascinating. My favorite series of books is The Cazelet Chronicles. There are lots of threes that I hadn't actually counted until this column. Three brothers are central characters and fathers of central female characters: Hugh, Edward and Rupert; Polly, Louise and Clary, respectively. The other interesting point is that the first three volumes hold together beautifully. I've read the over and over. However, the fourth feels like their author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, was just finding ways to tie up loose ends and give each of the main characters, fathers and daughters, some prospects for a happy ending. Years later, her attempt at a fifth in the series is actually a disaster with events in the originals misstated in the final version. I don't read that one. After my last experience with volume 4, I will be stopping with volume 3 on my next re-read.
Lisa, you're making me think there should be some kind of slogan about Stop With Three -- you're right; there are times when a later addition just messes everything up and is better off ignored. Although, shoot, I guess that could also be (and in fact HAS been) true of other series lengths...okay, never mind about the slogan!
Hi, Laurie. I hope you're doing well.
One series of three books I've never forgotten even though I read them over twenty years ago is Nora Roberts, Three Sisters Island. I loved the sisters and the plot kept me reading as fast as I could.
Stephanie, I'd forgotten about Three Sisters Island until you mentioned it...wasn't that her first one of the 21st century? There was something especially satisfying about a trilogy debuting on 01/01/01!
Love this post, Laurie! I'm always intrigued by romance plots with a love triangle. But growing up sandwiched between an older brother and a younger brother was NOT fun. 🙂
Sarah, I hope you've gotten back at your brothers for all those not-fun times by putting bits of the into your books...although maybe not as two points of a love triangle because how could you pick the winner? 🙂
Two thoughts leap immediately to mind. The first is Jennifer Crusie's classic, Bet Me. Both the male and female protagonists have two very close friends apiece, and a lot of the story's development hinges on what happens when these two trios bounce off of each other as the result of an ill-considered bet.
The second is a reminder that the rule of threes can be applied to your settings, too: Martha Wells' Books of the Raksura are set in The Three Worlds. The Three Worlds in this case basically correspond to the old Celtic notion of Earth, Sea, and Sky; and each element has its own settings, peoples, and cultures.
Michael, wasn't Bet Me a treat? And I like your observation about settings -- those can absolutely be story-worthy trios, and your mention of Martha Wells' is the first I've heard today! One-setting trilogies seem far more common, but with three worlds to blend there's a whole lot more potential.
I never realized just how many trios I've seen in books and movies, but this post is spot on! I mean, just thinking about movie trilogies you get a lot of great ones. I think one of the best is definitely the Lord of the Rings. It's a great way to extend a story into a trilogy and braid it.
Amanda, I can't believe nobody mentioned Lord of the Rings until now...you're absolutely right; that's a classic! Maybe even one of the highest-grossing trilogies out there, although I haven't Googled that -- but, hmm, maybe next time things get slow that'd be a fun search!
Threes are magic in many societies around the world including Japanese decoration is always three. Like the three-legged chair without three legs the chair falls apart.
When I think about stories, my first thought went to 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. Thing about Scout, Jem and Dill and their adventures throughout the book.
I love this blog and a reminder of the magic and power of THREE.
Laurel, I didn't know that about Japanese decoration...trust a homes person to know facts like that! And I'm so glad you thought of the Mockingbird trio; we sure did need them all for the story to shine. 🙂
How about some internal story 3's:
**repetition of a catch phrase, used slightly different each time;
**the "3 strikes and you're out" when a character has given her all, fails on that third attempt and hits her Black Moment;
Love your classes, Laurie!
Kathleen, all three of those trios are wonderful writing tools -- three just keeps getting and more magical, doesn't it? 🙂
Another great post! It really got me thinking that even in art there’s the rule of thirds. Even floral design tells us that odd numbers are more visually appealing. As for stories with three characters the one that stands out to me is of course Harry Potter. It just wouldn’t be the same if it were Harry and Ron or Harry and Hermione. It probably would have been a pleasant read but as a trio the characters just brought out the best and worst in each other. They magnified the strengths and just had me wanting more. I mean would they have gotten far if not for Hermione’s book-smarts? Would it had been as charming without Ron’s comedic comments and diehard devotion to Harry? I completely agree it three for the win!
Good luck everyone for the free class! They’re definitely the best writing courses around! I highly recommend the investment in taking one of Laurie’s classes. You won’t regret it
Margie, how cool that floral design goes for odd numbers -- I never heard of that, but now "a dozen roses" doesn't seem quite so attractive. Maybe take one out and give it to the sender? (Okay, quick, a good novel opening!)
Hi Laurie, thanks so much for these insights. Another great aspect of writing to incorporate. I immediately thought of the adage “comedy is in threes.” Kaufman and Hart were brilliant at this. I also think about my favorite line from “Beauty and the Beast” in answer to the Beast asking what nice thing he can do for Belle, Cogsworth, the clock says, “There’s the usual .... Flowers... chocolates... promises you don't intend to keep...“
Nan, you're so right about comedy in threes -- and the Cogsworth example is a perfect illustration! It's been years since I read Kaufman and Hart, but now you've got me wanting to go back and rediscover their librettos because those were always VERY entertaining. 🙂
Loved this blog about threes. 🙂 I like stories that include faith, love, and overcoming (triumph over something at the end, personal growth of character, hope for the future).
Michelle, good call on the triad of faith-love-triumph of hope/growth/overcoming...while that works naturally in inspirationals, it also works very nicely in a lot of other genres!
Forgot to mention I'll be at an office Volunteer Work Morning today -- but I'll look forward to checking back in another four hours and seeing what other cools threes people have come up with!
Laurie, wishing the shift were three hours because that'd be much more appropriate
Surprising absolutely nobody, but especially not you, Laurie, the Trio that comes to mind for me is the story of the Three Brothers in Beadle the Bard (Harry Potter), though the most obvious trio in HP is Harry, Ron and Hermione. *LOL* In creating art or hanging art, I find grouping things in 3's is usually the most aesthetically pleasing. It's a thing for a reason.
Fran, I hadn't even thought about the Three Brothers, but you're right! And I like your observation about grouping art in threes: "it's a thing for a reason" says it all.
Hi Laurie! I just finished reading Susan Mallery's new book THE STEPSISTERS which is about ... well.... 3 stepsisters. It's fabulous and each of them is so very different and it has a happy ending and I can't say enough about it. And, I have to agree, if there had only been two sisters, the entire story would not have been as fulfilling and intricate and heartfelt and humorous and on and on. Three of them just made the book "full and complete". I highly recommend it.
Patti, I'm always excited when a new Susan Mallery comes out -- and when it features a trio, as they so often do, that's all the more satisfying. Thanks for the alert; now I'll be looking for that one!
I love all of Suzette Haden Elgin's work. She was a linguist, and she wrote some cool fantasy fiction. My favorite of her fiction, I think, is her "Native Tongue" trilogy. The books are "Native Tongue", "Judas Rose" and "Earthsong." They tell the story of an Earth whose society interacts with "aliens" from around the galaxy, and depends on its linguists for understanding. Parallel to that, the women have their own secret language that codes reality as it's understood by women.
Meg, talk about fabulous titles -- every one of those sounds like a must-read! And yours is the first trio example that SHOWS titles in action; that's a nice bonus on top of a new recommendation. 🙂
I immediately thought about my family (three sisters) and the three of us had 2 kids, which I thought was noteworthy. I tend to prefer reading three book series rather than a series that goes on for several books.
Great post! It's funny how many threes are out there in history and life.
Gina, it's fascinating that three of you growing up in a three-sibling household didn't want to repeat that pattern -- or maybe it was just coincidental. Now if each of your two-sibling-household kids has only one, we'll know there's a definite curve in place!
The first thing that came to mind was ‘morning, noon and night.’ I love 3-part stories. I’ve noticed many British TV series are broken into 3-episode seasons. Recent favorite is C.S. Strike—based on Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling’s) book series.
Nancy, morning-noon-and-night definitely belongs on the list of classic threesomes. And I had no idea so many British shows work as three-at-a-time seasons; they may be onto something that hasn't yet struck home with viewers elsewhere...it'll be interesting to see what happens!
Wonderful blog post, Laurie. The story braid class was one of the most helpful I've ever taken. Learning how important it is to follow through on genre expectations changed how I look at structuring a story, from the overarching to the small. Triads seem so natural in storytelling, and somehow a trilogy feels more complete than a duology. Makes me think of all the trilogies by Nora Roberts - Three Sisters Island, the Irish one, the Key one... and how Jill Shalvis's 12 Lucky Harbor books were grouped into threes.
Laurel, I like your mention of "overarching to the small" --- you're SO right that each element makes a difference! Which I suppose might apply to groups other than trios, but "more complete" is a good distinction between the trilogies and duologies. 🙂
Late to the party, and I feel like it's all been said! So I'll just close with sun, moon, and stars. Thank you for the brainstorm.
Late is still perfectly all right -- and that makes a classic threesome including two late-night elements all the more appropriate!
What comes to my mind is Dennis L. McKiernan's book "Dragondoom". Dennis wove three distinct and complicated timelines together masterfully and which culminated in a three hankie story. All three braids were necessary to the intense emotional impact at the end.
Ann, that's an impressive feat -- three timelines with three stands apiece must've taken a lot of careful planning. But I'll bet nobody puts down their three hankies and thinks "gosh, that author is a good planner!"
Late(r) to the party and also chiming in with kudos for a well-written, thought-provoking post. I first heard about the "power of three" during another workshop but I love how you weave it into the story braid. I also thought of Harry Potter and the threesome, as well as Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I'm considering the use of "three" in my own novella series I'm drafting (six books in the mix, thus far). I definitely see how even adding "and baby" enhances the romantic element between the hero and heroine. Or the addition of a stray dog for a widowed father and his daughter. Yup, you've inspired, impressed and invigorated my creative juices 😉 Thank you, Laurie!
Chris, way to go on adding the baby and/or stray dog as needed to turn a duo into a trio -- it sure does raise the stakes, having another soul in the mix! Whether it's an innocent or troublesome baby, or a tough or vulnerable dog, either way there's that much more energy zinging around. 🙂
This is kind of a different take on a trio because it seems like a quartet. It's Dorothy and her three friends in the Wizard of Oz. It's the three friends that make up the trio that I want to talk about. The way I see it, Dorothy meets her three friends in the order she needs what they represent. She meets the scarecrow when she needs to use her brain to figure out what to do. She meets the tin man to awaken the compassion she'll need in her confrontation with the lion and to forgive the wizard when she finds out he's a phony. Then she finds the lion who awakens the courage she'll need to visit the wizard and survive her experience with the wicked witch. These three aspects of herself were always there, of course, but she needed to be reminded of them so she could face her problems in the real world.
This is kind of off the wall, but I wanted to share something a little different. Thanks.
Heather, that's a great point about Dorothy's companions! Each one DOES fill his own function in the story, and it sure wouldn't be the same story without them...the three don't have to be main characters in order to do their job. Same with Goldilocks and the three bears; even though it's HER story we definitely need all three. 🙂
It looks like you got your 25+ commenters...WOO! I just approved four more, so be sure to take a browse. 🙂
Thanks for the alert, Jenny! There may be a few stragglers during the weekend, so since the class won't start until Monday Sept. 6 I'll wait until Sunday evening to feed the names -- or actually just the total number, currently 34 -- into random-dot org. (Although if this were a real-time workshop, I'd have YOU do it before we all said goodbye.)
Hey, Laurie! All I can think of right now is cinnamon, spice, and everything nice, and frogs, snails, and puppy dog tails! But I have noticed that 3 just feels right, and also 3 and multiples of three are found in nature and art!
Charlotte, you came up with two classic trios -- I wonder how long those have been around, anyway? And I'd never thought about threes being prevalent in nature as well as in art, although that could very well be WHY they're prevalent in art is because humans are hard-wired to appreciate that setup!
When I was a teenager, I belonged to the Rainbow Girls. The group is based on the basic tenets of faith, hope, and charity.
Jackie, uplifting group mottos are a good place to look for triads. I think the Boy Scouts are Duty, Honor, Country and I'm embarrassed that I can't remember what the Girl Scouts are...although I sure remember our pledge of "On my honor I will try: to do my duty to God and our country, to help other people every day, especially those at home." Fun memory; thanks!
Yes, a lot has already been said that immediately came to my mind. Something different...I would add My Three Sons and the three witches in Bewitched OR two witches and a warlock in Bewitched, depending how you "read" it.
Ami, I'd forgotten about both those shows -- but you're right; each one had a great trio! Nice that even in the 50s and 60s, TV writers were totally up to speed on the power of three.
Hi, Laurie. Loved this post. It seems the number of "threes" in life is infinite. Who knew? Too busy using them and not counting or being aware there were so many.
Elaine, isn't that always the way? There are so many things we don't notice because they're such a natural part of life, and then once they're on our radar it's like "oh, wow, it's everywhere!"
*My Three Sons*, because I do! lol James, Josh, and John.
In Pride and Prejudice, there are three settings which really steer a lot of the book. The dance at the assembly and Netherfield Park in Meryton/Hertfordshire, Kent/Hunsford/Rosings Park, and Pemberley in Derbyshire.
Denise, you're sure not alone in loving the three sons -- and what a cool observation about the settings in Pride & Prejudice! Each one has its own contribution to the story, and it wouldn't be the same if any of 'em hadn't made it into the lineup. 🙂
I'm a mom to three sons. 🙂
I didn't know that! Congratulations, Denise. 🙂
I have three works in progress, but the one I'm most attached to has three main characters who form an unlikely friendship. I'd never really thought about it with respect to my writing before, but it seems so obvious now! I read an article years ago on how good orators deploy their vision in threes too. An idea delivered as a trio is the stuff of standing ovations.
I really love the book 'The Elegance of the Hedgehog', which is told from the perspective of two characters, however, it is the arrival of a third into the setting that weaves and integrates the story.
I hadn't quite expected 'genre' as the third strand in your braid, but understand the need to meet reader expectations. I once knew a teacher of teachers who, in response to a question about teachers using their first name, said it could cause problems, as pupils have expectations about formalities in the classroom which contribute to their behaviour. Challenge their expectations, and they'll challenge yours! I'd instead guessed at plot, character and theme, which I see as the element that gives a story depth and meaning - the aspect of the story that brings a reader on a transformative journey. Thank you for a thought-provoking post.
Safar, we could absolutely make a case for "theme" being the third strand. In most genres, there's a theme already built in like Crime Doesn't Pay or Love Conquers All, but there can be an endless number of variations on those broad themes and they sure CAN make the story richer!
Haha, a four stranded braid!
Hey, Laurie, late as usual. Dr. and car appts. always put me behind.
Anyway, when I think of three it's always how you shape your characters...goal, motivation and conflict. Also, Jenny's comment on Nora...love her trilogies!
Marcia, you've got two classics there -- goal, motivation & conflict which I think might have been originated by Debra Dixon, and the multitude of trilogies by Nora Roberts. Each are trio classics for a very good reason: they WORK. 🙂
Sorry for showing up late. When I think of three I always think of trilogies especially when they involve siblings and / or friends. To me they give us love on a number of levels - the life long partner love, family love and long term friendship. Plus I get to spend time with characters before and after they find their hea.
Great blog post Laurie.
Tracey, no worries about late -- I love Friday blogs when the fun can last through the weekend! And I like your point about love in all three of those levels; while we sometimes see all three of those in a single book we can enjoy them a lot longer in a trilogy. (Like yours. :))
The Ember in the Ashes Quartet by Sabaa Tahir--where in the 2nd book, A Torch Against the Night, points of view alternate between Laia, Elias, Helene. Laia, Scholar/slave, from a once-important family. Elias, no spoilers, Martial, one important family. Helene, no spoilers, another Martial, another important family. Essentially, each has a different role in the stories, but they braid together, and it's exciting watching the strands drift farther apart, then weave back together. I've read the first two books so far and they've captivated me.
Wow, sounds like a multi-strand braid -- and those are even more fun to watch weaving as a literal multi-strand braid, where you keep marveling at how on earth the artist can make all those things work together!
Wrapping up for the weekend -- thanks to ALL of you who left such great comments on threes. I've seen a lot of things I want to read again, or read for the first time, and a lot of wonderful observations about what makes a triad work.
I fed all the comment numbers into random dot org, which drew #23, so congratulations to Michelle Kaderly Welsh on winning free registration to the email class on "Your Plot-Character-Story Braid" at WriterUniv.com from Sept. 6-30. Michelle, I'll see if I can get your email address from WITS or if you want to contact me via my website at BookLaurie.com that'll work fine too!
And I'll enjoy checking back this coming week just to see if I missed any more fun posts. 🙂
When I think of the power of three there are so many things but the very first thing I think of is how many "series" come in at least three books. It feels like trilogies are the most effective, though some series go longer, but trilogies are popular in so many arenas. Also, I know we often mention clues in threes and information in 3's before people truly remember them.
Heidi, good point on mentioning clues and information three times before it sticks in the reader's memory...and maybe we could even make the same case for writing a trilogy where the major & minor characters evolve; those probably DO stick longer in the memory!
Hi, Laurie - fantastic post, as usual! I love using trios and braiding together plot and story elements.
The trio that first comes to mind for me consists of the three supporting characters from a favorite childhood book and movie: The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Each had his own memorable personality. Each also interacted with Dorothy in a special way that enhanced the plot, her character, and her transformation. (Hey, another trio! 🙂 )
Barbara, what fun to remember Dorothy's trio -- one of the biggest Celebrity Moments my college roommate and I had was when she pledged a sorority that didn't take freshmen in the house but let them become members, and discovered that one of her new sorority sisters was the granddaughter of the actor who played the lion. Talk about awe! 🙂
Awe is right, Laurie. And that's a trio of your own - three degrees of separation! 😉