by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
What is it about trios that works so well?
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.”
That might explain popular groupings like:
- Good, better, best
- Past, present, future
- Gold, silver, bronze
- Small, medium, large
- Oldest, middle, youngest
- Mind, body, spirit
Triads feel natural. Triads feel satisfying.
We see that in stories from our earliest years of childhood:
- Three blind mice
- The three little pigs
- Goldilocks and the three bears
Such storytelling continues into adulthood with stories (turned into movies) like:
- The Three Musketeers
- Three Coins in the Fountain
- Three Men and a Baby
- The Three Faces of Eve, and so many more
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:
Three is a valuable number for writers.
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.
And the third strand is...Genre.
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.
Do all three strands need to be equal?
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.
Each of those blends can result in a fabulous book.
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:
What trio comes to mind when you think of a story you loved?
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.
And that’s our prize-drawing question.
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.