Three

Three is a powerful number that satisfies our deepest needs for symmetry. Three gods ruled the earth—Zeus, the god of heaven; Poseidon, the god of the sea; and Pluto, the god of the underworld. People worshipped the moon goddess as a triad, representing three phases of the moon. There were three Fates, three Furies, three Graces, three Harpies, three primary colors. Three times three was also a mystical number, hence the nine muses.

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A few obvious threes from popular culture:

Three wishes. Three bears. Three little pigs. The Three Stooges. Three outs. Best two out of three. Three Faces of Eve. Three Days of the Condor. The Three Musketeers. Third time lucky. Love triangle. (The triangle itself is a divine symbol signifying the power of three.) Three is also a visually pleasing arrangement. And the number three signifies harmony.

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So, to make your stories more powerful, harness the power of three.

1. When describing a character or scene, mention three attributes. Also, if a particular attribute needs to be fixed in the reader’s mind, mention it three times (and only three times) during the course of the book, and it will stick.

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2. When devising a plot, follow the storyline of The Three Bears. The first time the hero tries to reach her goal, she fails but learns the risks. The second time she tries, she confirms that she’s doing things wrong, but she learns from her mistakes. The third time she tries, she gets it right. three bears

3. Look for patterns in your story. If your character has given his love flowers and perhaps made love to her in a flower garden, mention flowers once more to solidify the pattern.

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I could give you more ways to make your stories more powerful, but since I’ve given you three suggestions, that should be enough. And if it isn’t, you can find more uses for this powerful tool here: The Most Powerful Tool at a Writer’s Command

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

The Most Powerful Tool at a Writer’s Command

The most powerful tool at a writer’s command is not a computer or word processing program. It is not even a pen, though the pen is said to be mightier than the sword. (Frankly, though, I would prefer to go into a fight armed with a sword rather than a pen, but that could be a personal quirk.)

So what tool am I talking about? The power of three. Three is a mystical number that shows up repeatedly in mythology: three fates, three muses, three graces. Three is a prime component of fairy tales: three wishes, three little pigs, three bears. Three creates a series, a pattern of cause and effect. There are three stages of truth: first a concept is rejected, second it is violently opposed, third it is accepted as self-evident. Three is a basic structure of life: carbohydrates, protein, fat; electron, proton, neutron; past, present, future. And it is a basic structure of stories: beginning, middle, end.

The power of three is so pervasive that you can use it to plan a functional wardrobe. Before buying an article of clothing, think of three things to wear with it, three places to wear it, and three ways to accessorize it.

Three is a symmetrical number that satisfies something deep within our psyches, and if we use it in our writing, we can find a way into our reader’s minds, hearts, and souls.

To use the power of three in articles: Set up your premise, prove it, conclude it.

To use the power of three in a mystery: Give one clue to tantalize; two to suggest a direction of discovery; three to create a pattern.

To use the power of three in a story: Create tension, develop it, release it.

To use the power of three in description: Mention three attributes.

To use the power of three in devising a plot, following the storyline of The Three Bears. The first time Goldilocks tries to reach her goal, she fails but learns the risks. The second time she tries, she confirms that she’s doing things wrong, but she learns from her mistakes. The third time she tries, she gets it right.

To use the power of three in giving a speech: First, tell the audience what you’re going to tell them. Second, tell them. Third, tell them what you told them.

Because my work in progress has evolved into a story of a mythic journey, I have been paying particular attention to three. Instead of one mentor, my hero will have three, each of whom gives him a gift. He will meet three women; the third will be “the one.” He will have three chances to cross the threshold into a safe place. The story will be divided into three parts, like a play, and the hero will have three opportunities to accomplish a goal in each part.

Perhaps the power of three is formulaic, but life is a formula, and the power of three seems to work for it. So, when in doubt, I’ll think three.