Reprinted from The Writer's Journey, May/June 2007
The number three plays an important role in language, life and literature. As writers, we can try to use the strength, rhythm and logic (not to mention the magic) of the number three to our advantage.
When things come in threes, they tend to be funnier, more satisfying and more effective. It is a tried-and-true method to have the main character in a story make three (failed) attempts to solve the story problem before a final scene in which he/she either solves the story problem or comes/does not come to terms with failure.
I've noticed that some stories, especially those by beginning writers, have one character. If this is true in your case, toss in two more characters (perhaps a friend and a foe) and allow them to interact to make the story come alive and increase tension. Consider Cinderella, who had three opposing forces working against her: the wicked step-mother and two evil stepsisters. You may want to play around with the possibilities.
Other uses of three in fiction: Have an action occur (1), and then get worse (2), and then get even worse, or just repeat three actions. See which works best. You may want to use three props, tangible or intangible, to focus your story around or to help achieve your main character's story goal. Others have successfully used wishes, beans, questions, stars, cities and roads to name a few.
In nonfiction (and fiction), each time you mention a fact--like an actual person, place, or thing, or date--you must have three sources for the publisher to document/back-up that fact. Photocopy or scan or screenshot the cover page, copyright page and the page of the reference book in which the information appears.
Lynne Marie is the Owner and Administrator of Rate Your Story and The Picture Book Mechanic critique
and consultation services. She's the Children's Book Insider (CBI) Editor and Agent Spotlight Feature Editor for Children's Book Insider. She's a multi-published author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten (Scholastic, 2011) -- art by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic 2011),
Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – art by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic 2017),
The Star of the Christmas Play -- art by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books 2018),
Moldilocks and the 3 Scares -- art by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling 2019 and Scholastic 2019)
and Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World --art by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books 2019),
American Pie(Dancing Flamingo Press, 2022) and another forthcoming. When she’s not searching for the magic of three, she lives on a lake in South Florida with her family, a Schipperke named Anakin and several resident waterbirds.