Allow me to be Andy Rooney for a moment.
Imagine me as a white-haired, bulbous, salty old man with a whiny accent.
I know, it’s hard. But just IMAGINE. (By the way, isn’t “bulbous” a marvelous word? I think we, as writers, should seek its descriptive assistance more often. But sorry, I digress. Back to being Andy…)
“Ya ever wonder why so many children’s books feature THREES? Goldilocks and the THREE Bears? The THREE Little Pigs? Snow White and the SEVEN Dwarfs? No wait…I miscounted…I mean The THREE Billy Goat’s Gruff?”
Yes, there’s something downright appealing about the number THREE. (P.S., I’ve returned to being Tara. Thank goodness ’cause those eyebrows are itchy.)
It’s like two is too little. And four is too many. As Goldi would say, three is “just right”. Three is as satisfying as a warm, comfy little bed. (Until the three bears arrive home, that is.)
According to Wikipedia (yes, I’m quoting Wiki), “things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form of text is also more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans (“Go, fight, win!”) to films, many things are structured in threes.”
The rule of threes is all around us. In photography, the “rule of thirds” dictates that the most visually striking elements of a photograph should align with the intersection of theoretical lines which break the image into thirds lengthwise and widthwise. (Geesh, what a clunker of a sentence.) Hence:
In interior decorating, objets d’art are often grouped in threes.
Architecture adheres to this rule as well. Three are more aesthetically pleasing than two or four. Threes help to balance the focal point in a room. Just ask Genevieve.
There’s the “three schema approach” in software engineering. But don’t ask me to explain. That’s the hubby’s forte.
Even religion espouses threes—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
“Omne trium perfectum” is a Latin phrase which translates to “everything that comes in threes is perfect”. The world seems to think so. You’ll see the “rule of threes” demonstrated everywhere. Hey, I even sneeze three times in a row.
So in picture books, where do we use this rule?
Descriptive groups of three.
Three images upon a page.
Even three text boxes!
And the classic three characters.
But the most important rule of threes in picture books is three attempts to solve a problem. (Prior to the fourth successful attempt.)
These three attempts invest the reader in your hero’s struggles. Solving the problem in one fell swoop? That doesn’t feel genuine, and the reader won’t care about their journey because it’s over before it’s even begun. There’s no time to empathize with your MC. And with two attempts, the main character has not yet collected enough information to help complete his task. But third time’s the charm! (See that?) It’s when he tries again, fails, hits his lowest point, but then realizes just what he needs to rise again. Three attempts build tension and encourage the reader to turn the page–eagerly! Oooh, what happens NEXT?
Crack open your favorite picture book and you’ll notice threes abound. What did you find?
But now, I’m going to tell you about some different numbers…
THE MONSTORE author and PiBoIdMo creator Tara Lazar’s “7 ATE 9″, a pun-packed preschool noir mystery, starring a hard-boiled Private “I” and a mysteriously missing number, to Kevin Lewis at Disney-Hyperion, by Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency (World).
Hip, hip, hooray!
(That’s three cheers!)