Dear Inkpot,

I’ve heard a lot about the rule of three being important in writing. Do you think I should revise my novel to A TALE OF THREE CITIES?

Doubly (or triply) yours,


Dear Chuck,

Three as a rule shows up often in children’s books: three little pigs, three billy goats gruff, three bears, three wishes. But as with almost all rules about writing, this is more a rule of thumb than an absolute dictum.

The rule of three may have its roots in philosophy: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. When faced with a problem, the protagonist may try one solution, then the opposite solution, then a third solution that might be some combination of the first two.

If all three fail, readers and protagonist are left with a feeling of almost utter despair, a bleak moment. If only one or two solutions fail, the problem may seem trivial. If six or seven solutions fail, the problem may seem so unsolvable as to lose a reader’s interest.

So the rule of three is certainly a useful concept, but I believe there is only one real rule of writing, and that is, make it work. If two cities works in your story, then go for it, and good luck!