The Rule of Three - Dundurn
Apr 06, 2023

The Rule of Three

There's an old detective's saying that "one is an occurrence, two is happenstance, but three is a pattern." Three's always been a magic number to human minds; it's our primate way of recognizing patterns, so much so that there's a literary rule called the Rule of Three. That's why we have a strange revolting unease with anything beyond three: it feels like excess. I suppose that's how trilogies became so popular and why so many people either want to fit that mold or break it. For now, I think I’ll be sticking with convention.

Writing a trilogy is easier than it seems from a macroscopic standpoint: know the beginning and the end, and everything in between is smooth jazz. The hardest part is pushing through that third part in your three-act structure when you want to beat your characters into a pulp with a meat tenderizer. My first novel took 5 years, my second took 6 weeks, and the third - Dark All Day - was an agonizing year of half-starts and tossed drafts. I credit my editorial team - especially Rachel Spence - with helping push my thoughts into the right direction. I know I'd still be rewriting this damn book if it wasn't for her.

Douglas Adams, an author I've always appreciated and looked to with admiration, really hated his characters by the fourth and fifth books in his trilogy (yes, I know). I can't say I blame him. The characters that we authors create are fragments of us from another time, and as we grow, these almost stagnant figures live continuously as time capsules of who we were when we made them. No matter what we do to them or what character development they experience, their starting point is always there, permanently etched in ink, an immutable media unlike human memory. That’s sometimes how I see this book series, regardless of the praise I receive for it.

I'm very glad Roche and Allen have been retired, at least for now, to a trilogy. Maybe in the future I can look at them with kinder eyes. Maybe there's one last story to squeeze out of them. But until that time, I'll peer at them through the rear-view mirror, meat-tenderizer in hand.

Brenden Carlson is a chemist and freelance writer. His debut novel and the first in the Walking Shadows Series, Night Call, released in 2020. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario. Learn more here.