Frances Gilbert Tweets about the Rule of 3s

“In storytelling, authors often create triplets or structures in three parts.” Wikipedia

For instance:

Rumpelstiltskin spins thrice for the heroine and lets her guess his name thrice over a period of three days. Wikipedia

In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Marley’s Ghost tells Ebenezer Scrooge he will receive visits from three spirits: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and finally The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Wikipedia

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye must give his three eldest daughters away, one after another. Each match progressively challenges his faith, as represented by a monologue in which he argues with himself using the phrase “on the other hand….” Wikipedia

In a Series of Tweets on July 26. 2020, Francis Gilbert Challenged the Rule of 3s, saying:

“First, anything called a ‘Rule’ should stay far away from the creative process, in my opinion. Who likes rules? No one.”

“Also? I’ve been an editor for 26 years and I promise you no editor has ever asked for rules. We have preferences, for sure, best practices, yes, but I’ve never heard an editor say, ‘If only this manuscript showed everything three times.’ It’s not a thing.”

“The reasons it bugs me:

  • 1. No one should ever tell you what you must do, other than that you must tell a great story. 
    2. Hearing things in threes has a way of making a work sound monotonous. 
    3. If everyone follows this rule, everyone’s stories sound the same”

“Also, some editors might even enjoy this rule, and that’s also fine. This is just my pet peeve. But, I can’t imagine any editor saying you MUST follow any formula to your writing. When an agent asks ‘What are you looking for?’, no one ever says ‘Something that follows the rules.’ “

“If you feel comfortable with this rule, totally fine! You can maybe try mixing things up a bit to see how it works if you deviate a bit. Give it a try! Play a bit!”

“Now, I’d NEVER make a ‘Rule’ against this rule! One story I read yesterday followed it and was charming and sure to be published. And I’ve published very successful books that follow this rule. Not because they followed a rule but because they were awesome stories!”

“Also, we’re editors! We edit! If a story is strong but not perfect, we’ll get it there. It’s our job! If your word count (don’t even get me started) is too long, we’ll help you cut it down. No worries! Your job is to enchant us. So, free yourself . . . and write!”

Frances Gilbert is an Editor-in-Chief with Penguin Random House, which is the number 1 publisher of the Big 5.

I have had the occasion to cross Frances’s path a few times this year, and although it is not easy to do, she has totally convinced me of her authority, of her wisdom, and of her realness in her work in the publishing industry. [See I named 3 ways that Frances has impressed me–the three-thing is so very ingrained in me that I did that before I realized it]  But even if Frances had fooled me, I know that she could not have fooled Penguin/Random House.

“Frances Gilbert is Editor-in-Chief of Doubleday Books for Young Readers/Random House Children’s Books and a published author whose picture book Go, Girls, Go! … Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster….  Frances has become quite a presence on the Twitter scene as @GoGirlsGoBooks, often sharing valuable tips or industry information, appearing as a live guest at Twitter chats, participating in pitch parties and more.” Lynne Marie Here