Geometry? I don’t think so. Triangles, in math, hold no appeal for me.
Triangles in fiction, though, are a whole different subject.
The picture book I’m working on has three characters. Okay, well, four, but one’s a surprise, and I’m not talking about that one yet. But the family–three members.
I knew what the son–the hero–was about. I knew what the father was about. And I knew there was/should be a mother. Even if I didn’t know, at all, what she was about.
I wanted that mother. Not just because, well…I wanted to be in the story. For one thing, I wanted my young hero to have two (albeit well-meaning) antagonists, so he really has to fight to come through the winner. But also because I just like triangles.
Pick a scene, any scene. You’ve got two people in that scene, interacting with each other. Those two people can have a conversation. Those two people can have an argument. Those two people can create some serious tension.
Three can do more.
If you’re reading a scene with two characters, you may get some surprises, but there is a pattern you–as the reader–will be following. It’s kind of like watching tennis or ping-pong. It’s not always back and forth–the server might double-fault, or the receiver get aced. But basically, you know who’s going to hit the ball next. In a scene, you know–basically–who’s going to speak next, or act/react next.
If you add a third character to that scene, all bets are off. You can’t know, as the reader, with any certainty, who’s up next in the rally. You can’t anticipate, for sure, who’s going to be arguing with whom, or when (even if) the third character will throw in their own two cents. You can’t guess, when the hero takes a punch at someone else in the room, whether he’ll hit his target or that other guy in the room.
And, honestly, there are plenty of times when the writer can’t predict any of this either.
So I’m keeping my mother. With the help of a critique from Susan Taylor Brown, I now have the spark of an idea of what the mother is about. I’ll play with that in the next draft and see what she gives back to me, to the story. To that triangle.