Diana Gabaldon – The Rule of Three

By Carol / March 23, 2014 /

Writing the high stakes plot. 

Outlander-Diana GabaldonI’m a huge fan of best-selling author Diana Gabaldon and her Outlander series.  Part romance, part time travel, part historical fiction, these stories about the adventures of Jamie and Claire grab hold of readers and do … not … let … go.

Sometimes the plot is so intense, and the characters go through so much horror, that it’s hard not to wonder if it was really necessary for Gabaldon to go to such lengths.

I was pleased to find this post on Gabaldon’s website in which she explains the how and why of her method as “The Rule of Three”

Here’s an excerpt from that post:

One, two, three. The Rule of Three. It’s one of the important underlying patterns of story-telling; one event can be striking. The next (related) event creates resonance. But the third brings it home—WHAM. (That is, btw, why classic fairy tales always involve three brothers, three sisters, three fairies, etc.—and why the most classic form of joke always starts, “A priest, a minister and a rabbi…” The climax of the story, the punchline of the joke, always comes on the third iteration.) The third encounter with Black Jack Randall is the climax, the point where the stakes are highest. Jamie’s been captured and seriously hurt, Claire’s come to save him, but Randall turns up and takes her captive, threatening her life.

If you’re a writer who wants to increase the stakes of your novel, or if you’re a reader who loves Gabaldon’s stories and want to know how she does it, here’s a article worth your time. Read more of “Jamie and the Rule of Three.”

Subscribe below for blog updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Posted in



  1. Janet Givens on March 25, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Carol, It’s so FUN that you have a post on Diana Gabaldon. I’ve been a (closet/guilty) fan for a few years and am (infact) rereading the full series before #8 comes out in June. (It’s what been keeping me from finishing your memoir! You have only Diana to blame (or maybe Jamie and Claire).) I fell in love with the both of them a few years ago and, while the intensity of the story sometimes gives me pause, I’m always eager to see just what is going to happen to them. At the same time, I find new things I missed in earlier reads — the sign of a great book, imo. (I’ve read two of them about four times). I loved hearing Diana’s Rule of Three. Makes good sense with Outlander. I’m on Fiery Cross at the moment and wonder if you see any Threes in this one?

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 25, 2014 at 1:54 pm

      Our secret is out of the bag now! What a treat to find another Gabaldon fan, Janet. It has been some years since I read the series. It was the intensity of the plot line that kept me reading at all hours, reading instead of working, reading with a passion I have yet to experience in another series. Having read about the Rule of Three, now I better understand my obsession. I’d have to look back at the Fiery Cross to pick out the threes, but I’m confident they exist in every book because I felt that intensity in every book. In later books, the intensity sometimes drew in the next generation. The stakes were high with them, too. If you spot a three in Fiery Cross, come back and let me know.

Leave a Comment