The Rule of 3 in Writing

Updated: Jun 10, 2018


How familiar are you with The Rule of Three?


  • A stylistic device based on the concept that three is a pleasing number with a satisfying beat and rhythm.

  • People are also thought to remember things longer when presented in a series of three.

  • Three just has more impact!

Who can argue with...

  • Hickory, Dickory, Dock

  • Ready, Aim, Fire!

  • Me, Myself, and I

  • Reading, Writing and Arithmatic

  • Curly, Larry and Moe

  • Three Blind Mice

  • Three Wise Men

  • Harry, Ron and Hermoine

  • The Three Musketeers (do you know their names?)


The Rule of Three technique works. It makes for memorable copy and memorable quotes!


" Just- do-it. " -Nike


Three Act Structure (Beginning, Middle and End)


"There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened." - Mary Kay Ash


"Friends, Romans, countrymen. Lend me your ears." Mark Antony.


"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."The Declaration of Independence


"Government of the people, by the people, for the people." The Gettysburg Address


"Veni, Vidi, Vici." Julius Caesar


"The first time is happenstance. The second time is coincidence. The third time is enemy action." Ian Fleming, Goldfinger.

Movies and Literature Use the Rule of Three


Charles Dickens´ A Christmas Carol: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas


Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come


The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


Three Days of the Condor


Aladdin: The Genie of the lamp grants three wishes


Dorothy had to tap her heels three times in The Wizard of Oz. "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

Other, techniques for the rule of three that you can implement in your writing to make your prose more powerful include:

1. Subtly creating credibility for a future scene with foreshadowing 2. Emphasizing a story arc 3. Creating story symbols

4. Three times for emphasis-repetition and adjectives


Michael Hauge discusses this in his DVD Creating Powerful Movie Scenes. “Foreshadowing is giving credibility to a character’s actions or abilities by justifying them earlier (in the story)."


Utilizing the rule of three creates credibility. The example used in the DVD is The Karate Kid.


1. Mr Miyagi is seen using the ‘crane kick’

2. Then Daniel practices the ‘crane kick’.

3. Later in the movie’s defining moment, ‘the crane kick" is how Daniel wins the match (with an injured knee).

In Oklahoma Reunion, I use the rule of three to emphasize Kait and Ryan's relationship arc through a comparison to the the sugar maple tree in her yard:


1. Page 36 The huge sugar maple near the street was barren of leaves, the naked branches dead and the bark peeling. It would have to be cut down which meant one more problem to solve, one more thing to do and much too much to think about.


2. Page 166 “The pruning is pretty much done. I just have to rent a chainsaw and cut down that dead sugar maple by the curb.”

Kait turned, her alarmed gaze meeting his. “Oh, not the maple.”

“No?” he asked.

“You said it just needed a good pruning and some TLC and it would be fine.” Her lower lip trembled as she spoke.


3. Page 208 “What? You mean the sugar maple? Yeah, I noticed. Won’t know for sure until spring, but it looks like that tree is going to make it.” He smiled.

Once you start thinking about three, you see it everywhere...

  • tall, dark and handsome

  • “thinner, lighter, and faster”-iPad2 Steve Jobs

  • three guesses

  • body, mind and spirit

#ruleofthree


Photo 1 by Tatiana Lapina on Unsplash

Photo 2 by Keila Hötzel on Unsplash