The Rule of Three in Creative Writing

How do writers use the rule of three? 

As a chef I know the magic of three. Always garnish the plate with odd numbers, usually threes. Two raspberries looks OK nestled next to the creme brulee and the sprig of fresh mint. But add just one more and the plate is perfect.

Writers know the same thing.

Beginnings. Middles. Ends.

There is the three-act structure on stage and in novels. And the rule of three. According to Wikipedia, “the rule of three is a principle in English writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.” And see they wrote about the rule of three using three adjectives. Three adjectives are often used in writing nonfiction and fiction. Here’s an example from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy hair, and rather large front teeth.” And Henry James’s said it better. “Select, contemplate, render.”

In How Fiction Works by Oakley Hall the author gives an example on how this works. “From Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls he describes the bridge the character has been ordered to blow up.

The first phrase selects the bridge. “It was wide enough for two cars to pass.

The second phrase contemplates the bridge. …and it spanned, in solid-flung metal grace

The third phrase renders the bridge. a deep gorge at the bottom of which…”

You can do this poetically like Hemingway or in a list fashion like J.K. Rowling but it you use this technique it should not be so obvious that it sticks out on the page. Like other writing techniques it is a way to extend your writing, add emphasis, and give your reader information.

Today write a series of sentences that show how the rule of three can be used effectively.

Now get back to work!


The Writing Nag

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