Charlotte Rains Dixon  

The Rule of Threes

I was reading a manuscript the other day and the writer had used a series of two phrases to describe something.  My antenna went up and I made a comment that in the American culture, we like things in threes.  I've conveniently named this The Rule of Threes, though to my knowledge there is really no such things.

Consider with me:Everystockphoto-647674-l

Tall, dark, and handsome.
Red, white and blue.
Stars and stripes forever.
A dark and stormy night.
The three little pigs.
The three wishes fairy godmothers and genies grant us.

And so on….I'm sure you can think of many more.  My point is that we have a cultural predisposition to like things in threes.  And when we write them in twos, it is jarring. Our brains go on alert.  It is as if we have been robbed.  Somebody took the final word, damn them.   And then the brain wanders about, looking for the word and its thief as well.  And guess what?  Said brain is no longer attending to the brilliant words on the page.

Preventing this is simple–write in threes.   There's a very good chance that section of your work always bothered, you, too.  Admit it, you know its true.

Photo courtesy of Terwilliger911, used under creative commons 2.5 license.

0 thoughts on “The Rule of Threes

  1. rebecca

    The power of three’s in writing has been used by all the literary greats. It’s elegant, graceful and gets the point across. Take for example this line from the paragraph in American Pastoral by Philip Roth. “This is how successful people live. “They’re good citizens. They feel lucky. They feel grateful.

  2. […] Awhile back I wrote a post called The Rule of Threes. […]

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