The 'Golden' Rule of Three
Write memorable and effective content using the 'Rule Of Three'
Alright, let's have some fun with the rule of three!
Have you ever heard of the rule of three? No, it's not some obscure law of physics or a set of strict dietary restrictions. It's a writing principle that says things that come in threes are inherently more satisfying and memorable than other numbers of things.
Think about it - the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Three Stooges, and even the Three Musketeers. All of these stories use the rule of three to create a pattern that's easy to follow and remember.
The rule of three isn't just for fairy tales and comedy acts though - it comes into business, politics and many other areas of life, including religion. However, it's a powerful tool for writers of all genres. Memoirists, novelists, and self-help gurus alike can use the 'rule of three' to create structure, emphasise important points, and keep their readers engaged.
While the rule of three is often associated with using three words or phrases, it can also be applied to other areas of storytelling. For example, many stories are structured around three acts - the beginning, middle, and end - which can create a sense of completeness and satisfaction for the reader or audience. By using the rule of three in this way, authors and storytellers can create a powerful sense of structure and balance that resonates with readers and audiences.
Let's take a look at some examples of the rule of three in action:
Memoirs are a great place to use the rule of three to create structure and emphasis. For example, let's say you're writing a memoir about your disastrous attempts at online dating. You might structure your book around three key relationships, such as:
- The guy who showed up to the date wearing a clown nose
- The guy who turned out to be a convicted felon
- The guy who was secretly married
By using the rule of three in this way, you create a clear structure for your book that's easy for readers to follow. You also create a sense of completeness, as readers feel like they've learned everything they need to know about your dating misadventures.
Novelists can also use the rule of three to create structure and emphasise important points. For example, let's say you're writing a mystery novel about a detective trying to solve a series of murders. You might structure your book around three key suspects, such as:
- The victim's ex-husband, who had a history of violence
- The victim's business partner, who stood to gain financially from her death
- The victim's neighbour, who had a strange obsession with her
By using the rule of three in this way, you create a clear structure for your novel that keeps readers engaged and guessing until the very end. You also create a sense of completeness, as readers feel like they've gotten to know all of the key players in the mystery.
Self-help gurus can use the rule of three to emphasise important points and keep readers engaged. For example, let's say you're writing a self-help book about how to be more productive at work. You might use the rule of three to create a list of key strategies, such as:
- Prioritise your tasks and focus on the most important ones first
- Take regular breaks to avoid burnout and maintain focus
- Eliminate distractions, such as social media and email notifications
By using the rule of three in this way, you create a list that's easy for readers to remember and implement. You also create a sense of completeness, as readers feel like they've learned all of the key strategies for being more productive at work.
Now, let's have some fun with some silly examples of the rule of three:
- In the movie The Lion King, Simba is given three pieces of advice by his father, Mufasa: "Look beyond what you see. You are more than what you have become. Remember who you are."
- In the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the character Treebeard lists three things that don't belong in a forest: "Hasty folk, quick to anger and quick to laugh. Tall, cruel folk, raiding, trading. Little folk, digging and stumbling."
- In the TV show Friends, the character Chandler Bing has a fear of dogs, and in one episode he lists three things that scare him: "Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance. The scary Irish step-dancing guy? Yeah, he just gives me the willies. And claymation. I'm sorry, I just don't see the point. It's not claymation, per se, it's more the creepy little characters. And finally, and this is ironic, commitment."
And if you want to impress your friends with some educational examples of the rule of three, try these:
- Why do people say "good things come in threes"? Because we can easily remember three things. Can you remember four things off the top of your head without writing them down? It's a bit harder, right?
- You might have heard of the phrase "stop, look, and listen" when crossing the street. This is a classic example of the rule of three being used for safety reasons. Now imagine if the phrase was "stop, look, listen, and also smell your surroundings to ensure there's no danger." It's a bit clunky, isn't it?
- In Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, he uses the rule of three repeatedly to emphasise his points and create a sense of rhythm and momentum. One of the most famous examples is: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice." By using the rule of three in this way, King created a powerful and memorable speech that continues to inspire people around the world today.
So remember - the rule of three is a powerful writing principle that can be used to create structure, emphasise important points, and keep readers engaged. Whether you're writing a memoir, a novel, or a self-help book, the rule of three is a tool that can help you create a memorable and satisfying reading experience. And if you want to have some fun with the rule of three, try coming up with your own funny examples. Who knows? You might just create the next big fairy tale or comedy act!
Mary Turner Thomson is the international best-selling author of two memoirs, 'The Bigamist' and 'The Psychopath'. She is also an editor, publishing consultant and founding member of The Book Whisperers.