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Add the Power of Three to Your Writing

Linda Andersen, writer of teacher guides for Cobblestones magazine, asked me, “What do you know about the rules of three in writing? I’ve heard that you have 3 things happen to the protagonist, and the fourth is the winner. I’ve also heard that two things happen to the protagonist and the third is the winning combination.”

I thought that might be a good thing to blog about. So I hope the following post and resources will inspire you to add the power of three to improve the rhythm and power of your writing.

I searched the internet to find out sources that explained the power of three.
Three is easy to remember. It sets up a pattern for the brain to remember easily. It has a rhythm to it. It gives a feeling of satisfaction.

A film that makes the use of the power of three is Pay It Forward.

In the fairy tales, the use of three was indeed powerful to help remember the stories.
Three Little Pigs – Third pig had the winning combination to get rid of the wolf.
Three Billy Goats Gruff – Third goat outsmarted the troll under the bridge.
Rumplestilstskin Three guesses

Here are other sets of three:
Beginning Middle End
Ready Set Go
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

As a writer you might think:
three problems
sequences of three
conflicts in patterns of three
inner struggles in patterns of three
outer struggles in patterns of three
three weaknesses
three strengths
three powers
three foods
three characters to help
three characters to hinder

In comedy, they say two lines ordinary, and then the third line is the opposite of what you expect, leading you to laughter. Without the first two to set you up, the third one wouldn’t be as funny. Three definitely has the power in comedy.

Here’s my try at demonstrating this technique:
First man: My wife cooks a mean dish.
Second man: My wife cooks a meaner dish.
Third man: My wife is a mean dish.

I hope you enjoyed my humor here.

In case that didn’t explain it thoroughly enough, here is a link to Andrew Dlugan’s explanations of the power of three for humor as used in speeches. http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/humor-speech-rule-of-three/

The twists and turns in your story keep your readers interested. If you lead the reader with the first try – He’s sure it’s going to work. Tell 3 reasons why it’ll work. Have the antagonist or other characters to tell 3 reasons why it won’t work. This leaves the reader questioning who is right. Write the consequences different from these and worse than expected. It builds tension into your story. It puts quesitons in your readers’ minds. This is good. It’s what keeps your reader going to the next page. He wants to find out what happens.

Check out these three resources:

1. http://www.squidoo.com/threepower
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_three_(writing)
3. http://www.copyblogger.com/rule-of-three/

Then read this second set of three resources

1.In another article, Andrew Dlugan explains in simple terms how to use the power of three in writing a speech.
2. http://www.jonathancrossfield.com/blog/2009/06/writing-the-power-of-three.html
3. http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/the-power-of-three/

I’ll send you on your way to your writing space with the following food for thought for your new novel:

Wilderness survival tips as posted in a comment by Scott from Portland, Oregon on  on December 7, 2006 on the Anderson Cooper 360 Blog: http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2006/12/wilderness-survival-rule-of-threes_07.html

You can survive:
three hours without shelter
three days without water
three weeks without food
three minutes without air
three seconds without hope.

Thanks for reading my blog. Please leave a question, comment, or resource.
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Do three good things for yourself today!

Joan Y. Edwards
Facebook Author Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Joan-Y-Edwards-Author/111310278911077

Copyright 2010 Joan Y. Edwards. All rights reserved.


4 Responses

  1. Hi Joan,

    What a pleasant surprise to see I was being quoted on your blog. I didn’t expect that.

    I especially liked your example of how to use the power of three to write jokes. I never heard that before.

    I imagine lots of people will benefit from your research and the things you posted. Thanks for sharing.

    You suggested that your readers do three good things for myself. Here is my list:
    One–I’m going out to eat. Yay!
    Two–I’m going to take some time to unwind since the students start tomorrow.
    Three–I’m going to read, or write, or something for pleasure–not for my job.

    Okay, so I’m on my way out the door….


    • Dear Linda, Thanks for leaving a comment. I’m glad you liked the example of how to use the power of three to write jokes. I plan to use it to help me insert a few laughs for readers in my young adult novel. Heavy moments need a light- hearted amusement. I like the three things you chose to do for yourself. You also acted on it right away. Awesome effect toward accomplishing your three things.

      Have a Flip Flap Floodle Day!

      Joan Y. Edwards Flip on my website: http://www.joanyedwards.com/FlipFlapFloodle.htm Flip at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Flip-Flap-Floodle-Joan-Edwards/dp/1594572852/ Facebook Author Page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Joan-Y-Edwards-Author/111310278911077


  2. This makes me look for the “threes” in my writing. Thanks for the reminder.


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