The Rule of Three

Life is a negotiation. To get someone to do what you want them to do can take a long time. Many intricate steps are involved. But in fiction, that becomes tedious and loses reader interest.

Fiction uses something called “The Rule of Three” to accomplish a lot, and a decision made by a character is one example of the rule in effect.

I recently read in this blog post about how to apply the rule to a character come to decision about something they initially resist.

In that example, a high school student has to be convinced to take an unattractive girl to the prom. The decision comes in three stages, all in the same exchange, with a clincher at the end to push the character over the edge.

In other areas, the entire book might implement the rule of three to improve writing. The convention is, things done in three have better impact than things done either fewer or more times. For instance, a point made three times will resonate with readers more than one only brought forth once. Something done three times will be funnier than a gag only done once.

So things are more effective when done three times in fiction. The rule can be applied to a scene, or an act, or an overall work. Some writers advise using The Rule of Three when making the theme of a story come through. Emphasizing the theme in three spots throughout the story will give the theme more impact.

Fairy tales and classic literature use the rule a lot. Three Little Pigs, Three Billy Goats Gruff, Rumplestilskin, and lots of others use the rule to show progression. Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol uses it with three ghosts visiting Scrooge. Some would argue the story form itself, in three acts, does the same. The triad is a tried and true story structure in use in all areas of fiction.

You can see this over and over again in every art form, too. From movies to plays and even commercials and slogans, The Rule of Three is a force you can use to give your writing more impact and effectiveness. In advertising, a slogan might have three adjectives in a row to implement the use and make the ad more effective.

How about you, writers? Are you already using the rule in your work? Readers, can you identify the rule in your favorite books? Any other artists out there using the Rule of Three in their photography, art, poetry, etc.?


[Here‘s where the image comes from.]

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