three methods to use the rule of three in writing to fulfill readers

As writers, we want to draw our readers' attention, rivet them to the page and make them ask for more. We want to create something that moves people, deepens their understanding and makes them think about our history long after they have swallowed the last word.

You may have noticed how I used triplets in my first paragraph, and if you didn't consciously register it, your subconscious certainly did. Using the rule of three when writing is one way to meet reader expectations and arouse reader interest.

Why should you care?

Somerset Maugham said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. "

I address this because I want to point out that there are really no rules when it comes to writing fiction. But there are time-honored traditions that are so ingrained in our culture and conscience that it would be stupid to ignore them.


There are really no rules when it comes to writing fiction. But there are time-honored traditions that are deeply rooted in our culture and conscience, and it is worth paying attention to.

Some of these are genre conventions and mandatory scenes that are so important to provide the reader with a pleasant experience. Others are broader and extend well beyond genre boundaries to capture many aspects of a reader's life. One of them is the hero's journey. David Safford has written an excellent series of articles dealing with this topic and I recommend you to look at them.

Another of these far-reaching customs is known as the rule of three.

What is the rule of three?

You don't have to be a Schoolhouse Rock fan to know that three is a magic number. Listen to a convincing speaker and you will hear him repeatedly adhere to the rule of three to bring his points home, motivate his audience and strengthen the memory of his words. (Do you see how I just did that?)

Things happen to three. At least it seems so because the convention is so deeply rooted in our cultural expectations. You can see reflections of it everywhere. The Holy Trinity. Life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

We see it all the time in our fiction. The three-act structure, beginning, middle and end. The three little pigs, the three amigos, the three musketeers. Grouping things in threes not only ensures rhythm and balance, but also creates a strong unconscious expectation.

The rule of three is the art of building and fulfilling a three-part pattern. Let's look at a few ways we can use the rule of three in our writing.

Increase in character dynamics

If you have two characters, A interacts with B and B interacts with A. Of course, tension can arise, but it is difficult to maintain in an interesting way.

If you add a third character, you have just deepened the dimensions of your diagram. Now we have A to B, A to C, B to A, B to C, C to A and C to B.

This offers plenty of scope for adding and escalating conflicts. Introducing a fourth character into the mix can sometimes be too much, making it difficult for the reader to stay straight, but three are perfect. Why do you think triangles are so popular in literature?

Let's look at some examples.

1. The Hunger Games

Katniss is torn between two lovers, Gale and Peeta. Each of these men brings out something good in her and fulfills a need. The ongoing tug of war between what she thinks she wants and what she ends up creating is a convincing dynamic that the story carries through three novels.

2. Casablanca

As with The Hunger Games, the interactions take place mainly between Ilsa and her two lovers. The story focuses on topics such as desire for honor and sacrifice for someone else's happiness. Without Laszlo as the third side of the triangle, the dramatic conflict between Rick and Ilsa would be considerably flatter.

3. Mind

Sam dies and creates a gap between him and Molly that only Oda Mae can gap. If Sam could only talk to Molly, they wouldn't need Oda Mae, but the story wouldn't have the beautiful dimension and conflict that the threesome creates.

Yes, but what else does it do?

Although it manifests itself well in character dynamics, the rule of three applies to so much more. Because it is so deeply rooted in us, we instinctively look for it and it attracts our attention and arouses our interest.

Here are three other ways you can use the rule of three in your writing to reinforce your story.

1. Build up tension

The story is about a character in an environment with a problem. The character begins a series of try / fail cycles. The number of cycles and how long it takes vary from story to story, but the reader is subliminally programmed to expect three.

The character tries and fails; The result is tension. If the character tries and fails a second time, the tension increases. Success on the third try feels right. Four attempts on the same path go towards boring.

Think Goldilocks and the three bears. Once is too easy; twice it still doesn't cut. Three times is exactly right.

2. Facilitate memory

In this regard, there are some aspects to consider. Scientific research suggests that people in groups of three remember things best. Our brain also likes to recognize and analyze patterns.

A point appears randomly. Two points do not necessarily correlate. However, when a third data point is added to a scenario, a possible pattern forms that draws the brain's attention.

The other aspect is that readers usually remember something that appears three times. So you can use it to set it up for later payouts. Mention something early and then bring it back to the point, and you have an expectation in the mind of the reader. You remember this third appearance and anticipate it.

3rd surprise

Speakers and comedians constantly use the rule of three to deliver important points and punch lines. You can also do it in your letter to trigger a surprise. Find the first two points so your reader is expecting a third, and then turn it over.

I discussed this in my article "5 Ways to Split Pages to Add Humor to Your Writing" and I hope you will read this. But here are some quick examples of the technique.

"There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
– Benjamin Disraeli

“There are three ways to lose money: wine, women and engineers. While the first two are more comfortable, the third is far safer. "
– Baron Rothschild

"Three things your spouse wants you to do in the event of a dispute – breathe in, take a hint, and go for a hike."
– Joslyn Chase

Veni, Vidi, Vici

Now that you understand the rule of three better, you can go ahead and win! Just think about the rule, know how to use it, and have fun!

What about you? Do you notice the rule of three in the books and films that you like? Do you use it in your writing? Tell us about it in the comments.


Let's write a scene according to the rule of three. Choose a command prompt from below or come up with your own idea. Write a scene in which the character makes three attempts to solve a problem, increase the tension after each mistake, and end up successfully on the third attempt.

  • Liza has prepared her routine for the cheerleading trials, but she's not sure if her ankle injury has healed enough and it's time!
  • Ralph can't believe he's actually traveling through space on a NASA mission. Everything is fantastic until he tries to contact Mission Control and the equipment fails.
  • Jennie was kidnapped and locked in a basement. She has to escape and only use the contents of her bag and a piece of dirty string.

Write for fifteen minutes. When you're done, post your work in the comments and leave feedback for your co-writers! Commenting on the stories of three authors sounds just right, don't you think?

Joslyn Chase

Joslyn ChaseEvery day she can send readers to the edge of their seats, tingling with tension and chewing their fingernails on the knob, is a good day for Joslyn. Get her latest thriller, Steadman & # 39; s Blind, an explosive read that lets you leaf through to the end. What leads a man to murder, their collection of short suspense, is available for free at