The rule of three

This post is about the writing rule of three. This is NOT the Wiccan rule of three: the belief that the energy you put out into the world will be magically returned threefold. That’s witchcraft!

This rule of three is the writing principle that suggests that grouping things into threes creates clear arguments, establishes patterns and makes things easier to remember.

Single objects are straightforward, a pair of objects can be similar or contrasting, but groups of three create patterns that establish concepts. Groups of more than three are more often perceived as lists.

Important conceptual things follow the rule of three because three is the smallest number that can create a clear pattern. Some brilliant threes include:

  • Father, Son and the Holy Ghost—the Holy Trinity of the Christian church
  • Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite—Liberty, Equality and Fraternity—the motto of France
  • Rum, sodomy and the lash—Winston Churchill’s description of the British Navy
  • Truth, justice and the American way—the Superman creed
  • Huey, Dewey and Louie—the three nephews of Donald Duck
  • Faith, Hope and Charity—the three virtues
  • See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil—the actions of the three wise monkeys

So remember that in good writing the rule of three is not witchcraft its wordcraft!