June 12, 2012

The earth pulses in three-beat rhythms. That’s why it helps to organize our writing around groups of three. When I tell my students this — especially the know-it-all adult writers — they almost always thumb their noses at the Rule of 3 (and at me).

Too formulaic, they say condescendingly. But after I push them to examine this law of nature, they are believers.

Rule of 3 provides a tripod for writers that is elegant, stable and dynamic. So when you’re structuring your story, report, mission statement, memo or speech, look for spots where threesomes might work:

Does your piece need a beginning, middle and end? Not all stories are told most effectively this way. But it works a lot.

Are you writing about a trend? Whatever your alleged trend is, present three examples and you’re in business. Two won’t do it. Of course, if you have more than three examples, you’re really on to something.

Do you want to make a convincing case? This is the secret to writing opinion columns and persuasive speeches. If you blather on for more than three key points, people start yawning.

What would be the most compelling description? The Rule of 3 works great for capturing defining details. What three phrases or key words would you use to describe an object, a person’s life, the taste of the perfect donut?

Rule of 3’s real power comes from forcing us to simplify. This is so helpful when we’re overwhelmed with information that we want to present. By looking for a three-point structure, we’re forced to examine our topic from multiple angles until we can get to its essence.

If you try organizing according to this principle, you will find yourself thinking and re-thinking about your subject matter as you play around with words, structure and ideas. That’s part of the process. It will take you to quite an enjoyable zone. And you’ll be in good company!

The three bears, the three pigs, the three Musketeers.

Three strikes and you’re out.

Act I, Act II, Act III.

Eat, pray, love.

Green light, yellow light, red light. 

Top, middle, bottom. 

Sun, moon and stars.

I’ll bet you can think of even more examples. If you do, please share with us.  :)