Using the Rule of Three in Writing in 3 Easy Ways: With Examples

To make your writing more powerful, both with copywriting and fiction writing, apply the rule of three.

When you think of many great works of literature, you will notice that the main idea or character list includes some sort of three. The three-act structure of many plays, three main characters in a novel and even three main points in a speech or essay can all come into effect in a work.

Three seems to be a magic number in literature and writing, and the rule of three can help you make your writing more engaging. The rule of three is not a grammar rule, but rather a writing principle you can use to make your writing more effective.

Just like in photography the rule of thirds in composition makes a photograph more engaging, in copywriting the rule of three can make content more engaging, and here is how you can do it.

Understanding the Rule of Three

Using the rule of three in writing with examples

Science and sociology have shown that people process information in groups or sets. The smallest number that is considered a set is three. Thus, writing with three components or parts is easier for readers to process.

Understanding this pattern recognition that is natural to people will help in every aspect of content creation. Whether you are involved in screenwriting, public speaking, copywriting or crafting a podcast, you can make it easier for your readers or listeners to retain information by capitalizing on the power of three.

Examples of the Rule of Three

Examples of the rule of three
Classic fairy tales have three main characters, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or the Three Little Pigs

You don’t have to look very far to find examples of the rule of three in literature, religion, and culture. Some well-known examples include these:

  • Fairy Tales: Many classic fairy tales have three main characters, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or the Three Little Pigs.
  • The Holy Trinity: In the Bible, God is shown as a triune being made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
  • Three Wise Men: Though the Bible does not indicate there were three wise men, Christian tradition draws on this because the wise men brought three gifts to the Christ child.
  • The Three Stooges: Even in comedy the rule of three makes sense as seen in the classic Three Stooges show.
  • The Three Musketeers: Yet another classic writing, the Three Musketeers uses three main characters to drive the storyline.

How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Writing

If comedians, statesmen and classic playwrights can all use the rule of three, so can you. Here are some ways writers can use this idea in their writing.

1. Creating a Three-Act Structure

Whether you have three main points in an essay or write a book or play with three acts, this is an effective writing technique. Use the beginning part to set the stage, then create anticipation in the second part. The final part will have the punchline, resolution or main plot twist.

2. Tricolon

Incorporate the rule in the structure of your sentences. Using lists that have three related things, as Thomas Jefferson did with the “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” he wrote into the Declaration of Independence. Abraham Lincoln also used the tricolon when he said, “We cannot desecrate, we cannot consecrate we cannot hallow this ground,” in his famous Gettysburg Address.

3. Hendiatris

A hendiatris involves three related words that work together to create one idea. Julius Caesar once said “veni, vidi, vici,” which means “I came, I saw, I lived.” This quote you learned in high school shows the use of a hendiatris.

A Final Word on the Rule of Three

Powerful writers know how to use common writing techniques to engage with their readers. Since the earliest days of written words, the rule of three has been one of those techniques.

By learning to incorporate groups of three in your writing, you will be positioning yourself with some of the greatest writers of all time, like William Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson. The next time you have a copywriting project to tackle, try to incorporate sets of three to make the writing more powerful.

FAQs on the Rule of Three

What is the rule of three in English?

The rule of three indicates that writing in groups or sets of three is more powerful and easier to remember than writing with more or fewer items.

How does the rule of three help shape a story?

In fiction writing, the rule of three can guide the storyline. The first section sets the stage of the story, the middle section brings the story to its climax and the conclusion ties it all together to resolve the conflict or deliver the final punchline. 

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  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.