Power of Three guest post by Marjorie Bicknell Johnson

Power of Three

No, not a Roman triumvirate; not 3, 9, 27, 81; and not the witches in Macbeth—but the power of three in writing.

The “power of three” in writing means using a series of three words, phrases, or ideas. Using a series of three helps the reader understand what you are writing, helps him or her organize the information mentally, and creates a sense of urgency. Using a series of more than three becomes cumbersome and less easy to understand. Using a series of two ideas simply doesn’t have the same impact.

The number three has a magical importance in cultural and spiritual practices around the world. It’s no accident that the number three is pervasive throughout some of our greatest stories, fairy tales, and myths. It’s no coincidence that some of the most famous quotes throughout history are structured in three parts. It’s no surprise that the rule of three works wonders in the world of comedy—set-up, anticipation, and punch line.

It all comes down to the way we process information. While I don’t pretend to understand why, the brain seems to be hard-wired to group information in threes. We have become proficient at pattern recognition, and three is the smallest number of elements that can form a pattern. Comedians exploit the way our minds perceive expected patterns to throw the audience off track—and make us laugh.

Information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of items. Orators use the power of three: “Blood, sweat, and tears”; “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”; “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Politicians know the rule of three: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”; “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”; “Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish with my country.” Real estate has “Location, location, location”; safety posters advise, “Stop, look, and listen;” movie titles include “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.”

Things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. Have you ever wondered

  • What the three little pigs, Goldilocks and the three bears, and the three wise men have in common?
  • Why the three-act structure is the dominant approach to screenwriting?
  • Why three bullet points are more effective than two or four?

Think in terms of three when crafting your content, and you’ll likely end up with a more engaging outcome. If at first you don’t succeed, remember—the third time’s the charm.

Power of Three guest post by Marjorie Bicknell JohnsonBio: Marjorie Bicknell Johnson has a master’s degree in mathematics and taught high school mathematics for thirty years. Her 89 mathematics research papers on topics in number theory—recursive sequences; sequences within Pascal’s triangle; and the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio—have appeared in several academic journals. She has served on the editorial board of the Fibonacci Quarterly since 1963. But research related to Fibonacci numbers doesn’t make good cocktail party conversation, so she started the new century by joining a creative writing class to learn how to write a good story.

Marjorie and her husband Frank, both pilots, live near San Francisco. Marjorie drew upon her experiences as a pilot to write Bird Watcher: A Novel. While visiting Mayan ruins with archeologists, she found that “really good story,” the basis for Jaguar Princess: The Last Maya Shaman. The book was carefully researched and edited; in fact, it placed in the top 50 out of 5000 entries in the young adult division of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Both books are available on Amazon. Visit Marjorie’s website at: mbicknelljohnson.com

Bird Watcher by Marjorie Johnson   Jaguar Princess by Marjorie Bicknell Johnson

 

Comments

  1. Marjorie–
    Thank you for this interesting guest post!
    Victoria–

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