Three is the Magic Number

For a little ’70s nostalgia:

For ages, three has been a sacred number: the Trinity, the Triple Goddess, the three Fates. But what does all that have to do with writing?

By using the power of three, you can make your writing much stronger. When explaining, developing, or giving examples, use three. For example:

Most of us utter untruths every day: telling a friend a horrible haircut looks nice, praising a child’s unrecognizable art, agreeing to go to a function we have no intention of attending.

Doesn’t that sentence seem well-developed and full? If we added just one more example, wouldn’t it start to seem tedious?

In creative writing, when introducing a character or setting, give three telling details right away. For example:

Her dark hair whipped in the wind like crow feathers, curling around her neck and face. She raised her hand in greeting, and a brace of silver bangles dropped down her arm, revealing stars and letters tattooed around her wrist.

From those two sentences and three telling details, we can begin to see this character emerging from the mist, this dark-haired tattooed girl.

When using the power of three in lists, don’t forget parallel construction. Each of the three details/examples/reasons should be, grammatically speaking, the same, so they are clearly connected in the reader’s mind. For example:

She stood, wiped her face, and squinted into the sun. (past tense verbs)

Legalizing cannabis makes sense because we could save billions of law-enforcement dollars, generate much-needed tax revenue, and restore our Constitutional rights. (phrases beginning with present-tense verbs, followed by their modified direct objects).

The phrase “raven wings” is tired, cliche, expected. (adjectives)

Goldilocks would like three. It’s “just right”: enough for readers to come away with the feeling of satisfaction without being overwhelmed. Use its power wisely to make your writing more colorful, detailed, and persuasive.

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One thought on “Three is the Magic Number

  1. Pingback: Taste: The Neglected Sense | Nerdy Words

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