Used widely in almost all kinds of writing, the “rule of three” is also commonly used in poetry. When you write a story and give it a beginning, middle and an ending, you are using the rule of three. People who have experience with writing storybooks, jokes, plays, songs, movies, speeches, sermons and poems, use the rule of three naturally.
When we learned to recite the alphabet, we were told to call them the “A,B,C’s” (the first 3 letters of the alphabet). Think of a healthy meal. Doesn’t it contain a protein, starch and a vegetable? Advertisements in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV or the internet often have three word slogans. Do you recognize: “Just do it” (Nike) or “I’m lovin’ it” (McDonald’s)?
Audiences tend to enjoy or appreciate what you write for them more when you have three sections, three examples or three of whatever your are writing about. If your poem is going to be funny, the rule of three suggests you will get a bigger laugh if you use it. If you are trying to make a point, you will do so more effectively if you use the rule of three.
Don’t forget that 5-7-5 haiku poems have 3 lines each. And did you notice that the phrase “rule of three” contains three words? O-o-o-h!
When organizing the three things you are going to write about, you may choose to put them in the order of size, smallest to largest, if that makes sense. Sometimes, you will use a different way to order your three. In the children’s story “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, the title gives you the rule of three: There are three bears in this story. Goldilocks went into three parts of the bears’ family home and each room had its own rule of three. The bowls of porridge she sampled were first too hot, then too cold and finally just right. She also sat in three chairs and rested in three beds.
In the movie, “The Wizard of OZ”, Dorothy meets three very different characters on her way to the Emerald City. The first, the Scarecrow, has no brain, the second, the Tin Man, has no heart (but he does have a brain), the third, the Cowardly Lion, has no courage (but he has a heart and a brain); what he does have is a lot of personality. Each one is very interesting when you meet them, but the next one is even more interesting than the one before him. Imagine how different you might feel if the Tin Man or the Scarecrow showed up in the story after the Cowardly Lion. Then think of how you should write about your three things so that they keep your readers interested.
If you were writing about your favorite fruits, if you don’t order them by size, you could use how sweet they are, or when they are in season. You could also start with the one you don’t like so much and end with the one that is your favorite.
Poetic phrase of the day: “rule of three” (click here to read the definition on Wikipedia.org)
PROMPT: Think of something you would bring back from your summer vacation to give to your best friend or favorite relative. They might be happy with the one you gave them, but imagine if you gave them three of that thing. Write a poem about giving someone three gifts or souvenirs from your vacation. Describe in your poem how each item is different or the same as the others. Add a reason why you gave three of them instead of just one. This is your poem. Use the rule of three as best you can.
PARENTS OF YOUNGER CHILDREN: Take a walk with your child(ren) around your home or neighborhood, write down the first thing you see on your walk. When you get to the farthest place from your front door, write down something else you see. Pick one last item and write it down on your way back. Talk about each item on your walk. For example, the items I saw are:
1. the backyard gate
2. a park bench, and
3. a fire hydrant
Work together to make a poem about the three things on your list. You may write three things about each item or three things that happened while you were walking to that item. Let everyone use their imaginations.