Writing and The Power of…

Un – Deux – Trois

Uno – Dos – Tres

Uno – Due – Tre

The POWER OF…THREE! 

I’m writing about the power of three for several reasons:

1. I am delving into the subject and need to share what I’m finding.

2. I want others to share what they already know and help me understand it better.

3. I have no idea what my third reason is, but I feel compelled to have one. It feels incomplete if I don’t!

Maybe you’re laughing at number three a little – b/c you’ve felt the same way before!

Think about it… we use the power of three everyday.

 “I’m going to count to three and everyone better be in BED! One – two – three… did you hear me? I said THREE!”

And what about stoplights? THREE phases. RED-YELLOW-GREEN.

Children use it on the playground, too…but they don’t always realize it. “Ready, set, go!” (do you hear it? 1-2-3!)

There are three acts in many stories (and plays, of course!). There are three main characters. Three “chances” to get it right. Three – three- three!

BUT… I’ve noticed many examples are actually stories with the power of three PLUS one. Have you noticed this? or am I just looking too deeply? Consider the examples below:

GOLDILOCKS and the THREE BEARS. That’s three plus one!

Cinderella AND the three members of her family (Stepmom and two sisters) — That’s THREE PLUS ONE.

What about the The Three little pigs story? We are leaving out the wolf! That’s THREE plus ONE.

COURTESY OF MORGUE FILEThe story of the three pigs is NOTHING without the wolf! He huffs…and he puffs… and puffs and huffs… and huffs and, well, you get the picture. (Have extra time? Read this version of the classic tale and see if you can find how many times the power of THREE is used:  http://www.rickwalton.com/folktale/bryant51.htm)

In the Bible, there are numerous stories with the power of three (and three plus one).  I am a believer in the truth of the Bible and find it very cool that the stories are written this way. They speak to us on a level that grabs us and holds on!

Three special gifts are listed for the baby Jesus. (Three gifts PLUS one Baby)

Jesus had 12 disciples (a multiple of three) BUT only three are described as his closest friends. (Three disciples PLUS Jesus)

In the creation story, we read about Adam, Eve, the serpent and of course, GOD. (Three PLUS One)

Jonah is told by God to go to Ninevah. After this, there are several times the power of three is seen in this story.

  • Jonah runs! He catches a ship to Joppa
  • God sends a storm, Jonah is thrown overboard.
  • Jonah is swallowed whole by a giant fish (or whale, depending on your translation)

THEN…

  • Jonah stays in the belly of the beast for THREE DAYS
  • He repents
  • The beast hurls and Jonah lands on dry land near Ninevah

THEN…

  • Jonah shares God’s message with the people. 
  • Then he leaves them and waits on a hill for God’s judgment to fall
  • He pouts b/c God forgives the people instead of destrying them

 On the THIRD day Jesus rose from the dead. – (Pretty straightforward! 🙂 )

Jesus asked Peter THREE times if he loves him. (John 21: 15-19)

The examples go on and on!

Like I said…I’m learning. I’m digging in deep. I want to understand why I seem to gravitate toward writing in threes (and sometimes three PLUS one) in my stories. I want to know how to harness this fabulous tool and use it in a way that benefits my stories and those reading them.

So, it’s your turn…

Does the “power of three” show up in your writing? Do you use it consciously? Or is it a natural type of cadence as you create those stories?

(Did you see how I did that? Three questions. I couldn’t help it.)

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22 thoughts on “Writing and The Power of…

  1. The power of three shows up in my writing over and over. When I first started writing, I would just think, “I need one more of those to make it sound right.” Now that I’ve learned about it, I recognize it. And it’s so interesting!

    I think when I use the power of three in my writing, I have the reader in mind. How she hears my words. So that would be 3 + 1 (the reader).

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  2. It seems that it’s often three together with the “plus one” being the object to draw near to or pull away from. There’s also the Trinity, the three wise men, & Peter, Paul & Mary 😉 .

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    1. The TRINITY! YES! And Peter, Paul and Mary… heehee! 🙂

      I almost mentioned the three wisemen, but since the gifts are the only ones that are numbered, I wasn’t sure I should. It does say there were wisemen from the east, but I couldn’t find anywhere in the Bigle where a specific number of Kings is given. It just says, “Wisemen from the East.” Though… it would be logical to think there were three since I’m sure any king who showed up would have brought a gift!

      And there is always the song, “We Three Kings”. In the bible or not, the song tells the story using the power of three!

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  3. I did read in a WD article a long time ago that three is good for listing examples. And I always do it. two doesn’t feel complete. BUt I never knew that there were biblical examples for this. VERY COOL! Will FB this one. Very neat entry.

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  4. Cool Donna! Thanks for all the examples. Some writers say try three things to solve a problem and get it right on the 3rd try. Others say try three things and then do something totally different and solve the problem. So does either cut it with an editor?

    Linda A.

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    1. I don’t know if some editors prefer one, the other or none at all. I expect there is a variation across the board. I wish some editors would stop by and weigh in on this issue.

      In keeping with the theme, three or more editors would be great. I’m just sayin’. 🙂

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  5. I absolutley use the power of threes, ALL THE TIME. It’s a magic number, it’s story arch. The mc must struggle/fail, struggle/fail, struggle/fail and finally succeed.

    I think it’s like that a lot in life too!

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    1. Yes – much like life, Brenda!

      I’ve had the pleasure of reading many of your stories – and you’re right. The THREE element is definitely there. But even in the struggle/fail (1), struggle/fail (2), struggle/fail (3), SUCCEED(1)…it’s still 3 + 1

      I just think that is sooo interesting!

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  6. In music, you have 3/4 time and 4/4 time. The preacher that spoke to me most in my life would always preach in three. One example from the Bible. One example from recent history, and then one example that directly effected him or the local church. VERY impacting. And, lastly, husband+wife+Jesus. Try that one without all three and you’ll very soon be only one! 🙂

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  7. Dear Donna,
    Indeed the Power of Three is captivating like a magnet to the human brain. It makes it easy to remember things. It makes it easier to overcome things. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” That’s three plus obstacle is your added one.
    I wrote a blog post about this: Add the Power of Three to Your Writing
    (http://joanyedwards.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/add-the-power-of-three-to-your-writing/).
    I like your plus one theory. Pretty clever, you are, you are. Pretty clever, you are.
    No matter how many times you don’t succeed, Never Give Up!
    Joan Y. Edwards
    http://www.joanyedwards.com

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    1. I read that squidoo article, too. It reinforced my own thoughts on the subject. In your article you said you have 12 subscribers. I bet you have WAY more now! I’m excited for you and the progress of your blog!

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    1. Hi Christy! thank you for stopping by. Glad it resonated with you!
      I’ve tried posting to your blog three times yesterday, but it wouldn’t let me. Don’t know why! So, I will say publicly here – you are a research-hound! WOW! WHat a ton of info! And btw – that djinn article gave me the heebie jeebies. *shiver*

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