Rule of Three

Posted on July 26, 2011


I was recently reading something by a noted author but it just did not seem to be grabbing me at all. This puzzled me as at first glance, it seemed well written. After some re-reading, it finally dawned on me what the problem was.

Some time back I was able to interview the author, Diana Gabaldon. One of the things we discussed was the Rule of Three as it applies to writing. In short, repeating things three times will make a reader remember it, such as a plot development – but be a bit subtle about it. Similarly, the Rule of Three applies to use of the senses in writing. We have five – use three of them in a scene to really hook a reader.

In this book that I was reading, I realised that the author had focused predominantly on just one sense – sight. They had described in detail what things looked like, but rarely what things sounded like, how they smelled, tasted or felt. So the scenes tended to be one-dimensional which was why things were not grabbing me in any real way.

So the moral of the tale is to make sure I use three senses in a scene when I am writing. The dark dungeon becomes much creepier when we know that it also smells like the corruption of rotting corpses and we can hear the skittering of rodent feet across the slimy flagstones.

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