The rule of three proves popular in pop culture writing - The Ionian : Gallery

The rule of three proves popular in pop culture writing

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Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2018 11:41 am

Within writing there is a widely accepted principle: the rule of three. Under this rule, it is believed that three major characters, themes or ideals make a creative work more wholesome and articulate.

The rule of three can also add more complexity and humor to a piece. For example, if you are writing for a story from one character’s perspective, you may find yourself at a loss of what to do for a plot. However, if you are writing with three major characters, their dynamic with each other alone already generates a plot point.

This trope creates a pre-established dynamic and rhythm within the work. The rule of three can be used in advertising, branding, simple speech, complex language, photography, visual arts, writing, film, television and much more. Once you consider it, you cannot help but see it everywhere.

The most blatant example of the rule of three in entertainment is the actual story of the three brothers that makes up a sizable portion within the final “Harry Potter” book. Three brothers save death, and in return they are each given a gift. The three gifts then go on to play a significant role in the series.

By continuing the trope throughout the book, author J.K. Rowling also gives her audience some continuity, while sticking with her theme of threes. There are several other examples of the rule of three throughout the series, such as Ron, Harry and Hermione making up the golden trio and the Potters and Longbottoms both denying Voldemort three times. It seems to be a common thread in magic as well.

There is even example of the rule of three in children’s stories, such as “The Three Little Pigs” and “Goldilocks.” Goldilocks tries three different chairs, three different beds and three different porridges before finding the one that is “just right.” The use of the rule of three here suggests being fulfilled after three tries. It serves as a way to round out a story.

The trope is still used very often in modern films and movies. The BBC and Netflix drama “Peaky Blinders” with Cillian Murphy, Joe Cole and Paul Anderson uses the trope in a subtler way. There are five siblings total in the show, but three of the brothers—Tommy, Arthur and John—are the main characters. Throughout each season, it also becomes clear that all their hardships come in threes.

In the film “The Prestige” with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, both magicians sabotage each other three times. In turn, they each make three attempts to replicate each other’s tricks. This rounds out the plot and makes the story line more complex.

Look out for the rule of three in daily life as well. After reading this, I’m sure you’ll be seeing threes everywhere you turn!

To contact the Ionian’s Julia O’Regan, email her at

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