In writing, rhetoric and comedy – behold the rule of three. Did you notice? It just went by you.
The rule of three states that there is something particularly effective and innately satisfying when we structure arguments and deliveries with three beats.
We’re more receptive to messages when they come in threes. If you look around and start counting you’re going to see the rule of three everywhere. It’s especially true when the medium is spoken language.
Witness the first minute of the 1998 Guy Ritchie film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which starts with an unforgettable comic street performance in the best tradition of British theatre. It’s drenched in London lingo and slang. Take a look.
Now look at it again, but this time think in threes. What do you notice?
Let’s bust out our diagramming pencil.
1 – Right. Let’s sort the buyers from the spyers
2 – The needy from the greedy
3 – And those who trust me from the ones who don’t
1 – ’cause if you can’t see value here today
2 – You’re not up here shopping
3 – You’re up here shoplifting
1 – You see these goods?
2 – They never seen daylight, moonlight, Israelites
3 – Fanny by the gas light
1 – Take a bag
2 – Come on take a bag
3 – I took a bag home last night, cost me a lot more than 10 pound I can tell ya
Anyone like jewelry? Look at that one there
1 – Hand made in Italy
2 – Hand stolen in Stepney
3 – It’s as long as my arm, I wish it was as long as something else
1 – Don’t think cause these boxes are sealed up they’re empty
2 – The only man who sells empty boxes is the undertaker
3 – And by the look of some of you lot here today, I’d make more money with me measuring tape
Here one price – 10 pound
Did you say 10 pounds?
Are you deaf?
That’s a bargain. I’ll take one.
1 – Squeeze in if you can
2 – Left leg, right leg. Your body’ll follow
3 – They call it walking
1 – Do you want one as well darling?
2 – You do, that’s it
3 – They’re waking up
1 – Treat the wife
2 – Treat somebody else’s wife
3 – It’s a lot more fun if you don’t get caught
1 – Hold on, you want one as well
2 – Ok, darling, show me a bit of life then
3 – No good standing out there like one o’clock half struck
Relentless! It’s great writing, and it’s all about the rule of three. Notice how the titles punctuate the beats.
Start looking around, and you’ll see three.