Power of Three in Writing

“Writers Talk” is the monthly newsletter of the South Bay Branch of The California Writers Club. In the June issue, Marjorie Bicknell Johnson, the editor, wrote an article titled “Power of Three”. She explains that “Information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of items”.  The use of a series of three words, phrases, or ideas has been used in many myths and stories, for example, the “Three Little Pigs”and “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. Notice how many sayings are in threes: “I came, I saw, I conquered”, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, “Stop, look, and listen”, Location, location, location to name a few. 

Two rhetorical devices used effectively in writing are anaphora and epistrophe. Anaphora is repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of three successive phrases or sentences. “He knew he had to drive her home. He knew he had to say good-bye. He knew he had to let her go”.

Epistrophe is the counterpart of anaphora in that it’s the repetition of three last words or phrases in a row. “The barking dogs drive me crazy. The cars racing down the street drive me crazy. The voices in my head drive me crazy”.

A writer who adds anaphora or epistrophe creates an engaging story, a variety in sentence structure, and often, an emotional response from the reader. Experiment with them and see if you agree with the power of three. 

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Power of Three in Writing

  1. Two repetitions just sound unintentional, an echo, a mistake. Three makes the emphasis clear. Thanks for the reminder.

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    • Marjorie would agree with you, Julie. She says “Using a series of more than three becomes cumbersome and less easy to understand. Using a series of two ideas simply doesn’t have the same impact.”

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  2. Camille

    Great information! Thanks! I love your blog!

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  3. Glad you liked the post Julie and Camille.

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