The Power of Three

All good things come in threes, or so they say. But when three bad things happen, people often say, "Well, that's your three over with now".

Three is a number that appears to permeate almost every area of human culture. In the world of mathematics, three is a prime number (divisible only by one and itself). Three sides and three angles form a triangle, often seen by mathematicians as the 'perfect shape'. Scientifically, three is the number of constituents of an atom and we perceive our world through three dimensions. In religion, there is the Christian Trinity, the Hindu Trimerti and the Three Jewels of Buddhism.

The list goes on and on. We seem to love, fear and sometimes worship the concept of 'three'. Storytellers are no different. Where would the Greek tale-spinners have been without their Three Fates? Shakespeare chose to feature three witches in his Scottish Play (oh, all right then, Macbeth). There are Three Musketeers and three books in the Lord of the Rings. Even our children have three blind mice, three little pigs and those three bears who were burgled by Goldilocks.

As a writer, the use of three as a way to list or order can give a rhythm, richness and strength to our writing. Imagine three people, their hands linked and intertwined in the space between them. How difficult would it be to pull them apart and how beautiful is the shape that they make?

Have a look at these three examples, then try it for yourself.

Firstly, an alliterative three from 'Indian Summer of an Uncle' by P G Wodehouse,

"Ask anyone at the Drones, and they will tell you that Bertram Wooster is a fellow whom it is dashed difficult to deceive."

Returning to 'Macbeth',

"She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!"

Finally from 'Francis Macomber' by Ernest Hemingway,

"Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy hand and swung away toward the cover of the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220 grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach. Then it crashed again and he felt the blow as it hit his lower ribs and ripped on through, blood sudden hot and frothy in his mouth, and he galloped toward the higher grass where he could crouch and not be seen..."

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