Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Three times the fun!

Now today I'd like to talk a bit about the number three.  It's a lovely number really, and often shows up in writing for emphasis or humor.  Or emphasis of humor.

I'm not the first to notice it or bring it up, but three seems to be a very powerful number.  The most popular series for books or movies is a trilogy.  Two doesn't seem like enough (if they are well done) and four is sometimes pushing into a re-hash (now some authors do have very successful series way past three, but three seems to be the popular cut off.).

Three books in a series (or a sub-grouping within a larger series) gives a satisfying pay off for the reader.  It allows them to delve further into your world and also pick up things that may not have been fully borne out in even the best single title book.

Three is also very funny.  Humor isn't easy to do, but using the triple of the idea of concept allows for a stronger finish. Since TV shows are usually a broader example, I'll use one from The Big Bang Theory.  

In this episode, Sheldon is afraid of someone breaking into the apartment, so he barricades himself in his room, then has to pee. He says, "I am in complete control of my bladder". It's funny, as it often seems you have to go when you can't get to a bathroom easily- but not extremely funny.  Later, he is in a scary place (outside a building on a ledge) and repeats the line about his bladder.  Again funny, as most of us would probably be freaking out as well- and we have a repetition which reinforces the funny.  The last time is when he gets caught in an electrified net of his own creation and is laying there on the floor.  This time it's "I'm not in control of my own bladder." We have the three and the tie in to the previous times builds up the humor "punch" for the last line (yes, potty humor is crude, but it's still humor ;)).  The last set up probably wouldn't have been funny at all if it wasn't for the other two examples.

When I started my upcoming book, The Glass Gargoyle, I immediately thought of sidekicks for my main character.  Little maniacal, drunken faeries with attitude and a drinking problem.  Didn't want just one, and two seemed too symmetrical (something very unfunny), so I went with three.  Don't ask me why odd numbers seem funnier than even numbers, but they do.  Odd numbers-- even ones other than three, although then you run into other issues-- just seem to inherently leave things up for more humor and conflict. There was a reason there were three stooges.

When I write if I have something I want to emphasize for a humorous pay off I stick to three shots with the third shot being the twist.  I keep track of these funny repeats though, as a joke gets old very very fast and while three is memorable and hopefully will make the reader laugh, more than that can become painful and annoying.

What about you?  Do you have any memorable or funny "threes" from a book, movie, or TV show?


  1. Sadly, the first thing that comes to my mind is an episode of Peg + Cat (The Clown Problem) where a character really wants to be a clown but just isn't funny. Another character comes in, singing about the rule of three.

    I hadn't really paid attention to it before, but now I'll be more aware.

    1. LOL! Yeah, once you start noticing it, I think it does make a difference :).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

      Marie- stuck at evil day job, can't log on to Blogger ;)