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Make Your Writing Funny – The Rule of Three

Read Time: 2 min

As I've mentioned before, you can't milk a joke for too long, or it gets stale pretty quickly. The rule of three is a good...well, rule of thumb for keeping that in mind. It hits a sweet spot that Goldilocks would die for - not too long, but not so short that it loses the effect.

Rule of three jokes work like a list, and the first two parts serve to setup whatever assumption you're trying to shatter. Let me demonstrate by writing up a rule of three joke on the fly. (As always, these concepts don't have to be attached just to verbal humor, but this is the easiest way to show you.) The other day I was musing about careers I wanted as a kid. Here's a few of them:

Detective
Reporter
Game designer
Fiction author

From that we could start it off like this:

Like many kids, I wanted to be a lot of different things when I grew up.

Next, let's add two of the careers to extend the setup.

Like many kids, I wanted to be a lot of different things when I grew up. Detective...reporter...

You know what's coming next. Now we need to twist the assumption. In this case, it's assuming that the next career will be a normal job. As always, I'm gonna go out of my way to come up with something totally out of left field:

Like many kids, I wanted to be a lot of different things when I grew up. Detective...reporter...plantation owner...

Now, usually rule of three is pretty indisputable, but I find that you can sometimes stretch it to a list of four items. This only really works if A) the items are short to list and B) the fourth item is even more unexpected than the third one.

And now that I've just taught you the easiest filler for Twitter you can ever write, go forth and rule-ify!

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