Joke writing – The rule of three

There are no simple rules for joke writing.  (The only hard and fast rule I’ve found is  “be funny” – and that’s not simple). But there are useful patterns and techniques used by other people trying to write funny.  I’ve been keeping notes of the patterns I come across and thought I’d share some of them here on my blog.

One such pattern is the “rule of three”: The first two things set up the pattern, the third subverts or twists it.

For (a silly) example:  I found my perfect woman on the internet: She’s blonde, she’s  from Arizona, and her real name’s James.

John Kinde has more examples and shows a few typical patterns of the rule of three over at his website here.

A lot of joke writing is about surprise. You set up the audience to expect one thing, and deliver another. The rule of three uses our natural human tendency to see patterns and similarities. It delivers two examples and we already leap to make this into a rule.  We expect the third example to be same. But it isn’t. It’s cleverly different. There is gap between what we expected to happen and what did actually happen. And we fill that gap with laughter.

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