The number of examples you use in a sentence or a story has meaning.
The Number One: Declare It
That girl is smart.
In this simple sentence, the writer declares a single defining characteristic of the girl, her intelligence. The reader must focus on that. It is this effect of unity, single-mindedness, no-other-alternativeness, that characterizes the language of one.
Read my lips.
Tom Wolfe once told William F. Buckley Jr., that if a writer wants the reader to think something the absolute truth, the writer should render it in the shortest possible sentence. Trust me.
The Number Two: Compare It
We know that girl is smart, but what happens when we learn:
That girl is smart and sweet.
The writer has altered our perspective on the world. The choice for the reader is not between smart and sweet. Instead, the writer forces us to hold these two characteristics in our mind at the same time. We have to balance them, weigh them against each other, compare and contrast them.
Mom and dad.
True or false.
The Number Three: Surround It
The dividing magic of number two turns into what one scholar calls the "encompassing" magic of number three.
That girl is smart, sweet, and determined.
As this sentence grows, we are influenced to see the girl in a more well-rounded way. Rather than simplify her as smart, or divide her as smart and sweet, we now triangulate the elements of her character. In our language and culture, three seems to give us a sense of the whole:
Beginning, middle, and end.
A priest, a minister, and a rabbi.
On your mark, get set, go.
At the end of his most famous passage on the nature of love, St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: "For now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three. But the greatest of all is love." The powerful movement is from trinity to unity. From a sense of the whole to an understanding of what is most important.
The Number Four or More: Count It
That girl is smart, sweet, determined, and anorexic.
We can add descriptive elements to infinity. Four or more examples create a list, but not a complete inventory. Four or more details in a passage can offer a flowing, literary effect.
So good writing is as easy as one, two, three ... and four.
Use one for power.
Use two for comparison, contrast.
Use three for completeness, wholeness, roundness.
Use four or more to list, inventory, compile, and expand.
Today's tip courtesy of Poynter online. To see the complete article: click here