Tuesday, December 08, 2009

What Is It About Groups of Three?

...Just an observation.

I've been editing a lot of work recently in which authors have an absolute obsession with series of three. Case in point: ". . . family structure, societal factors, and economic circumstances made us gravitate toward the positive side of an arduous situation."

This is just one of many, many, MANY (now they've got me doing it) lists like this. What I don't understand is WHY? Do authors not realize that endless series of threes like this produce their own rhythm when read? Do they not realize that, after endless paragraphs with endless series, the rhythm they've produced is soporific? Do they not realize that this will, in fact, induce their readers to read and forget the text almost immediately--if they don't fall asleep first?

I suppose I should count my blessings. I just finished editing one book where the author not only indulged in endless lists of three, but also branched out into other varieties of lists with many MORE parts to them, lists that were in themselves repetitive. (Think, "apples, oranges, pineapples, peaches, grapes, figs, and various fruit salad components of other kinds..." etc., itemized EVERY TIME one needs to mention fruit.) After awhile, I started looking around for someone swinging a watch and murmuring, "Look deep into my eyes...you are getting very, very sleepy...."

So what is it with groups and series? Are authors so afraid of Not Including Everyone and Everything that the alternative is writing prose that sounds like a book of grocery lists? Anyone have a thought on this? (or three? or a series?)

(heh heh)


Deb said...

I am a science fiction author. I write books in trilogies. I cannot help it. It is engraved in stone on that Monolith from "2001."

The symmetry of three is an old Celtic notion. Three was harmonic and in balance. Visualize the triskele, the Trinity (not a Celtic concept though they'd like us to believe so!), the natural set-up of beginning/middle/end that lends itself to threes. Even now, a historic fact is said to be supported adequately if you use three source documents.

And there...I just did it. Three examples.

Going to go soak my head now.

Janny said...

Be sure to soak it THREE times. And then repeat.

It's not an occasional sentence "backing up" an assertion with three examples, three factors, or three references. (There is a natural rhythm to this "three" thing.) What I have found absolutely MADDENING is the presence of groups of three in EVERY SINGLE BLASTED SENTENCE. Did no one teach these people about varying sentence structure?

It's the sequences of them that drive this particular musician/editor nuts. I love the sequence of three in music. But if a composer does it on every single phrase, over and over and over again...eventually, a listener starts to wonder why he can't just get to the point.

I also think this hangup with "three" is a disease much akin to the multiple-adjective disorder. Maybe I should post on THAT next....


Deb said...

Multiple-adjective-disorder? We afflicted call it by its politically correct name: MAD. The first step in recovery is to acknowledge the problem...