1-2-3…Hehehe: Using the Rule of Three by @kamikinard plus a #Giveaway!

Humor sells. We’ve all heard that before. But how do we write something funny? As authors, making people laugh can be challenging. We can’t use physical humor and pratfall our way into chuckles like Chevy Chase. Neither can we rely on Amy Poehler-like wacky facial expressions to get the giggles. And, unfortunately, we can’t use inflections in our voices to hammer humor home the way Chris Rock does.

The only tools we have in our comic tool chests are words.  And that’s where the Rule of Three comes in.

Rule of three

The Rule of Three is a tool anyone – picture book authors and novelists alike – can use to

WISH_boyproject_comp (1)

Yes, the Rule of Three is used in this book!

evoke humor! There are multiple reasons to use this technique, and volumes written about why to use it. I’m going to focus on just one of them: using the rule of three to set up your funny moments. One of the most common mistakes I see when critiquing manuscripts is a tendency for writers to rush through the funny parts. They create funny moments, but don’t spend enough time preparing the reader for them. So the moment is gone in a blink, which doesn’t allow the humor to reach its full potential. The rule of three offers one way to fix that problem.

Employing the Rule of Three is like putting a pedestal under your trophy, a frame around your picture, or showing off your summer legs by accidentally tucking your skirt in your underwear.

Did you see what I just did there? That’s the Rule of Three in action. The concept is very simple, and it works. You are laying out a sequence of events so that when the big moment comes – that laugh-worthy moment — your reader is ready to fully appreciate it. This does not mean that they should be able to anticipate that moment!

The trick is to establish a pattern, and two beats are usually enough to do that, so that when you add your third beat – your twist – you break the pattern by offering something unexpected. Then you’ll be rewarded with a laugh, chuckle, or smile.



So how do you use the Rule of Three?

There are so many ways! Let’s look at a tale you’re all familiar with. An age-proven fairy tale that has been re-told as a picture book many times: Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This story uses the Rule of Three perfectly, and is therefore the perfect vehicle for humor. Don’t believe me? Ask Mo Willems, who won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award for his retelling of this classic a few years ago with Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.

In the fairy tale version, Goldilocks gets to experience three bowls of porridge, three chairs, and three beds, and each of these actions provides three beats, so there is opportunity for humor on the third beat. Then the bears come home from their walk and we see the Rule of Three used in dialogue. Papa bear speaks, then mama bear speaks, then baby bear delivers the unexpected punchline!

The original author made sure we were prepared to enjoy Goldilocks’ actions and Baby Bear’s punchlines by offering us enough beats to pull us in before the twists are delivered. So the story has been enjoyed for hundreds of years!

Try giving this classic tale a rewrite. Use its perfect Rule of Three structure to get used to delivering humor in three beats!

Now… how do I use the Rule of Three to create humor? the boy problem

When I want to employ this technique, I usually start by thinking of the funny moment – the punchline – first. Then I think backward to set it up.

Sometimes this is done by placing all three beats close together in a single sentence, like I did earlier. Sometimes I drop them in further apart like I did in this scene from my book, The Boy Problem, where  Tabbi is invited to the skate park by her crush and her best friend Kara is advising her to stay off of skateboards. (If you click on the image it should enlarge enough for you to read it.)


You can even have your beats span several pages. I illustrate this in today’s exercise.

Whether you’re writing a funny story or a more serious one that includes a comical scene, humor is going to offer your reader something everyone loves: a feel good moment. So set that moment up, put a frame around it, then serve up the unexpected with the Rule of Three.

Head Shots from Carpe Diem 015Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Problem  and The Boy Project, which is being newly released in paperback July 2016 as part of Scholastic’s WISH series. Her poetry, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in numerous periodicals for children and adults. In addition to her professional critiquing services, she is a SCBWI mentor, and often leads writing workshops at conferences and in schools. She is a co-founder of Kidlit Summer school. You can find out more about her by visiting her visiting her website  www.kamikinard.com, liking her Facebook Page, and following @kamikinard on Twitter.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Kami’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.

GIVEAWAY! Kami is giving away a TWENTY PAGE manuscript critique with a follow-up phone call or Skype session. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win this prize, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

BONUS GIVEAWAY: To promote the paperback release of The Boy Project, Kami is offering another giveaway on her website. Click HERE for details. 

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

336 comments on “1-2-3…Hehehe: Using the Rule of Three by @kamikinard plus a #Giveaway!

  1. Kristen C.S. says:

    Well explained! I love when I can read a writing how-to that makes perfect sense to me. Needed this. =)


  2. Jennifer says:

    Great examples! Thanks for all you do to help make Kidlit Summer School a thing 🙂


  3. Eleni DeGraw says:

    Great examples and I appreciate the rule of three–my writer’s group feedback is I can write funny, but I think this will improve the funny.


  4. Thanks for your great examples for the Rule of Three. Enjoying another great year at Kidlit Summer School.


  5. I love both the underwear and the Three Bears examples. I love the beats. Thanks for teaching us!


  6. Georgia Beaverson says:

    Brilliant twist on the Rule of 3, Kami. Thanks for the insight into set-up!


  7. Luan Pitsch says:

    Amazing. It was like a light bulb going off. thanks!


  8. Lotus Ivak says:

    Thank you Kami!


  9. Sue Heavenrich says:

    Great insight into rule of three – especially being able to see it on the page. Thanks, Kami.


  10. 01chicchick says:

    Thanks for the tips! You are one of my favorite authors!


  11. I really like this. I’d like to try this in my adult novel.


  12. Thanks for laying out the rule of threes with great examples, Kami. You’ve led me to an epiphany about why a certain section of my PB project is falling flat. It’s the third beat, and the humor in the first and second beats is better than in the third. Now I know what to work on! Thank you 🙂


  13. janebuttery says:

    I thought i left a comment but can’t see it,Kami. You make a good point. I was thinking of a day I went by train with my young cousin ( age 10 and i was 16 at the time).
    We went to see a museum in Wales.Rosemary was thrilled to be going on a train without her mum so I had to be responsible. It went well going there; she listened, we changed trains and got out at the right place.But returning, we were waiting for the train and I turned to look for our umbrella I’d dropped and she said,”The train’s nearly here!” I said,” WAIT” and she did not answer. I looked around and she’d disappeared. Before I could get to the train, it was moving and she was on it.! It was the scariest day of my life till then and worse for her. But i managed to shout, “Get out at the next station.” Do you think this is meat enough for a story?


  14. You still got it, Kami! Love your punchlines. 😀


  15. Gabi Snyder says:

    Thanks for your entertaining and clear examples, Kami! I look forward to trying out your writing exercise.


  16. Amy Benoit says:

    3 is that lucky number that makes all things possible. Reviewing my pb ms/s to be sure they meet the examples you’ve shared. Upping the funny!


  17. Susan Cabael says:

    Your 1-2-3 reminders will help me on my current ms.


  18. I read a child development article recently that said children need laughter as a daily part of their healthy development. At the time I didn’t even stop to think about reading being a source for that laughter.
    Something about the rhythm of threes also seems very satisfying in literature, and life really. Thanks for this insight.


  19. Patti says:

    I understand the set up a little better now. I can see right where to go in my own writing to fix those humor spots. Thank you.


  20. I will have to try using your rule of three. Thank you for sharing.


  21. Leah Heilman Schanke says:

    Thanks so much for the clear explanations and examples.My writing is focused on serious subjects. This is food for thought on how to lighten things up!


  22. Dawn says:

    My next revision will include the rule of three. Thanks for sharing.


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