Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Rule of Odds

Snow this morning.

Christmas Decorations

Yes, it's that season, all right, but the photos above are for another point. There's a subtle difference in the two photos (besides being of different subjects). One is static, the other not. If you look, the picture with three items is more energetic, dynamic, interesting somehow. Some sort of oddity about odd numbers creates this odd effect.

An oddity any writer can use to advantage. Lists of three (as in energetic, dynamic, interesting) are more intriguing than two or four or six. Paragraphs broken into one, three, five and so on, number of sentences moves the reader onto the next paragraph. It even, oddly enough, works with the number of chapters in a novel. Gary Provost pointed out that novels that have odd numbers of chapters are more successful than even numbered.

Why? Perhaps because an even number is a closed, finished, full number, whereas odds are incomplete.

It's odd that just by counting, you can improve your work.


Swubird said...


One, two, three...That's the key!

When I was in college I remember that we studied these things in psych class. It seems that human beings naturally want to organize things into recognizable patterns. We prefer THE to HTE. So I guess it makes sense that we also prefer two instead of three, and so forth. Uneven things disturb us. It's good that you made this point and reminded all of us that we should apply it to out writing.

Interesting post as always.

Happy trails.

Dave King said...

Coo! It's anti-logic and anti-intuition, but the number 3 does seem to have a power all its own. Three figures most frequently in the compositions of great paintings - the triangle with its 3 points, for instance. Yup, I go along with most of it...

Conda Douglas said...

Yeah, good point, Dave--I'd forgotten about the phenomenon--isn't there a name for it?--of needing patterns. Even when there isn't one (hence coincidences).

Conda Douglas said...

Such a great point about three in paintings as well, Dave. A famous Renaissance painting of the Madonna and child AND John the Baptist as an infant comes to mind.(Although my mind is blank as to the artist.)

And like every rule--it's a generality. Such as not using too many m-dashes. Or sentence fragments.

Helen Ginger said...

I was drawn to the lawn chairs. They felt more "active" than the three other objects in the second picture. I liked the way the snow only half covered the chair.

Although, technically, the first picture seems to be a "3" as well. The chair and the two shelves.

Swubird said...

Santa will be here soon and I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Happy trails.

Conda Douglas said...

Good point, Helen and yes, with the snow "moving" across the chair and table, it could be seen as more active.

Conda Douglas said...

Same to you, Swu!

The Muse said...

Whenever I decorate I try to use odd numbers. Of course sometimes I tend to over do it.

Super tip for writing. I'd better get back to it so I can use it.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

Conda Douglas said...

Muse, as I was decorating I thought of you and your struggles with lights! Happy Holidays to you too!