Writing Rules from Emmy-Winning Writer and Producer Dan O’Shannon

Even a blind pig finds acorns once in a while. I ran across some writing rules from Emmy-Winning writer and producer Dan O’Shannon and am passing them along to you. Ignore for the moment that Dan’s career spans hit series’ like Cheers, Frasier and Modern Family. Now he’s back in Ohio, spinning out wisdom on writing via the Facebooks. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that he’s telling you how to not suck as a writer in three or four simple sentences:

Tip for young comedy writers: whenever possible, avoid the rule of three.

Second and final post on the rule of three. A lot of comedy people learn the rule of three and then they start using it all the time. sometimes it’s effective, but often it’s used to prop up a joke that isn’t very good; the rule of three makes it kind of joke-shaped, and they can sometimes fool the audience (but mostly themselves) into thinking they’ve written something actually good.

Then there are jokes that would work just as well without the punchline being the third in a list – the structure is unnecessary, but still used by writers who automatically plug it in because that’s what they’ve learned. the rule of three is used so often and so carelessly that it calls attention to itself as a hack form. it’s frequently used to parody bad comedy writing. I’d say use it when it works, but don’t use it just to use it.

Sure there are exceptions to the Rule of Three and exceptions to the exceptions. I might even tell Dan that Tom Raymond disagreed with him, but I know his first question would be ‘who’s Tom Raymond?’