Is there such a rule? It’s that thing that makes the difference between good and bad storytelling. It’s all about timing, density and contrast. Of course you can break this rule if it’s for a good cause, such as building anticipation or creating some kind of contrast.
Usually the climax comes somewhere around the end of the second third. Followed by the resolution (usually that Hollywood kind of happy end).
If you follow this rule thoroughly, people will follow the story from beginning to end. It work on music too and you don’t really have to tell a whole story (such as in a country song), you can build a micro universe by telling a micro story that builds the energy towards the end of the second third.
This is what house music is all about: playing with energy in 12 acts. You don’t always have lyrics, that’s why the build and release are the most important elements here. If you drop a vocal snippet from time to time, things will take your audience by surprise and you may end up living them wanting for more (which is not as bad as it sounds; addiction to music comes with no side effects — it actually comes with lots of benefits).
These are generic facts. You can use this post as a reminder for the things that you don’t have to miss when you create something for the people to enjoy: music, photography, movies, even a standup comedy act.
While you are here, what does this reminds you of?
Is there life behind the rule of three? Do you see it differently?
There are a lot of people who work outside this rule. By constantly experimenting, they come up with innovative ways of using sound. Because a lot of the time they are ahead of the time, they usually get the appreciation of people like them. The innovators usually come up with the ideas and the creators who are close to the present adopt these ideas and get them into the popular culture.
Taking innovative ideas and remixing them in a way that mimic the rule of three will definitely get you closer to a hit and becoming part of the pop culture hall of fame.
Maybe there should be two different processes: one where you come up with the innovative ideas (this is the place where you are free, with only a couple of rules) and the other one where you add these ideas onto “the rule of three” skeleton.