In Babylon 5, for example, a character lists famous bombings like "Hiroshima, Dresden, San Diego" with the first items in the list being real and the last being fictional. This dialog technique of casually tying the past into a fictional future seems to be common in franchises with world-building like Star Trek.

Is there a name for the trope where a character specifically lists two real, historical items and then a third fictional one? That always seems to be the pattern.

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    To clarify, the trope seems to have characters refer to two real items and one fictional one ("Mozart, Beethoven, and Gleepgorp"). Yes, I understand the purpose of it, but just because it has purpose doesn't mean this pattern of dialog isn't a trope. Aug 26, 2018 at 2:44
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    @user14111 If you're writing a story that takes place in the year 3046, you wouldn't necessarily have to refer to any historical moment from pre-2000. How often does stuff come up in conversation from over a thousand years ago? This is clearly a literary device to help put things into context for the reader. Logically, the speaker in the story likely wouldn't bother referring to any event over a thousand years ago b/c there would be more relevant options that are more recent (in their mind).
    – Doc
    Aug 26, 2018 at 21:13
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    @Doc, Jericho, Troy, Sodom, Gomorroh, Pompeii and (erm) Atlantis are all mentioned today as destroyed cities, and all were over 1000 years ago. Once in the public consciousness as a famous example, stays in the public consciousness regardless of time.
    – gbjbaanb
    Aug 26, 2018 at 23:59
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    @Doc - of course no one ever uses references that are over 1000 years old - JFC. Aug 27, 2018 at 20:24
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    @Doc : When talking about famous conquerors, Alexander the Great and Genghis khan are often on the top of the list even today. When talking about great philosophers, there is always at least one from ancient Greece.
    – vsz
    Aug 28, 2018 at 6:08

2 Answers 2


TV Tropes calls it "Famous, Famous, Fictional." The trope description does not cite any other name, which means there almost certainly is not another commonly used term for it. (The trope descriptions are generally quite good about citing more traditional terminology for such things.)

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    It also mentions the Rule of Three: "The first two instances build tension, and the third releases it by incorporating a twist." That's a more general version of the same grouping.
    – Brythan
    Aug 26, 2018 at 4:09
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    The quote at the top of the page calls it the "Science Fiction Law of Threes", but that term is not used any more widely than the page title. Aug 26, 2018 at 17:26
  • @Brythan: The first mention of something (i.e. the third item in the list) can logically never be a twist, as it's the first time we hear anything about it. For example: [Julius Caesar, Jon Snow, Donald Trump] would suggest a conspiracy that's currently being concocted by White House staffers or politicians. However, [Julius Caesar, Jon Snow, Glorp the Galactic Overlord] doesn't quite work as a twist as we have no knowledge of Glorp before he was mentioned in this list.
    – Flater
    Aug 27, 2018 at 15:16
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    @TRiG: To point of my example wasn't the real-real-fictional, but rather the pattern matching nature of known-known-unknown. By the similarlities between the first two knowns, the unknown can be inferred to follow the same pattern.
    – Flater
    Aug 28, 2018 at 12:27
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    The bombings of Hiroshima, Dresden, San Diego example in the OP follows all three patterns real-real-fictional, known-known-unknown, tension-tension-twist. Aug 29, 2018 at 21:28

To compliment the accepted answer and note that one does see variations on this theme, here is an example of the trope in the form "Fictional, Fictional, Famous": in the very first sentence of Philip Pullman's novel "La Belle Sauvage",

Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, ...

And here is an example of the trope in the form "Fictional, Famous, Fictional": from Season 1 Episode 16 (When The Bough Breaks) of Star Trek: The Next Generation,

TASHA: What's so interesting about this system?

RIKER: Aldea. Tasha, I'm surprised you haven't heard the stories about Aldea, the wondrous mythical world. Like Atlantis of ancient Earth or Neinman of Xerxes Seven.

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