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Applying The 5 Ws of Journalism to Storytelling

Both new and experienced writers are afraid of a blank page. It is no small feat to climb the mountain of starting a new story, and when you consider what goes into the initial stages of writing a fictional narrative, you might wonder how many people undertake this endeavor in the first place. To make the beginning process less tedious, you can consider the approach of answering the five Ws of journalism — who, what, where, when and why — as it applies to storytelling.

The Who of Storytelling

The first question deals with every aspect of your story that has to do with people. Who are your characters, and how do they relate to each other? Who is telling the story, and how close are they to the main characters, or are they the main characters? If you choose to narrate in third-person, is it the omniscient narrator? Or a close third-person narrator? Or an objective third-person narrator? You need to decide on the protagonist, the antagonist, and the deuteragonist. Your answer to each of these questions has long-term effects on your story that you may not see at the beginning, but don't let this deter you from making these decisions.

The What of Storytelling

The next set of questions to consider is: What happens in the story? What is the story about? If your narrative is character-based, who the characters are will have a massive effect on what the story will be about. If, on the other hand, your story is plot-based, you need to highlight the primary events that define what the story is about. These questions also deal with the grand theme you intend to address or the desired effect you want the story to have on readers. This leads us further to the genre of your narrative: Is it a mystery, a romance, a crime, a fantasy, or a thriller?

The Where of Storytelling

This question has to do principally with your setting — where does the story take place? You also have to decide just how important the location is to the story. Some stories are more about a particular setting, and others don't pay much attention to where the action occurs. You have to decide if your story is linked to a specific geographical and historical milieu and if it is, in part, about that place and time, or if it is more quintessential and ageless.

The When of Storytelling

This question has to do with everything about the timing of your story. This includes what time in history the story occurs or what period in the characters' lives do the events in the story occur. It also addresses when a story happens, concerning when it is told, whether it is narrated in present tense or past tense by a present-day narrator. A story told in the past tense offers the benefit of hindsight and the opposite provides a sense of immediacy and suspense. And you have to decide which of these effects is desired. You also have to choose when in the story the plot begins: Is it told chronologically, backwards or moving backwards and forward in time?

The Why of Storytelling

This question addresses the motivation behind the actions and decisions of the characters in your story. Why do the characters do what they do? What do they intend to achieve? What propels them to act the way they do? Why are they in the situation of the story? It can be a problem of their own making, or they have no control over their circumstance and are unavoidably thrust into it. Deciding on the intent and motivation of characters is the most crucial and most challenging question. And many stories are written simply just to find answers to this question. A contemporary example of such stories is The Silent Witness by Alex Michaelides.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Frank Stephen