There are 5 questions to telling a story. Applying them to fiction will help us write amazing stories.
I first heard them in college as they applied to journalism. The 5 questions or signposts or guides to writing
great stories are: Who? Where? When? What? Why?
These are our characters, our heroes and our villains, our significant secondary characters, our minor characters. Stories are those about people in tense situations and conflict. The best stories capture the readers. To craft the best stories, we have to create heroes they will want to follow. We have to create villains who provide a credible threat to our main characters. The best villains are not cartoons; they are real people who see themselves as the hero of their own story. When we bring these people to life with all the strengths and faults we see in ourselves and in people around us, the readers will see it as well. They’ll see part of themselves in the hero. They will commit to following her or him to the final outcome.
WHERE AND WHEN?
Very simply, where is the story set? A city, farm, small town? Mountains, oceans? North America, Europe, Africa? Another planet? The Titanic? A fantasy world with wizards and unicorns? This is the story world where our characters will live out their journeys. Our options are as limited as our imaginations.
When is our story? Is it today, 50 years in the future? 200 years in the future? Is it the Old West? Early Biblical times? Is it medieval with castles and princesses?
When we anchor our readers in a believable and accurate time and place, they jump into the world with our hero, willing to follow her anywhere. So we better get the details right.
WHAT AND WHY?
These two questions are the heart and soul of our plot.
What does our hero want? Why does she want it? What is she willing to do to get it?
Why does the villain want to stop her?
What does the villain want? Why does he want it? What is he willing to do to get it? Approach these questions from the viewpoint that the villain is the hero of his own story.
This is where the tension, suspense and conflict play out in our story. This is where the action happens. Where it builds to the final climax.
And, if we’ve answered these 5 questions well, we give the readers a more than satisfying ending. We given them a story they will remember and share with others.
How have you used these 5 questions in your writing? Are there other questions you ask?