Photo courtesy of Sir Charles Tupper School (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
Have you ever written for a newspaper? I was on staff for my high
school newspaper many years ago. That’s where I got my feet wet for my
One cardinal rule
of journalism is to include the 5 W’s and the H at the beginning. In case
you’re one of the few who never wrote a newspaper article, here they are:
Why do we need these six words? Newspaper layouts, even those online,
are dynamic, so when a reporter is assigned a six-inch story, it may be cut to
three inches. Or maybe two! All the vital information must appear near the beginning¸
so important facts don’t end up on the editorial room floor or in the recycle
In newspapers, by the time readers get to the second or third
paragraph, they know who did what and when, where, why, and how it happened. They
have enough on that story and move on to the next headline.
Book and magazine readers want the same. Feel free to delve into
character development, story arc, conflict, resolution, and all the other good
stuff that make your writing great. But be sure to give us the facts so we can follow
A local author asked me to endorse his novel, and sent me the first 150
pages. One character didn’t get a name until Page 35, so I didn’t know if she was
vital to the story or just an extra waiting to be killed. And since I had no
idea what was happening or why, a 30-page car chase was irrelevant and boring.
When I told this author that I couldn’t endorse his book, he was
surprised. He said, “Don’t you even want to know what happened to the
characters?” No, I honestly didn’t care.
Those 5 W’s and
the H are vital even to humor. Here’s an example:
A chicken (Who) walks into a library and up to the counter (Where). She looks at the librarian and says, “Book!” (What)
The librarian gives her a
book and the chicken takes it under her wing (How)
and walks out. A short time later (When), she
comes back, sets the book down, and says, “Book! Book!”
The librarian gives her
two books and she goes out, then brings the books back. This time, she says, “Book!
Book! Book!” The librarian complies, but decides to follow the chicken to see
what’s going on.
The chicken walks across
the parking lot, crosses the street, and heads down to where a frog is sitting
on a rock. She spreads out the books in front of the frog, who looks at each
one and says, “Reddit! Reddit! Reddit!” (Why)
I know you’re either groaning or LOL-ing right now, but it was easy for
you to picture this far-fetched story. All the facts were there, dressed up in jest.