Thursday, April 7, 2016

"F" Five W’s and an H

by Debbie Hardy, the Queen of Resilience

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 late-in-life career.
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:

1.     Who
2.     What
3.     When
4.     Where
5.     Why
6.     How
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 bin.

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 your story.

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.

And now you know why. Aren’t you glad you reddit?


Deborah Nielsen said...

Oh, good grief! But I liked it!
I started my writing "career" with 'Wingspan', Laramie County Community College's student newspaper, so I know all about the 5 Ws and the H. Brings back good memories although I'm glad the days when you have to hand set the articles and ads are long gone.

Jennifer Goble said...

OMGoodness. Thank you for the refresher....I've known the principle for years, but seldom think about it. I'm in the 6th year of writing a newspaper column so I NEEDED reminded. Great read!

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