Writer’s block? Or just having a blank moment? Bring out the Five Ws and One H.
Say what?? Rudyard Kipling immortalised the concept in the opening of ‘The Elephant’s Child’, a poem that accompanied one of his Just So Stories, written in 1902:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Used widely in journalism, interrogative pronouns are basic tools for gathering information. The prompts are all open questions, none of them can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and are useful launch pads for the creative writing imagination. Start with a character and a situation and imagine some answers to these questions:
- Who are you writing about?
- What happened to them?
- Where did this take place?
- When did it take place?
- Why did it happen?
- How did it happen?
You can expand on the basics by asking further questions to provide inspiration:
- Who else is involved? Who is responsible?
- What next? What for?
- Where were they going? Where were they coming from?
- When will it begin? When will it end?
- Why now? Why not later?
- How many? How much?
It’s a bit like interviewing a character, where you’re trying to elicit as much information as possible. You don’t necessarily need answers to every question, but don’t stop asking them until you have the framework of a story.
A friend of mine suggests that if the characters won’t cooperate when you ask them these questions, then you should threaten to write them into a coma. I haven’t tried it yet, but it might help!
Excellent advice – it opens up a whole new thought process. Do coma victims have thoughts? Why shouldn’t they? And if they do, what would these thoughts be? I feel another story coming on. Thanks!