Here is the first in a series of weekly Quick Hits — writing tips that that I’ve picked up on my journey through the writing life.
Quick hits No. 1:
Over the past week I’ve had occasion to talk about young writers and writing in general in four completely different conversations with four different people. And I found myself saying the same thing in each one.
First, let me say that when I am not writing fiction and traveling down the road to publication, I work as a newspaper editor. I’ve been a reporter and editor in the news field for over 30 years and I have a degree in journalism.
These days I am a copy desk chief and page designer at a newspaper in California. I read stories every day. I see great ones, good ones, average ones, and just plain awful ones.
Then I go home and read blogs, Tweets and other things on the web pertaining to writing: writer’s block, not having time to write, not knowing how to get started, and other topics that confound writers of all stripes.
In each of the conversations I said basically the same thing: A writer has to know what he or she wants to write about, they have to have an idea of how they want to start the story and they have to know where the story is going to go.
I also said that all writing answers the five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why. And I throw in How for good measure.
Sure, it’s an old saw from journalism school no one seems to want to use any more, but I guarantee any piece of writing, whether a news story or fiction or how-to book, will answer those questions.
“Shelly heard shots. Her new-mother instincts kicked in before she knew what she was doing, and her precious Caleb was cuddled in her arms as she quickly knelt to the floor. She didn’t see the shooter but that didn’t stop her from reaching for the shotgun by the back door.”
In one paragraph we know
What: grabbed her baby
When: When she heard shots
Where: We don’t know, yet.
Why: She is a new mother.
This paragraph could have been in a news story, short story or novel.
I don’t think so. It does the job and enables the writer to get something on paper, even if it is only first draft material. Give it a try!
See you next week.