They’re what makes up a great story. The six little words that we were taught in primary school. For my classmates and I, they existed on a six-sided die. After reading a short story, we had to roll the die and whichever of the six words it landed on, we had to recap that element of the story.
The five Ws and the How are the building blocks of any journalism piece and essentially gives your story purpose. They’re a lot more than six little words and can be the difference between a good article and a Walkley Award winner.
Who is the main character in your story? Without the Who, there is no story. Sure, the Who may not specifically be a person, but your story needs to focus on a particular object. The Who could be an animal, the government or even the Empire State Building. Whether you’re writing a hard news story, feature or creating a video, the Who is essential to every single piece that you write.
What is the reason behind your story? Why is there a reason for your story to be told? The What is the first step to the establishment of your story. It is the spot fire to something bigger, the grand gesture that will get you noticed. Without the What there isn’t really a purpose to a story being told. Picture it like a dinosaur without a skeletal system – it would just be jelly. When there is a What there is a will to keep reading.
Every detective requires a timeline of events in order to indicate when exactly the crime occurred. The When is the pinpoint of every story. When did the event occur? In which era? Was it morning, afternoon or night? The reader is given a timestamp of when your story takes place. The role of the When is just as important as the Who and the What. It’s what differentiates a good storyteller from a great storyteller.
Just like the When, the Where is another important pinpoint in your story. The When gives us the time, whereas the Where gives us the place. Where did the event occur? Where will the meeting proceed? Rather than just having a timestamp, the story now has placement. The outcome of your story may be dependent on the place and time of events so it is important that the Where has some input in your writing.
If there was one non-essential W out the of five, the Why may arguably be the least significant. However, that really depends on the style of writing. In a Hard News story, the Why may not be evident straight away. Perhaps there hasn’t been enough investigation into a Why, but the story may still be worth telling. For a feature story, however, the Why plays a part in the purpose of your story being told. In this case, the Why would be required in your story pitch. The use of the Why is up to the author’s discretion and doesn’t always have to be the first bit of information in your piece. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include it, it still has a place in a great story.
And here we welcome our first and only H – the How. This element of the story is what it makes it sparkle. If you can achieve all five Ws and the How, you know that you have covered all your bases and you’re on the path to producing a brilliant story. The How can be anything you make it. How did the tragedy occur? How will the demolition affect me? In what manner and by what means does this story give others a sense of purpose?