The 5 W’s: A Spark of Thoughts

Every book starts with a single idea. You may have met people that say, “I’ve got a great idea for a book!” And you say, “Tell me about it.” Then, they enter a fifteen-minute discourse of jumbled thoughts and convoluted characters that are paper-thin and weak. But, that’s okay, it’s expected. I call this the rough draft of ideas. Much like you have a rough draft of your manuscript, so too must you have a rough idea of what your book entails. But how do we make that fifteen-minute exposition into something worthy of writing? The sharp, clear lines, the dotted T’s and the crossed I’s? We simplify.

My ideology method ties directly into the one-sentence summary after the novel is written. You have a back jacket blurb that talks about what the book entails, but first, you must sell your book to an agent or publisher or for an ad if you self-publish. Believe it or not, this is much harder than it sounds. Writing is sometimes difficult, writing in the confines of a maximum word count of about fifteen to eighteen is much harder. These limits may vary from less to more; it greatly depends on need and structure. How do you summarize your finished product into a sentence?

In many ways, the beginning thoughts of a novel and the summary of the finished product are congruent. When building your story, strip out everything to the core element. What is your tale about? A revenge novel? A crime mystery? A coming-of-age narrative? A sci-fi thriller? In many ways, it is almost like picking your genre, but while your genre may be sci-fi, it could still be a crime mystery. A coming-of-age revenge story could be set in the fantasy world.

To expand both on the beginning thoughts and the final one-sentence summary, I utilize the five W’s––five dubs––who, what, when, where, why. In both, we want to keep it simplistic while revealing why this novel/idea is good to pursue. In this case, I would limit the characters to two unless writing in an established world. If we expected the imminent arrival of a Star Wars novel, I would expect the sentence and the blurb to talk about Han, Luke, and Leia. Use discretion, just keep in mind to simplify. Also, don’t try to in cram every subplot, just the main point.

Five W’s
Who––main character, protagonist, villain …
What––What is going on? What’s the conflict or choice that must be made
Where––what setting does this take place in? Where are we going?
When––When must this be accomplished by? Is there a time factor?
Why––(if applicable).

For those utilizing this for germinating a novel, don’t worry about character or location names, but write it in a manner you will remember. Let us say you are going to write Lord of the Rings, but you don’t know all the facts. You could write your one-sentence analysis like this: “Little dude seeks to destroy an unknown artifact that holds the soul and power of the villain.”

Why is the artifact unknown? Well, we haven’t made it a ring yet. Why is he little? I don’t know, maybe he is young or of a different race. There aren’t many books out there with gnome-like creatures as leads. Who’s the villain and where does he reside? Somewhere far away… it’s going to take a long time to get there … like three books and nine hours of film, but it will be epic!

Now, if you wrote LOTRs, how would you write the one-sentence summary? Maybe like this: “Frodo must journey to the fiery depths of Mordor to destroy the one ring of power before it claims his soul or falls into the hands of the dark lord.” Not perfect, but a great start. Now, practice by trimming it down. In this instance, I chose to leave out the ‘when’ (time frame) but gave the why. For a solid one-sentence summary or crafting the first thoughts of your novel, the more of the 5 W’s you can add, the better.

Once you have fleshed out your idea to a single line, let’s stretch that to two. Craft a little more detail. Once you have two sentences, then write a paragraph. Keep utilizing your previous writing as the building blocks for your current work. Now that you have a paragraph, a rough idea, it’s time to craft characters, locations, an outline, and possible subplots, but that’s for another post.

In the meantime, practice the one-sentence summaries. Try it for movies or books you love: Star Wars, Terminator, Inception (that one would be tricky!), The Dark Knight, Fried Green Tomatoes … Stretch yourself and imagine, one line at a time.

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