Writing Tips: The Rosters of Fives

What do you do if you are in the middle of writing your novel or short story and your brain needs some prodding?  How do you go about trying to expand a scene?  Say, for instance your writing teacher or your critique group has said, "more" or "go deeper" or "explain?" on your manuscript but you are not exactly certain how to go about that.

Well, one of the reasons you might not know how to set about going deeper is because you don’t know the information.  For instance, if your readers yearn to know more about your character, you might not have put that information in because you, the author, do not know.  Ya can’t write what you don’t know about, correct?

Ah, but you are a god when it comes to creating and populating the world of your fiction, right?  And you know everything about that world? Not always.  Even gods and goddesses need some help goosing their muse.

Enter my handy writing tip, The Roster of Fives.  I actually have two of them, both easy to remember when you are stuck.  Should this happen, grab a piece of scratch paper or the spiral in which you keep all the notes pertaining to your fiction, and go through the Roster of Fives.  Here they are, so very obvious you’ll be smacking your head in dismay that you didn’t remember them.  And yet, it is always for me the most obvious and basic things that I need to be reminded of.  Repeatedly. 

The Roster of The Five Ws:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • And, if you must ruin the symmetry of the Ws, you can add How.

Told you it was obvious.  Yet you’d be amazed at how often just clarifying these basic things in your head can make all the difference.  90% of the time when I’m blocked it is because something is unclear to me in the scene I am trying to write.  Going through the five Ws helps make it clear.

And, wait for it, here’s the next one:

The Roster of The Five Senses:

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Taste

I know, I know, its even more obvious that the Roster of The Five Ws.  But ever so useful, too.  If you are attempting to write a descriptive scene that is falling flat, go back to the five senses and write out every single one as it pertains to the character in the scene.  What is she smelling, hearing, feeling, tasting, and seeing?  This is an excellent way to get yourself into the character’s head.  And once you are in the character’s head, you can then report what he sees to your reader.

Give the Rosters of Fives a try…and report back on how they work out for you.

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7 Comments on "Writing Tips: The Rosters of Fives"

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Don Williams
Guest
10/22/2007 12:17
Hi Charlotte. Yes, these are great things to remember. I learned them in writing class when studying children’s literature, but they apply to any-kind of writing. Thanks for reminding me again, as I have the habit of always remembering to forget things like these, even though they are extremely important. Oh, by the way, I joined several blog directories and even though nothing quite compares to, http://www.blogcatalog.com/ I am now happy to report that I found another blog directory that is a good addition: http://www.blogdune.com/main/index.php Thanks for the informative articles on writing, they are wonderful and a great help to… Read more »
Jenn
Guest
10/22/2007 17:51

hi I’ve tagged you for meme you don’t have to do it!

Brad Dolley
Guest
10/23/2007 15:53

Thats a great way to remember the 5ws..

I will refer to this from time to time

Jenn
Guest
10/23/2007 18:41

Hi Charlotte, The story you helped create “Ruby Begonia” is now posted. Here is the url:
http://summerbreezeinpa.blogspot.com/2007/10/ruby-begonia.html
I was happy to work in a different genre. I appreciate your participation in my project and I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I do hope you come back again

Charlotte
Guest
10/23/2007 19:18

Don, thanks for the tip on the other blogging directory, I’ll check it out. Brad, I’m glad the post was helpful, the Fives are SO simple and yet I forget them all the time. Jenn, you rock! That’s all there is to it. But I think I’m crazy–I can’t find the post on the meme. However, the story is the BEST!

BellaVida
Guest
10/28/2007 16:47

This is exactly what I’m going through right now. I have an outline of what the chapter is about but I need to fill in all of the details. It can be overwhelming but becomes more manageable if I break it into smaller pieces.

Charlotte
Guest
10/28/2007 21:16

Have you ever read Anne Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird? She has a whole chapter on that. She talks about keeping a tiny little picture frame beside her desk and using it to remind herself that all she has to do is write about what she can see through that frame. In other words, break it down.

It is such simple advice–and so difficult to remember.

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