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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