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Who, What, When, Where, Why? Every journalist and journalism student has those five questions burned into their brains. A reporter tries to answer the five Ws within the first paragraph or two.
For example, a good lead might be:
A young Kansas (WHERE) girl named Dorothy (WHO) is missing (WHAT) after a tornado swept through her family’s farm (WHY) last night. (WHEN) Also missing is the girl’s pet dog, Toto.
Who, what, when, where, why? Those famous five questions… Those famous five questions of the journalist must be answered, or at least alluded to, in order to pull the reader into your romance. Who is this story about? What’s going on? What’s the problem they are facing? When is this happening? Where is it located? Why is the most critical question. Why should the reader care? Why should they read on?
This is especially true in freelancing where writers are paid by the word. In novels, where there are so many words, it’s easy to let freeloaders jump on board. Ask yourself, would you pay for this word? This sentence? This paragraph?
In a newspaper a missed deadline often kills the story and doesn’t do a journalist’s reputation any good. Romance editors work on schedules, too. Meet your deadlines and if for some reason you can’t, let your editor know as soon as possible. Deadlines can also be your friends. I admit to being a bit of a deadline junkie. I produce a lot more when I know I must. Get into the deadline habit even if you’re not yet published. Contests are great. You can also commit to your own deadlines. Write them down. Challenge a fellow author to complete a novel by a certain date. Writing goals down and making them public really does help.
Journalists will condense an interview that may have lasted fifteen minutes or an hour into a few words or lines. The quotes they choose are those that best represent the character and point of view of the person being interviewed – and, of course, the words that make the reader want to find out more. This is a great skill for romance dialogue. Don’t let your characters ramble on the way people do in real life. Get to the good stuff. Journalists also pay attention to body language, facial expression, and listen to what’s not being said as well as what is. Start paying attention to unspoken communication, especially when someone is in conflict or under stress.
Words are the tools of our trade. Keep your vocabulary in top working order and try to choose the best word for the context. Also, remember, these are words not the crown jewels. Editors will edit them, and this is a good thing. Nothing improves a good writer like a good editor.
Facts and significant details add enormously to the authentic feel of a novel. And don’t overlook the local newspaper for story ideas.
Nancy Warren (who), a former journalist (what), went back to the newsroom for a Temptation, Duets trilogy set in rival newspaper offices. HOT OFF THE PRESS is a February (when) Temptation, and will be followed in April by A HICKEY FOR HARRIET and A CRADLE FOR CAROLINE, a Double Duets.