My Ultimate Weapon Against Writer’s Block — The 5Ws Technique
by Anca Antoci
I’m a fantasy author and I’ve been honing my craft since my debut novel, Forget Me Not, came out in 2020. I now have five books under my belt and another one on the way. Although I’m by no means popular and I don’t consider myself an expert, I tested a lot of tips and tricks on my writing journey, and some of those have been a tremendous help. The 5Ws technique is a game-changer for writing, trust me.
The 5Ws technique is one of the most helpful tip I encountered that actually prevented or sometimes canceled the writer’s block for me and I’ll explain what it is and how I use it.
Now, I want to start by saying I neither invented it nor came up with the name. There was a TikTok video I saw about a year ago. I wish I could give credit to the original poster, but I don’t remember her name, however her writing tips stayed with me and I want to share them with you.
New to TikTok, I was scrolling booktok and authortok to train the algorithm when I came across her video. If I remember correctly, she recommended this method to beat writer’s block (which, incidentally, was something I was struggling with). Because it was so straightforward, it stuck with me and I tried it immediately. To my surprise, as soon as I established the 5Ws, my writer’s block got unblocked.
The 5Ws technique requires that for every scene of your story you set up the 5Ws: who, what, when, where and why.
1. The Who (no, not the band) — the characters
First off, you’ve got the “Who.” You need to establish which characters are present in the scene. You need to know your characters inside out — their quirks, dreams, and even their favorite ice cream flavors. I’m joking, but knowing their back stories and their personalities helps you give them unique voices. Also, knowing exactly which characters take part in a scene ensures no one gets left behind. You know, sometimes when you have over two characters, but not all take part in the conversation, it’s easy to forget about them. The readers will be left wandering what happened to that character? Or why was he/she there if they didn’t take part in the scene? That feels odd, right? As long as I know “who” acts in the scene, I make sure they play a role (or remove them from the scene if they have no place being there).
2. The What — the action
Then comes the “What.” You need to establish what needs to happen in that scene. What’s going down at this moment? Is it the turning point, the emotional scene, or the action-packed ending? Having a clear “What” will give your scene a purpose, and that purpose is like a roadmap for your writing journey.
3. The When — the timeline
Next up, the “When.” Time is a tricky thing, but knowing when your scene happens can make a world of difference. Is it set in the crack of dawn, under the twinkling stars, or during a wild party at midnight? Figuring out the timing keeps everything in sync and avoids those pesky inconsistencies. If you know the “when” of each of your scenes, you can keep a clean timeline. It may not seem like a big deal, but trust me, it is. Before I did that, I struggled a lot with timeline inconsistencies during the editing phase.
Story time: You may not know this, but my debut novel, Forget Me Not (Chimera, Book 1), wasn’t plotted. I just wrote it by the seat of my pants, on and off (mostly off) for six years. So when I eventually finished my first draft and started revising, it was a nightmare. I had vampires active during the day (after saying daylight was a big no-no). At first, I thought I could just replace sunrise with sunset (because it worked in one particular scene) and the timeline was fixed. I was wrong. It was like a domino effect and there was a lot of rewriting and fixing to be done. Lesson learned!
4. The Where — the setting
Ah, the “Where.” Picture the scene like you’re directing a blockbuster movie. What’s the backdrop? A cozy little cafe, a creepy haunted mansion, or maybe a bustling marketplace? The setting brings life to your characters and sets the mood, which is just what you need to get the words flowing. If you need to show rather than tell in that scene, you can use the “where” to your advantage. Use it like a prop.
5. The Why — the purpose
Finally, we have the almighty “Why.” This is like the secret sauce that makes your scene pop! Why does it matter? What does it contribute to the bigger picture? Knowing the “Why” gives your scene purpose and keeps it from wandering off course. One of the best advice regarding writing that I ever got was that each scene needs to move the story forward. So ask yourself, ‘why does this scene need to happen?’. If you can’t give a decent answer to this question, maybe you don’t need the scene. Be honest! Is it a filler scene? Does your character have something important to do later that day and until then they have some time to kill? If something inconsequential happens, this is the perfect moment to tell, not show. It’s perfectly fine to tell in two sentences that your character went shopping, played video games, or took a long bubble bath until the big event. You don’t need to show an entire scene of them filling their chart with groceries.
Using the 5Ws technique to defeat writer’s block was the best tip that helped me become a better writer, and a faster one. It’s been a couple of years since I started using it and it never failed me. Sometimes I use it when I outline a novel. And sometimes I don’t (because I’m lazy) because I tend to stray from the original outline. But if I’m ever at an impasse, this works for me every time. That being said, I understand there is no one size fits all when it comes to creative writing.
So, if you’re a pantser, like I was in the beginning, you may think it’s a waste of time and that it hinders your creativity. You do you. But if you’re stuck at a scene, give it a shot.
Once you have answered these five questions, you should have a clear blueprint for your scene. This method helped me stay focused, avoid plot holes, and create scenes that resonate with readers. It’s a versatile tool that can be used for outlining, planning, or troubleshooting scenes in various types of writing, including fiction, screenplays, and plays.
Here’s a bullet point summary of the 5Ws method:
- Who: Identify the characters involved, including main and supporting ones.
- What: Determine what happens in the scene.
- When: Establish the timing and placement of the scene within the story’s timeline.
- Where: Pinpoint the physical location and setting of the scene.
- Why: Figure out the purpose of the scene in the broader context of the story. If the scene doesn’t move the story forward, cut it.