In grade school we’re all introduced to the basics of writing. Who, what, where, when and how are drilled into our skulls. Our teachers no doubt hope their lectures will take root deep enough in our thick heads that at least a few of those lessons stick. So far, so good, I say. The fundamentals are familiar enough that almost anyone from the age of 15 to 50 can recite them at the drop of a hat.
In real life, those rules have merit – even if they aren’t equally weighted. What, where, when and how are critical to good writing. If the reader can’t follow the particulars of a story, the reader will cease turning pages and find something more interesting to do with their time. For instance, they might watch television or chat on the phone with a friend. In extreme cases they might go so far as to take a walk with their significant other – outside – where with each new step they’ll move farther and farther away from the book they were less than immersed in. That distance is not only physical. It’s emotional too. Dissatisfied readers are every bit as fickle as uninvolved lovers. With no passion, the fire and the memory dim quickly.
Don’t let this happen to you!
For my money, the most important of the five basic elements of writing is, Who. Without a good, solid, Who – there’s nobody for the reader to root for, or against. There’s no reason to read at all. For while the details of where an event took place might be majestic – and while the specifics of the event itself might be exciting – unless they know, and care, who the event is happening to, they won’t feel the least bit sorry about putting your book down and going for that long, invigorating walk.
As writers, it’s our goal, our obligation in fact to do everything we can to glue our readers backsides to their Barcaloungers. Let the medical students worry about cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s our job to interject action, adventure, romance and pathos into the reading material our readers choose. All of which should happen to someone, at the hands of someone else. We need to include a series of solid, believable and if at all possible, recognizable characters to our stories – be they fictional or not. Who is the key. Who is the critical element. Who is everything.
Abbott and Costello should have hung up the comedy act and taught college level composition courses. Who’s on first – indeed!
Author – Burritos and Gasoline