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Building a Story

January 29, 2014

A short story is a bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle where each piece is put together by the writer and given as a complete whole to the reader.

By Shravani Dang
How to develop a short story

The 5W’s are Who, When, Where, What and Why. The solitary H refers to How.

Stories can be found everywhere — in a joke, an event, relationships, and even imaginary ones. A thread runs through all along the story holding each piece together. A story is a bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle where each piece is put together by the writer and given as a complete whole to the reader.

The reader eagerly waits for the next piece to fall in place to get to the end of the story. The many twists and turns the story takes is what is exciting and keeps the writers’ as well as the readers’ interest.

Among the many theories about good writing skills, one that is hoary but tried and tested is the powerful equation of the 5W’s and 1H. Like all mathematical equations, this too is fairly easy if you can crack it.

Once cracked this becomes part and parcel of writing and the mind focuses on it automatically as this is basically the very essence of communication. The equation then is very simple, the 5W’s are Who, When, Where, What and Why. The solitary H refers to How. A good example of this equation is the newspaper.

Every newspaper story answers each question. If you analyze newspaper stories you will find this out for yourself. Newspapers have the name of the place, the date, the persons involved and the story clearly defined.

All stories are about Who, When and Where.
Who refers to the characters that are present in your story. Just like a film or a drama, every story has a set of characters who with their individual mix of personalities bring out the story. For example, in the simplest of stories, some characters are villains and the others are the good guys.

While others and in more complicated stories somebody may be repressed human being, another a mad scientist, a third an incurable romantic while a fourth could be a squeaky clean holier-than-thou prissy. Characters make up stories. It is up to the author to give them the hues that is needed for building the story.

When may mean time like “a long, long time ago”, or even “once upon a time” or even “last year”, “last night” or “early in the morning”.
Where could be in your dreams, in your house, towns, countries, cities, places like Connaught Place in New Delhi.

Keeping the equation in mind you could write a story based in Ballygunge in Calcutta which took place during Durga Puja and involved the local gunda called Khokon, the frail but honest widow called Lakshmi Didi and the extortion racket.

The best way to answer and tackle these is to think about it first. Then decide on how, who, when and where to fit into your story, then all you have to do is to write it.

Adventure, mystery stories including thrillers are normally called Whodunit meaning who did it. Here the answer to this question is the most important part of the story. Like a story on the “The Neighbourhood Thief”, all the readers are keen to know who the thief is.

The next step in building a story is to endeavor to answer the next lot of questions of the formula.

This article was first published in meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2003).

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