If you write fiction, the following scoring system is for you.
Many, if not most, authorities recommend writing a complete first draft without stopping to edit or rewrite. That way your whole plot idea comes through, without any “fixing” getting in the way. It’s as if you were telling someone the story.
But when you’re finished, how can you be sure that your first draft is as effective as it can be. Aside from mechanical issues like spelling and punctuation, here’s a tool that can show you where there might be some weaknesses. It’s three numbers: 5 & 5 & 1.
The first 5
The first 5 represents the five journalist’s questions, whose answers are considered basic in information-gathering or problem-solving. These are usually called the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Sometimes an h is added, for how.
When starting to write a scene or a section or a chapter, or even after you’ve written it, write out or type the 5 Ws for that scene, section, or chapter.
- Who is in the scene, section, or chapter? Who’s telling the story—a narrator or one of the characters? Who else is in the picture?
- What is going on? What is the background and major action in the scene, section, or chapter?
- When does the action happen? In what season, day of the week, or time of day does the scene, section, or chapter take place (if relevant)?
- Where does the scene, section, or chapter take place? Indoors? Outdoors? In what kind of setting? On land, at sea, or in the air? Or even on another planet!
- Why is this scene, section, or chapter important? What are you trying to achieve with it? This may be the most important of the 5 Ws, because if you can’t come up with a clear simple answer, you may have to consider removing it, or at least editing it.
The second 5
The second 5 represents the five senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste, and Touch. For this 5, you might want to consider only the main character’s point of view for the scene, section, or chapter. Or maybe some other character’s senses are involved. How are their five senses in play?
For example, suppose that your main character is a detective on a cruise ship, such as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile. Your list might look like this:
- Sight: The detective is walking on the promenade deck, along with several other passengers. The view is of the ship, the sea, deck chairs, other people, etc.
- Sound: The sounds of the humming engines are quite clear, along with the slap of the waves and the chatter of the other passengers.
- Smell: There’s always the wonderful smell of saltwater, being added to by the smell of cooking coming from the galley.
- Taste: The taste of the onions in the lunch dish is repeating in the detective’s mouth.
- Touch: Because of the sway of the ship, the detective is holding onto the side rail, which has a slightly tacky feel.
The 1 represents the major specific emotion of one or more characters in the scene, section, or chapter. Without this focus on mostly one feeling, your readers might not connect, emotionally, with the character you’re describing. Find one most-effective word to describe that feeling (e.g., happy, overjoyed, sad, depressed, tense, fearful). Write this down or type it. Is it consistent in the scene, section, or chapter? Is it overused or overly dramatic?
The 5-5-1 doesn’t take a lot of time, and you can use it before you start writing or after you’ve written a scene, section, or chapter. You can also do both or even at the end of your writing day. In addition, you can use it as you begin to think about what you’ll be writing tomorrow (or whenever). That way, you’ll have a head start on your next writing session. This system will give your content the needed quality and consistency, without having to worry about it while you’re actually writing.
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