Thursday, August 24, 2017

5 Questions to Telling a Story

by Henry McLaughlin @RiverBendSagas

There are 5 questions to telling a story. Applying them to fiction will help us write amazing stories. What are these magical questions?

I first heard them in college as they applied to journalism. The 5 questions or signposts or guides to writing great stories are: Who? Where? When? What? Why?

These are our characters, our heroes and our villains, our significant secondary characters, our minor characters. Stories are about people in tense situations and conflict. The best stories capture the readers. To craft the best stories, we have to create heroes they will want to follow. 

We have to create villains who provide a credible threat to our main characters. The best villains are not cartoons; they are real people who see themselves as the hero of their own story. When we bring these people to life with all the strengths and faults we see in ourselves and in people around us, the readers will see it as well. They’ll see part of themselves in the hero. They will commit to following her or him to the final outcome.

Very simply, where is the story set?  A city, farm, small town? Mountains, oceans? North America, Europe, Africa? Another planet? The Titanic? A fantasy world with wizards and dragons and unicorns? Oh my! This is the story world where our characters will live out their journeys. Our options are as limited as our imaginations.

When is our story? Is it today, 50 years in the future? 200 years in the past? Is it the Old West? Early Biblical times? Is it medieval with castles and princesses?

When we anchor our readers in a believable and accurate time and place, they jump into the world with our hero, willing to follow her anywhere.

We need to make sure our story world is accurate. Even in fantasy, our story worlds need to be consistent with themselves.

These two questions are the heart and soul of our plot.

What does our hero want? Why does she want it? What is she willing to do to get it?

Why does the villain want to stop her?

What does the villain want? Why does he want it? What is he willing to do to get it?

This is where the tension, suspense and conflict play out in our story. This is where the action happens. Where it builds to the final climax.

And, if we’ve answered these 5 questions well, we give the readers a more than satisfying ending. We given them a story they will remember and share with others.

How have you used these 5 questions in your writing? Are there other questions you ask?


Henry’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest. 

He serves as Associate Director of North Texas Christian Writers. 

Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers. 

Connect with Henry on his blogTwitter and Facebook.


  1. Simple yet powerful post. Thanks Henri for reminding us telling a story does not have to be complicated.

  2. Thank you, Ingmar. Sometimes I think we make things way more complicated than they need to be. But we still have to pay attention to telling the best story we can the best way we can.