Guest Author: Elysa Hendricks
People often ask me “how” I go about writing a book with paranormal elements. What comes first? The characters? The setting? The plot? The whoo-whoo factor? Well, I've found that the whether you're writing a short, sweet contemporary romance or a sexy, werewolf/vampire romance the secret formula is basically the same. But what is that secret formula? It's different for every writer, but here's mine.
What the heck is W5H? Well, if H2O is the chemical formula for water – two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen – then W5H – is my chemical formula for writing.
Five Ws? One H? What are they? Can I buy them at the chemist’s? No, they aren’t that kind of chemical. You’ll only find them in the curiosity shop you keep in your mind. Let’s look at each one. As we do I’ll give you a general idea of what I’m talking about and a few specific examples from my latest release MUST LOVE CATS to illustrate.
Who – Who are the characters in the story?
Example: Frodo is the hero in Lord of the Rings. The Dark Lord is the villain.
(In MUST LOVE CATS Daniel Bishop is the hero, Katherine (Kat) Clark is the heroine and Thomas Cash (TC) Riley is a matchmaking cat.)
What – What do they want? What the characters want are their goals.
Frodo wants to destroy the One Ring before the Dark Lord gets hold of it and takes over the world.
(In MUST LOVE CATS Daniel is a widower trying to rebuild his life with his young daughter. Kat is a veterinarian and an unwed mother raising an adventurous nine year old son. TC is a man who has been returned to life to redeem his soul by bringing these two people together. Only catch - he has to do it in the form of a cat.)
Where – Where does the action in this story take place? Where is the story set?
In Lord of the Rings Tolkein created Middle Earth.
(MUST LOVE CATS takes place in the small town of Council Falls, IL.)
When – When does this story take place? Is it set in a specific time period? Are there any events happening as the story unfolds?
Lord of the Rings takes place as the Dark Lord is massing his army to take over Middle Earth.
(MUST LOVE CATS is a contemporary story with paranormal elements - a match maker cat.)
And Why – Why do the characters want what they want? These are your characters’ motivations.
Frodo wants to save the Shire from being destroyed. The Dark Lord wants power so he can rule the world.
(Daniel has moved to his wife's small town to give his daughter the happy childhood he never had. Kat has been hurt before, so she fights against her attraction to the handsome Daniel. TC struggles to remember his past life and redeem his soul as he attempts to bring Daniel and Kat together.)
These are the 5 W’s – Who, What, Where, When & Why.
And finally there’s the H of my formula. The HOW.
How – How does each character go about obtaining their goals? Or what do the characters do in the story to get what they want?
Froda joins forces with others who help him in his quest to destroy the one ring.
(To bring Daniel and Kat together, TC enlists the help of Daniel's young daughter, the only person who knows he's not really a cat.)
When these ingredients are mixed together properly the result is a good story that grabs the reader. Journalists have used this formula successfully for years. But to create fiction with this formula I add my special ingredient - The WHAT IF factor.
The What If factor is what takes the elements of W5H and transforms them into compelling fiction. It’s the special seasoning that adds flavor to a story. This is the ingredient that pulls all the others together – it’s the catalyst – or what some people might call the plot.
Sometimes my stories will start out with What If. What If a young man dies, is reincarnated as a cat, and is given the task of playing matchmaker? Interesting premise, but by itself it’s not a story.
Once I have my premise I start adding the W5H. Who is he? What does he want? What does he have to do to reach his goal? When does this happen? And how does he accomplish this?
Other times it’s the Who that sparks a story idea – an unusual character or characters who inspire me. (A matchmaking cat. A hero who's allergic to cats. A heroine who's a veterinarian.)
Or the What might trigger me – a character’s specific goal – it could be something as simple as going to a wedding or as grand as saving the universe. (TC needs to redeem his soul.) Or the Where might be what gets me going – a special location whether it’s the American West, England, a tropical island, a far flung universe, or a small Midwest town.
Or the When –yesterday, today or tomorrow.
Or maybe the Why of the story intrigues me – a quest for love, for revenge, or maybe for the character to find themselves. (In MUST LOVE CATS in order to save his soul, TC needs to learn to care more about others than himself.)
And don’t forget the How – In Star Wars, Luke goes with Obe Ben Kenobi to learn to use the Force and join the rebels.
W5H and What If are the ingredients I use to write compelling fiction. But unlike a true chemical formula the ingredients aren’t always the same, they change and vary from story to story, writer to writer. This is where the science of writing ends and the art takes over. Each writer uses these basic components to create their stories in their own unique way.
Just remember that by themselves none of these elements makes a story. All must be present in whatever amount or form the writer chooses. But every story needs a Where and a When. Each Who needs a What, a Why, and a How. And after you determine these throw in some What Ifs and let your imagination take off.