40 Days of Worksheets – Day 8

RamonaGravitarWorksheet # 8 – WHAT

In the 5 Ws, the “what” would refer to the inciting incident—whatever event or situation gives the story its raison d’etre. What happened? What is the reaction? What will happen next?

The inciting incident or crime might not be fully explained to the reader until the denouement, many pages ahead. For the writer, a more complete understanding is necessary to write the story. Using the 5 Ws as a guide, complete the WHAT exercise and answer WHAT questions to help you think about how well you know your story.


#1 Write a news story describing the inciting incident, discovery of a body/victim, or whatever sets off the story.

The story can be brief —whatever would appear in the local newspaper the day after the event or discovery—that includes the who, what, when, where, and why. Some of that information may not be known to the characters, so use only what is known so far.

#2 Answer the following WHAT questions:

  1. What is the story question?
  2. What type of story is this: sleuth, survivor, savior? (For crime story)
  3. What is this story about? (theme)
  4. What does the protagonist want?
  5. What does the antagonist want?
  6. What is the front story?
  7. What are the secondary storylines?
  8. What is the initial crime? What is the inciting incident? What is the sleuth’s VGR/motivation?
  9. What is different/special/unique/haunting about this case? What connects this case to something personal in the sleuth’s life or past?
  10. What type of structure will you use to tell this story?
  11. What is the first thing the reader sees in the opening scene?
  12. What happens in the opening scene?
  13. What decision did the victim make that put him/her into the victim position?
  14. What made the antagonist decide to commit this crime?
  15. What clears the various suspects?
  16. What else is going on in the story world?
  17. What prevents police from solving this crime quickly?
  18. What secrets or mysteries apart from the crime are in the story?
  19. What are the stakes to the protagonist?
  20. What terrible thing/s will happen to what character/s if this crime is not solved?
  21. What makes an innocent character appear guilty?
  22. What is the crime’s affect on the community?
  23. What is the purpose of romance or personal relationships?
  24. What are the valid clues or evidence that help solve the crime?
  25. What red herrings, misdirections, false assumptions, or errors impede the investigation?
  26. What does the protagonist use to save himself/herself or others?
  27. What does the protagonist do that might be TSTL? (too stupid to live)
  28. What do other characters do that are TSTL?
  29. What is the antagonist doing while police investigate?
  30. What other book or story is similar to this one that could be used as a comp?
  31. What do you want a reader to take away from this story?

Please note: All worksheets posted are my original work and intellectual property. I ask that you share the links on social media, and you are welcome to share the worksheets with your critique groups and writing friends with credit given. That being said, these worksheets—despite being posted on the Internet—may not be copied, distributed, or published as anyone’s work but mine. In short: sharing is good, plagiarism is bad.

Disclaimer #2: You may post your completed worksheet if you’d like, but please remember that, by doing so, you are sharing your ideas with all of the Internet. You’ve been warned.

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