The five Ws of story telling

In the previous lesson you saw how the elements of a story can help you to start planning your own story. In this lesson, The five Ws of story telling, we are going to look at this technique typically used by journalists to help them write an article – the Who?, What?, Where?, When? and Why? (and sometimes the additional How) technique. This technique can be used in all types of writing and is a good way of checking you have all the information you need and/or whether you need to do some more research.

WHO are the characters/people in your photo and what do you know about them? What do you think they are saying to each other?

WHAT is happening in the photo? Does it depict a special moment or event which captures some happy or sad memories. Are there any mysterious or unusual objects? Is there anything happening which could spice up your story?

WHY was the photo taken? Is it a special occasion or event, is it a family holiday, does it capture a famous building, monument or landscape?

WHEN was the photo taken? Is it a recent photograph? If it is an older photograph what do you know about the period/history at the time it was taken.

WHERE was the photo taken? What is the setting for the photo? Is it inside or outside? If you were there when the photo was taken what else do you remember about the place and setting? Were there any memorable smells or sounds or anything unusual going on in the background? Are there any interesting little details or facts you know about the place or setting?

What can you say in five linesWhat can you say in five lines?

A fun way of really thinking about the five Ws is to write a five-line poem where each line focuses on one of the Ws. For example:

At a bus stop (where)
a solitary figure (who)
paces up and down nervously (what)
waiting for the No 24 bus to Wapping (why)
on a bleak November evening (when)

Although using the 5 Ws is a good way to get started, don’t let this method inhibit your creativity. If you simply write the who, what. why, when and where without developing each of these your story could end up being a bit prescriptive and dull.


There is also another type of five-line poem called a cinquain (the name originates from the French and Latin words for five – cinque (French) and quinque (Latin)). Cinquains do not concentrate on the five Ws – instead each line in a cinquain is limited to a specific number of syllables or words. The so-called didactic cinquain uses a set number of words and is probably the easier of the cinquain forms to start with.

Assignment 8

Below is a list of things you should do to complete Lesson 8:

  • Using the information you have collected so far, scribble down some brief notes for each of the five Ws.
  • Write your own 5-line poem using the notes you have made.
  • Try writing a didactic cinquain (don’t panic – there is more about this in the workbook for this lesson).

Before moving on the next lesson complete assignment 8 in your Writing the Stories Behind your Photos Workbook.

When you have completed the assignment, click here to go to Lesson 9 Some basic writing tips.

Back to Lesson 7 Starting to plan your story