I picked up the local newspaper this weekend and an article in the style section caught my eye. It featured a family of 10 children, in which all the daughter (6 in total) have vowed to get married on May 24th when their time to marry came. Pictures from the wedding of the second daughter who married this May 24th in a fairy-themed wedding littered the front page of the style section. If you read this what would be the one question you want to know, the one question you'd expect the reporter to answer? Perhaps WHY the girls all planned to marry on May 24th. I read the article twice thinking I'd missed it. Nope.
In J-school one of the very first lessons you learn is to ask the 5 Ws and the H. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? And not only as a reporter are you supposed to ask these questions when doing the interviews. But you are supposed to tell your readers the answers to all of these queries - and usually in the first graph.
For this local paper story...
Who - the 6 girls in this family.
What - they've vowed to all marry on the same date.
Where - here in small town MO
When - May 24
Why - Still wondering about that one.
How - in the style they want, and the year they want but all married with family nearby.
It's a good idea to look back at the story you've just penned and make sure it answers all these questions. For us writers it's really easy to miss one of these points especially if we get really into a specific story. We forget an important detail because it is so basic to us. But we write for others not ourselves. And therefore it's best to pretend the reader knows nothing.