Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wonder: The Sixth W

"The death of journalism is at hand!"

Despite that dire warning, despite having a steady job teaching and coaching, and despite a mountain of self-doubt, I decided to regroup and peruse a life change. News writing seemed a perfect fit for somebody with a degree in both English and social studies. What I didn't realize was that the switch would require a return to square one.

Journalism 101.

Lesson #1. Writing the news is not writing a research paper. Short paragraphs (1-2 sentences) are required. The inverted pyramid style (most important information first) is mandatory. Most importantly, the length of the story depends on the news hole (the amount of space left over after allotting advertising space).

Which leaves what?

The 5 W’s and the H. Get those down and move on.
Who, what, when, where, why, and how? That's it?

That's all they want. Just the facts.

Creativity? 

Dissuaded

Concise, sterile, and clinical?

Please. 

Stale and downright dull?

The purpose of the news is first to inform the reader of who did what to whom when and where. If there is space in the news hole, include how it was done with maybe a paragraph/sentence/phrase indicating why it was done or why the reader should care. 

Anything else we leave to the feature stories, not the news.

That was when I decided that I preferred to write features and fiction.

After I made that my goal, I discovered that the 5 Ws and the H were not enough. Features and fiction require a sixth W, an ingredient relied upon by scientists and theologians–– wonder.

Wonder has too often been ignored in the name of objectivity, when it is actually the foundation for discovery and innovation, philosophy and art. All we as a species originated with a fascination with the unknown. As Socrates explained succinctly, "Wisdom begins in wonder." By the way, Socrates was a pretty smart guy.

Consider this about your favorite books or stories: How often do you want the author to simply tell you the hows and whys of the plot? The old adage "Show, don't tell" originated from a common trait readers share: People want to discover. 

As writers, then, we must first generate wonder, sparking the reader's curiosity and desire for knowledge. That wonder can arise from all aspects of the story: characterization, setting, conflict, and complication.

How then do we create wonder? The answer comes from an unexpected source, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. He said, "Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand."

That does not mean that we should all be writing crime novels with staggering body counts and unfamiliar motives, however. What we need to do is trigger questions, ones like "Where are we?" "Why did that electrician say that?" "Why did my favorite character die in the first twenty pages?" "How did this boss become such a weenie?"

To be fair to your readers, be sure to answer these questions...eventually. Note, however, that the wonder materializes from waiting for the answer. Gratification is a good thing, but delayed gratification is excellent. 

Action excites. Humor entertains. Sex sells. But wonder...

Wonder captivates. It entices. It enthralls. 

Wonder transform reading from a hobby to an addiction. Questions lead to answers. Answers give knowledge. Knowledge leads to more questions, more knowledge, more questions....The reader cannot and does not want to stop. 

Without wonder, a book is simply prose. With it, the book is art. As Albert Einstein (another really smart guy) said, "Wonder is the source of all true art and science."

From a business viewpoint, wonder sells; dry dusty prose...not so much.

Maybe that's why J.K Rowling has proliferating disciples and the Washington Post has vanishing subscribers. Is it any wonder? 

Okay, I promise not to use that 6th W again...at least until I can't remember where I put my thesaurus.

For more quotes on the word for the day (wonder) check the 17 Quotes on Wonder page.