What can be more basic than the simple who, what, why, when and where formula? This common sense plan has proved over and over again that it is not only one of the fastest ways to begin a story, but also an easy creative writing exercise to use when you only have a small chunk of time available.
If you want this formula to work for you, then the best way to approach it is to answer those questions quickly. Forget about thinking, analyzing, and worrying until later. For now, let’s just start writing. Here’s an example to show you how easy it is to start.
WHO? Sally – an eco activist/policewoman
WHAT? Having affair with a married politician so she can blackmail and manipulate him.
WHERE? In contemporary Ireland
HOW? Recording his every move, generally spying on him in order to destroy him.
Nothing can create conflict for your characters like good old-fashioned fear. Take time now to define your protagonist's biggest fear. Is it something physical (e.g. tight spaces or flying in an airplane) or internal (e.g. fear of failure, commitment, or rejection)? Write a scene in which your protagonist must face this fear.
Our individual perspectives define what we first notice about a person's physical appearance. How do your characters see those around them? Describe one character's physical appearance from the perspectives of three other characters. What does each beholder's description reveal about who they are?
If you're feeling stuck or intimidated about how to start writing, take five minutes before you jump into your writing project to pen a love letter (or hate letter) to the blank page in front of you. It's surprising where words — any words — will lead you once you put them down.
If you haven't already, write a rough synopsis of where your story might be headed. If you already have a pretty good idea of this, but feel stuck trying to get there, try writing a brief "alternate timeline" of the story you have in mind. Are there fixed, important events that happen in your story? What would happen if your characters made different decisions in those crucial moments?
Pick a scene or passage you've written that you feel dissatisfied with. Take a short time — maybe 10 or 20 minutes — to read the passage as though it were someone else's work. Take a red pen and make notes in the margins. If you didn't know anything else about the story, where else could this scene go? Try to get a feel for how malleable the words and the story can be.
Choose a place you've never been to. (If you have a map, you can close your eyes and pick a random spot for an extra challenge!) Do some research and try to learn everything you can about that location and make it the setting for the next scene you write. Try to include as many details as possible to make it seem like you've actually been there. For example, what does it smell like? What kind of people would you see there? What is the climate like?
Think about how your writing voice has changed since you began writing — then, try writing in the voice of Past You. Growing older, trying new experiences, and learning more about writing can all be factors that influence your voice. For example, you could write a chapter in the style of an elementary school diary entry, or look up an old writing assignment and use it to draft your project.