The sixth criterion on the judges’ rating sheet of Writing Challenge entries has two parts. The first is this:Did this entry have a point?
Of all the criteria, this is the one that can be the most difficult to discuss and to measure. For some types of writing—devotionals and inspirational stories or poems come to mind—the point of the entry should be evident: it is the lesson that the reader is to take away, and it will often be found as a final paragraph, sentence, or stanza.
However, for other types of writing—fiction, in particular, and to some extent, poetry—the “point” of the entry may not be so obvious. Many fiction entries do indeed have a point (when I was teaching English, I also called it a theme
)—a takeaway for the reader—but for others, the point is not so obvious. For example, when I was writing for the challenge, I occasionally wrote humorous stories that were new versions of old fairy tales. Here’s
an example of one of those. There wasn’t really a lesson, a theme, a point—my objective was simply to amuse the reader.
Similarly, although many poems have a point, others do not; some poems are simply beautiful word pictures, lacking a lesson but intended to evoke an emotional response in the reader.
So…for humorous fiction, some kinds of poetry, and other types of writing for which the “point” does not take the form of a lesson for the reader, how might the judges look at this criterion?
As a judge, I would ask myself two questions: What genre is this? And is it a good example of that genre?
So if I was reading, for example, a lighthearted romance, I’d try to determine if it was successful as a lighthearted romance. If it was a pastoral free verse poem, I’d try to determine if it was successful as a pastoral free verse poem. I’d compare them to excellent examples of those genres that I was already familiar with, or lacking those, with characteristics of typical [genre] pieces, and rate them highly in this criterion if I found them effective, less highly if I did not.
The second part of this judging criterion is a little bit easier to evaluate:Was the entry clearly written and communicated?
As I’ve said before, there’s some overlap here with many of the other judging criteria. To be clearly written, an entry should have considerable evidence of the writer’s craftsmanship—both the art and the mechanics of writing. It should not make me scratch my head and say Huh?
Unclear writing sometimes happens in three specific circumstances:
1. First person creative nonfiction. A writer may be re-telling an event that occurred to her, and in an effort to “protect the innocent” or to keep the circumstances from being recognizable, she may obscure the events too much, or simply imply something, or leave hints. Or the writer may try to spare the reader some unpleasant detail--but by beating about the bush, she leaves the reader unsure about what actually happened.
Also in creative nonfiction, the writer may be writing about an event that was very meaningful in her life—so of course, she knows all the details and all of the back story that may include decades of family history. She doesn’t realize that she needs to clue the reader in on some of those details; it doesn’t occur to her because this is emotional content that she has always known.
2. Similarly, I’ve read lots of devotionals where the writer is using a human interest story to illustrate a point, but again, he does not include enough details (often to protect someone’s anonymity). You can disguise an anecdote by changing identifying characteristics of the key players, the place, even elements of the actual event. But don’t be coy by saying “something terrible happened” (or something similar).
3. This next thing happens a lot in science fiction and fantasy writing, but it can happen in other genres, too. In sci-fi/fantasy, often the writer has to create an entire world—with a population of perhaps-not-humans, a history, a culture, a geography. Writers in these genres often hold that entire world in their heads; therefore, the actions of their characters make perfect sense to them
. However, in 750 words, they rarely have time to convey all of that information to the readers. Consequently, readers may be puzzled by events or actions that don’t particularly make sense in this world.I don’t really have homework for this lesson, but you’re welcome to link to one of your own entries that illustrates something that I’ve written above. Or you can feel free to make a comment or ask a question about anything that I’ve said above. I make every effort to respond to all comments and questions.