Interesting and Important Ideas
Ideas are what it’s all about. Ideas are really the most important part of a piece of writing. After all, ideas are the reason writers write. If we didn’t have any ideas, we wouldn’t need any words to express them. And if we didn’t need any words — well, you get the idea. Without ideas there wouldn’t be any writing. But how do you know if the ideas in a piece of writing are any good? What do you look for? And how do you talk about it when you find it?
An Important Main Idea
Imagine taking an entire piece and scrunching it down into a single sentence that still said more or less the same thing. That’s kind of what a main idea is. Most pieces, especially short ones like Chores, are built on a single thought. That thought is the main idea and everything else in the piece is there to help the audience understand it. So what’s the main idea in Chores?
I think part of it might be right there in the beginning: “Chores are boring!” But the whole thing is probably something like "Chores are something I really don't like to do but I can live with having to do them." You might come up with something slightly different. That’s OK as long as you can show how the rest of the piece supports it. For example, another reader might think the main idea of Chores is the last line of the piece: “Chores aren’t the worst but they’re definitely not the best!” Yet another reader might feel that the main idea isn’t actually written in the piece at all, but we can tell what it is because of all the details. A reader taking this approach might say that the main idea was something like, “Most chores are extremely frustrating but some aren’t all that bad.”
The simplest way for me to think about the main idea of a piece is to think of it as the one most important thing the writer wants me to know. If the writer had to write just one sentence to represent everything he or she wanted to say, that would be the main idea.
There are three criteria every good main idea must meet:
(1) The main idea has to be a complete sentence. You couldn’t, for example, say that the main idea of Chores is “chores.” That’s the topic, not the main idea. You couldn’t even say that the main idea is “About chores” or “Doing chores” or “Why the writer hates chores.” All of these statements are related to the piece but they’re not complete thoughts, so they don’t qualify as the main idea.
(2) The main idea has to be something that is important to the author. If the main idea isn’t important to the author, then the author shouldn’t waste time writing the piece. We should always write about things that are important to us because that’s how we become better writers. In this case, I think the main idea is very important to this author. She clearly takes her chores seriously; she makes her points with strong statements that are packed with strong feelings.
(3) The main idea has to be something that is important to the audience. The entire piece is about the main idea. If the audience doesn’t care about it, they aren’t going to care about the piece. In Chores, the author is writing for other third graders in her class. Most of them have chores of their own to do and they don’t like them much either. So I think we could say that the main idea met this last criteria, too.
In my opinion, the main idea is the single most important part of every piece. It’s hard to have a good piece without a good main idea.
Interesting Details That Help Readers Understand and Appreciate the Main Idea
While a main idea is absolutely essential, it’s not the whole piece. For one thing, it’s hard for readers to understand what a writer means if they only have a single sentence to go on. And that’s why good writing includes lots of interesting details. So how does Chores do in the detail department? Does the author tell us interesting things that help us understand her opinions about chores?
I think so. She tells us about several different chores she has to do. And in each case, she tells us important things about them such as: “When you’re scrubbing toilets make sure they are not stinky. I’ve scrubbed one before and I was lucky it didn’t stink.” and “Bathtubs, ever washed one? They are big, they are deep, and it is hard to get up around the sides.” These details give us a good sense of the chores she has to do and why she doesn’t like them very much.
“Showing” Details that Provide Rich and Effective Description
My favorite part of this piece just happens to be an example of a “showing” detail: “Dusting is the worst: dust, set down, pick up, dust, set down.” I love that because I can actually see it happening. She could have just told us about dusting by saying something like “Dusting is boring because you have to keep picking things up and putting them back down.” But instead of just telling us, she shows us what it’s like for her. Readers love “showing” details because they help them see pictures instead of just words. In general, the more “showing” you have, the better your piece will be.
A Clear and Meaningful Purpose
Whenever we look into the purpose of a piece of writing, we have to ask ourselves questions like “Why did the writer write this?” and “What does the writer want us to think about or do?” As with a main idea, different readers may come up with different purposes. But that’s OK as long as we can find tangible evidence in the piece that answers our questions clearly. I think the writer of Chores did a good job with purpose. It’s clear to me that she wrote this to tell us how boring chores are. And when we’re done reading, she wants us to think that while chores are certainly an unpleasant part of life, they’re really not all that bad.
The purpose of a piece can usually be found in the ending and Chores is no exception. But is it meaningful? Does it have any significance, any strong feeling, for the writer or the reader? I think it does. The writer obviously cares a lot about doing chores. And since most of her readers probably have to do them, it’s reasonable to assume that they will find the ending meaningful, too.
Something Surprising or Unusual That Really Works
Sometimes writers surprise us by successfully introducing and developing a unique idea in a piece. While most of Chores seems like normal everyday stuff, the parts about cleaning the toilet and dusting caught my attention and made the piece seem more original to me. I hadn’t heard anyone talk about cleaning in exactly this way and I found it both surprising and entertaining.