wow challenge 4: the bite-sized brain

Welcome to the fourth installment of the “Week of Writing” (WOW) challenge! Please scroll to the bottom of today’s writing prompt to view the full contest details.

Today’s #wowchallenge: bite-sized brains.

This challenge is a tough one, but it requires some background.

Have you ever heard of the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease and Grade Level tests? They are a pair of readability tests, run by Microsoft Word, that judge the comprehension difficulty of your writing. Both tests are computed by assessing word and sentence length, although they’re weighted differently. Essentially, if your work scores a 6 on the Grade Level score, then it should be at a sixth grade reading level.

Without going into specifics, according to , if a document has a “Reading Ease” readability score of 0-30, it is best understood by university graduates; if it has a score of 60-70, then it could probably be understood by students ages 13-15, and if it’s up in the 90-100 range, then it’s best suited for 11 year old students.

Logic would follow, then, that if you’re writing a young adult book, then you should aim to have a readability of 67 or so, with a Grade Level of, say 8.2, right? And if you’re writing adult fiction, perhaps aim for a lower readability, and a Grade Level of 10.0 and up?


An of popular fiction has a high readability, and most importantly, a score of 6 or below on the Grade Level Score.

This is in addition to a number of other common traits, including: short words and sentences, and the use of an active voice (He ran, not: He is running).

Some publishers rely on these scores, some publishers don’t – so take them with a grain of sand. Politics aside, here is one interesting fact.  Obama’s 2010 State of the Union addresses rated the fourth-lowest Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score in history, at an 8.8 – especially surprising, as compared to George W. Bush’s 10.4 score. Again, politics aside, the majority of Americans rate Obama as a great public speaker. Food for thought.

Speaking of food… this brings us to the actual challenge!

By Brownretail, via Wikimedia Commons

Your job, today, is to write a poem, flash fiction, or short story all while using words that have 5 letters or less.

Got that? There can’t be a single word in there that’s six letters long.

Take, for example, a big wedding cake. While it’s admirable to look at, it’s hefty to tote around, ridiculously expensive, and cumbersome to cut and serve.

This compared to the ease with which a simple cupcake can be baked and served in a matter of minutes.

By Arnold Gatilao (originally posted to Flickr as Pink Velvet Cupcake) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Something that’s easily digestible and fun – that’s your goal today. Try not to get too cute and serve two meals in one, though.

By Janet Hudson, via Wikimedia Commons

The #wowchallenge Contest Rules :

Based off of the feedback I receive after this full week of writer’s challenges, it has a high potential to run again in the future.

Basically, how it works: there will be 5 challenges (Monday through Friday of this week.) Writers who submit one finished product in the comment section (of any 5 challenges) will get their name in a hat. If you submit two finished products, then you get your name in said hat twice. Three, three times. That said: you have up to five chances to get your name in the hat by submitting your writing.

What do you win? One of two prizes!
(If you don’t want to be considered for one of the prizes, then please make that clear in the comment section.)

Prize 1 : A copy of Q & A a Day: 365 Questions, 5 Years, 1,825 Answers . This book was published by the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. It’s been a lifesaver for me in terms of writing, teaching, deep questions, and thought inspiration.

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Prize 2 : I’ll do a FULL edit of up to 10 pages of your writing, double-spaced. (My credentials include two stints as a editorial board member, 18 months as a copywriter for LivingSocial, a Creative Writing M.F.A., a number of published works, two novels in the running, and five years as a professor.) This does not have to be the one that you submit for the challenge. It can be ANY story or poem, a college essay, an email… anything.

Winners will be picked from the hat and announced on the blog on Wednesday, April 24, 2013. When you submit your comment, please submit with the understanding that a collection of my favorite entries will be published in a special blog post, with full credit given to you.

Happy writing! Be sure to post your work in the comments section to be considered for the #wowchallenge contest.

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