Posted by: Kathy Temean | February 13, 2018

ASK DIANNE

Q:  I’ve heard speakers mention ‘mentor texts’ or ‘mentor books’ at writing workshops.  What are they and how do I use them?

A: The term ‘mentor’ is Greek in origin. It refers to a mythological character in The Odyssey, called Mentor, who is entrusted with the education of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, while Odysseus is away at sea.  Over the ages, the word ‘mentor’ has become defined generally as someone who guides another to greater success.  A teacher or coach is a good example of a mentor.

A mentor book functions much like a human mentor:  it shows you, the writer, how to guide your manuscript in the direction it must go to achieve narrative success.  Through careful selection of a book or books to serve this purpose, and a close study of the same, writers can learn many things that will inform and infuse their own writing. It’s not that you will copy another writer’s work; rather, you will find the underlying structure which gives the mentor book its successful results, and helps you develop the skills with which you can mirror the same results in your own manuscript.

How to select a mentor book?  You’ll want first to match it in the broadest of categories to what you’re writing, so first search for published books with the same or similar topic, subject and/or theme as the project you’re writing.

Then fine tune the search:  Is it a nonfiction book for what level of reader, from toddler to teen, that you hope to write?  If fiction, is it a novel for YA or MG reader?  Or is it a Picture Book, Step into Reading, Early Chapter Book, etc.? Once you’ve defined that, move on to matching your genre, if appropriate:  romance, paranormal, fantasy, contemporary, science fiction, humor, etc.?

Now narrow your search to the thing that’s at once the most crucial and most tricky to match:  the voice or tone or mood that you hope to achieve with your WIP (work in progress). If all else is equal with the format, topic, and reading level of prospective mentor books, go with your gut on this one.

Once the book is selected as your mentor text, read it like a writer: analytically.  Take notes on how the author of your mentor book uses narrative elements to create the desired effect in the book.  These include: characterization, plot tension, setting, scene-building, pacing, dialogue, action, setting, voice, tone, word choice, sentence structure, back matter, and so on.

Some ways, for example, to analyze a picture book would be to type the text out in entirety to get a feel for the structure and flow needed for such a manuscript to succeed without the help of illustrations on the page; do a book dummy of the typed-out words to get an idea of pacing and page turn success; and to read it aloud to get an idea of what sounds and cadence make this a fun read-aloud…so you can make yours ‘sing’ too.

Another example, for longer works:  to dissect a novel that is a potential mentor book for your WIP, you might do a chapter by chapter outline of what happens, when, and why.  How did this author effectively foreshadow and surprise the reader in a satisfying way? Study and learn…so your chapters will do the same.

At all turns, ask yourself:  how did this writer handle the challenges I’ll face in my own WIP? What have I learned from this particular strategy for narrative success? How does my newfound knowledge from another writer’s work translate to the manuscript I hope to write?

One last question: is it worth all this time and effort to find, and study, a mentor book?

Yes.  You’ll learn much of genuine use to you as a writer in pursuit of elevating your craft even if you decide in the end that there isn’t one that quite fits the bill as a true mentor book for your current WIP.  The mentor book selection process forces you to precisely define your own writing project in its hoped-for narrative structure, as well as your hopes for its overall effect on readers.  Now THAT is quite a lot of useful information have in hand as you write and revise your WIP!

As always, happy writing—- Dianne

Dianne, thanks for sharing your expertise with us. Another great article.

REMEMBER: To send in your questions for Dianne. Use Kathy(dot)Temean(at)gmail.com. Please put ASK DIANNE in the subject box.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Thank you for this explanation! I learned something new. I will be on the lookout for mentor texts to help improve my writing.

    Like

  2. What a PERfect explanation of what this is AND especially—how to do it! Thanks, Dianne 😀

    Like

  3. Well explained . Thanks a ton mam 🙂

    Like


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