Mentor Texts: Novels to Learn From

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I’m finally — after two major life events, a grandchild and my daughter’s wedding — ready to start a new novel. I’ve found two mentor texts that I’m hoping will show me something about how to proceed.

Novels to Imitate and Learn From

Educators often use mentor texts when teaching writing to kids. The idea is to choose texts that in some way model the type of writing you want as a result. This means you need a good vision for the end result, or the mentor texts you choose won’t help.

For my new novel, I know that I”ll have quite a few characters and that the POV will probably change often; each section might be quite short; that I might be playing with 3rd person and omniscient POVs. I’ve been looking around and found two that are interesting in this respect.
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The first is the 1979 Newbery book, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. It features over a dozen characters; it moves in and out of omniscient and 3rd; it has very short sections. Interestingly, Kathi Appelt’s Newbery Honor book, The Underneath, also features multiple characters and she uses short chapters, changing POV often.

Permission and Hope. From these texts, first, I have permission to break the rule of only one main character, one main POV. That’s important. It can be done and done well. Which also gives me hope!

Direction to Start. I’m looking to these two texts as a direction for my first efforts. That does NOT mean I intend to write with a Raskin/Appelt voice. I expect to produce something quite different. Still, this is a place to start.

Reference and Teaching. I hope to learn how to move from POV to POV and keep the pacing fast, interest high, and reader involvement at the maximum. I think it will be helpful to refer to these mentor texts as I write the first draft; but I think it will be even more helpful as I work on revision later.

So, this week, I’m hoping to make a start, write a couple exploratory pieces, outline, work on character sketches. It’s a start.

9 Comments
  • Natalie Aguirre
    June 21, 2010

    Good luck. Sometimes I study books I really like to help me with things I’m struggling with.

  • e.lee
    June 22, 2010

    these are great choices of mentor texts and its all the more rewarding to be able to use your own work in class

  • Laura Pauling
    June 22, 2010

    I’m waiting for my mentor books to arrive in the mail! Can’t wait!

  • Darcy Pattison
    June 22, 2010

    Laura:
    What mentor texts are YOU using? Why those?

    Darcy

  • Darcy Pattison
    June 22, 2010

    Natalie:
    What books have you found helpful in your writing? Are you using mentor texts right now?

    Darcy

  • Laura Pauling
    June 22, 2010

    Darcy,

    I’m attempting a humorous tween mystery. So my mentor texts will be Paris Pan Takes a Dare, I So Don’t Do Mysteries, Enola Holmes…so far. I might also check out the older Sammy Keyes and Echo Falls Mysteries. I’m only going to use mentor texts that I loved or really liked.

  • Natalie Aguirre
    June 22, 2010

    Here’s a few books I’ve used.

    Dia Calhoun’s Avielle of Rhia because I liked how she did the character struggle/growth and this is something I struggle with. I know this isn’t the only way to show a character changing but it helped with my particular story.

    Rick Riordan’s The Lightening Thief because Percy is about the same age as my main character though mine’s a girl. I studied it for pacing and internal dialogue.

    Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo because I like the series. I studied it for pacing and also for Charlie’s internal thoughts. Though this is not a straight third person limited story, so it didn’t totally match what I’m trying to do.

    Right now I’m not using any because I’m just starting the second book in my series (just to get ahead if I am ever so lucky to get published with working full time. I know it’s otherwise not smart to write the second book before the first is sold) so I know the story better.

    I may be using your Novel Revision book again if I decide I have to ax more from my first book. I love your book but hope I don’t have to revise my first one yet again. I might not decide till the Fall conference. Sigh.

  • Darcy Pattison
    June 23, 2010

    Riordan, Calhoun and Nimmo sound like great mentor texts to me! Wow.

    Good luck with the novels!
    Darcy

  • Darcy Pattison
    June 23, 2010

    Laura,
    Absolutely, you only want to use texts you love. Otherwise, it’s not helpful.

    Darcy