Monday, March 10, 2014

I Have Mentor Texts I Want to Use, Now What? by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Last week we talked about where to find mentor texts that you can use as a writer. Now that you have them, what are you going to do with them? 

It depends on what you’re writing. I know that’s a terrible answer. It also depends on what area of craft you want to improve. 

Here are some ideas for ways you can use mentor texts:

1) Plot it out. 

I struggle with plot. I have actually plotted out mentor texts to help me with this. I’m still a work in progress on plotting, but I have learned a lot by studying other texts. 

James Scott Bell recommends plotting another book chapter by chapter in his book PLOT AND STRUCTURE. 

In THE PLOT WHISPERER by Martha Alderson, she mentions taking another book and plotting it on a story line. 

Both of these techniques help you get the feel for the story that is not your own and how the plot works. 

2) Try it out. 

Find something you really like in someone else’s writing. Whether it’s the way they introduce a character, incorporate the setting, the way a beginning is constructed, or the way a nonfiction text is constructed, you can try out the craft aspect with your own story. You may not end up using it, but you might find it gives you a different way of looking at things. 

3) Type it out. 

I’ve said this many times, and I’ve heard others say it numerous times, typing out the text helps you notice what the author left in, what she left out, and how they paced the book. I find this especially helpful in writing picture books, though I’ve heard a writer says she’s typed out several chapters trying to get the feel for a particular genre. 

4) Go on a word hunt. 

I do this with students all of the time. We look for vivid verbs, sensory words, onomatopoeia, and more. Sometimes, getting into the language is inspiring. I find this to be especially helpful when writing picture books and poetry. Make a list of your favorite words. When you are writing you own work, brainstorm the best possible words for the subject. How can you make your word choice unique and perfect? How can you make every word count in your manuscript. 

5) Soak it in.  

Georgia Heard's book FINDING THE HEART OF NONFICTION, she says, 

“Some people call them mentor texts; I call them guardian angels. These are the books that guide me with a whisper of words, inspiring me to find my own voice as I write. They give me the knowledge and the wisdom of what good-quality writing sounds and feels like.” (xii)

Find those handful of books that really speak to you. Books that you wish you’d written. Books that you don’t tire of reading again and again. Read them over and over again. Have them in your personal library. Revisit them. Every time I read BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo, I learn something new as a writer. I soak in something great. I like to go about studying mentor texts in an intentional way. But sometimes just reading and rereading those books will help you as a writer too. 

There are dozens (probably hundreds) of ways to read and study a mentor text. These are just some of the ways I’ve studied them. 

Tell us. What ways do you use mentor texts?


  1. I love to look at language, so going on a word hunt appeals to me. The book I could "soak" in genius from is Sharon Creech's LOVE THAT DOG. The POV, what isn't said that speaks so loudly, the poetry and the VOICE in that book is perfect. Thanks, Marcie for the new resources to peruse!

  2. I love LOVE THAT DOG. I wrote a post about all of the resources I use when I read that book with my students. I truly think that's a brilliant book!!!

  3. I used to read mentor texts to my second graders as a springboard for their own writing. We would pick out specific things we liked about the story and record them on a chart. Then the students would try to use at least one thing from the chart in their own writing that week. It really helped them improve their writing tremendously. Now I have to put my own lesson to work in my writing!

  4. What a great quote by Georgia Heard. As a picture book writer, I'm a big fan of typing out texts of picture books you admire. Thanks for part 2, Marcie!

    1. I agree about typing out the texts. It's something I find to be VERY helpful. I did that when I was in grad school at Hollins and I haven't stopped.

  5. Great blog--so glad to have found this! I work on picture books and I am also a fan of typing up text. Currently on my desk are books by Bob Shea and Marla Frazee--two totally different writers, but both wonderful. I especially love Shea's humor and "plot twists."

  6. Great post. Thanks for sharing it. :D

  7. Marcie, Thank you for the great suggestions! So many books, so little time :)