WHAT is a Mentor Text?
A mentor text is an exemplary text that can be used as a model for good writing. Instead of just reading to familiarize yourself with what’s out there in your genre (which is also important), you can read to find out how the writer actually put the story together to make it effective.
You can use mentor texts to study big picture items like organization of the text, plotting, pacing, point of view, character development and more. You can also use mentor texts to study sentence and word level craft like word choice, sentence variety, descriptions, first lines, and titles.
For a list of possibilities for common skills you can study using mentor texts, click here for this downloadable.
WHY Should I Use Mentor Texts as a Writer?
If you want to be an expert at something, you find people who are already experts. In her book, FINDING THE HEART OF NONFICTION, Georgia Heard says,
“Most disciplines expect that novices learn from experts, whether they're beginner tennis players watching professional tennis players or art students copying master paintings. Similarly, writers learn by emulation." (xiv)
If you want to excel in a particular style of painting, you study paintings not just to appreciate the art, but to really figure out the technique used to render the piece of art.
HOW Do I Figure Out What Mentor Texts to Use?
Try to find books like you want to write. If you want to write picture book biography, you should read as many picture book biographies you can get your hands on. Pick your favorites and really study those.
If you like a particular author’s style, read other books by that author.
If you want to learn about a new genre, pick out 10 books in that genre that are recent and really study what makes them work.
If you have a particular weakness in an area, like plotting, pick books that are known for their perfect plotting.
If you aren’t sure how to focus your nonfiction picture book, pick several nonfiction picture books and take a look at how they are focused.
If you want to write a chapter book for young readers, pick several and outline how they are set up.
Essentially, you can create your own course in a particular genre or craft technique. You can have it solely focused on what skills you need to improve as a writer.
WHERE Do I Find Mentor Texts?
I find mentor texts by reading a lot. I read as many books as I can in the genre I’m writing in. I also read around that genre. The public library is immensely helpful.
I also use Amazon.
It’s helpful in finding books that are similar to the one you like. Search for a book you really like on Amazon. At the bottom it will tell you about what other books people bought that bought that particular one. It’s not always fool-proof. But it might just lead you down an enchanting rabbit-hole filled with good books. Once I develop a list, I then order them from my public library.
I also spend a lot of time reading book lists. School Library Journal, The Horn Book, and various book bloggers are also places to follow. They will give you good ideas for new books that might go well on your mentor texts to-be-read list. Don't feel like you have to spend money on expensive subscriptions. These places have free e-mail newsletters and bloggers that produce regular content.
Start collecting and refining your list of mentor texts. Remember, these are books that standouts for you, books that really speak to you and serve as models for you. Your mentor texts might not be the same as mine, and that’s okay.
Stay tuned, next week we’ll talk about: I Have Mentor Texts I Want to Use, Now What?