Story Bite 25: Using Mentor Texts

Mentor texts are books that inspire us, books we love that bring great pleasure to our reading—but also can help our writing too. In this post, I’ll explore some ways to use a mentor text to inspire an idea, or just help you with a scene.

1. Choose a book you love, one that inspires you, that makes feel excited or full of ideas when you put it down.

2. Write down three things you love about it. (For instance, the characters, the pacing, and the prose.)

3. Go into those topics a little deeper: What do you like about the characters? Which was your favorite and why? What are some of your favorite sentences?

Once you’ve gone deeper into your answers, think about how you could apply those qualities you admire to your own writing.

Did you love a character because she was brave and funny and had a wonderful distinctive voice? Think of a character from your own imagination (including books you’ve read, movies you’ve seen, people you’ve known) who is brave and funny, and give them a distinctive voice.

Did you love how particular sentences describe a scene or advance the action? Examine those sentences. Look at the author’s word choice. Notice the author’s technique and write down what it is (short sentences to build tension? a few words of lush description to set a scene?). Practice writing something similar yourself.

Mentor books can be great inspirations if you’re struggling to come up with an idea, or are stuck in the midst of a piece of writing. Once you’ve written why they were so powerful to you, you’ll have a blueprint for your own work.

(This story bite first appeared in my enewsletter, Adventures From an Open Book.)

4 Responses to “Story Bite 25: Using Mentor Texts”

  1. Sam leopold

    Thank you for all of your posts. Students love your books and love your engaging creative writing tips. Thank you.

  2. :Donna

    Diane, I have so many books I truly love, but have only examined them mentally or with a broader brush, without very close examination. I really do need to do that at some point!

    • Diane

      I realized once I first heard the term “mentor text” from a teacher that I’ve been doing that all my life with my favorite books: writing what made them meaningful to me. I do that these days with just about every book I read: a quick note saying what the author did well. We authors can always keep learning from our peers, I feel, to help us always be better writers.


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