Story Bite 31: Mentor Books

As I always say at my school talks, mentor books are crucial for me as an author. I read widely, but these favorites always encourage me, teach me, or just lift my spirits when I’m struggling for inspiration. Mentor texts can be useful for writers of all ages, so I hope this story bite will be helpful for everyone!

A boy looks up in fear yet with a brave pose to a huge black horse rearing over him, the red-haired rider looking down, with rooks ringing the trees. The title: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper has always been one of my mentor books. I love how Cooper builds tension and a sense of pure menace, starting with the very first chapter.  Here’s the book’s  incredible new cover art by Justin Hernandez, which represents the story’s feel perfectly.

So let’s talk about mentors books! Start here:

Choose a book you love, one that inspires you, that makes feel excited or full of ideas when you put it down. Write down three things you love about it. (For instance, the characters, the pacing, and the prose.) 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 the story? What excited you most about what this author did? Was it a character? A twist of the plot? Family relationships? What made this book so wonderful for you? Write down what you love about your mentor book. Add as many details as you like!

Next, ask yourself about the characters. Did you love a character because they were brave or funny or 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 or funny or whatever hooked you with your mentor book’s character, and think about their distinctive voice. Try writing a paragraph in that voice.

Did you love how particular sentences describe a scene or advance the action? Examine those sentences in your mentor book. 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?). Copy your favorite sentences in your notebook. Now examine them closely. Practice writing something similar yourself.

Paying close attention to what made your mentor book special for you is a perfect way to find inspiration 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 a mentor text was so powerful to you, you’ll have a sense of how you can improve  your own work.

Good luck, and happy writing!

One Response to “Story Bite 31: Mentor Books”

  1. :Donna

    ALways great stuff, Diane 🙂 There are definitely certain books that churn my creative juices! One of the first that comes to mind is HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCEROR’S STONE. Gets me every time! <3


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