Choosing Mentor Texts

“Read.”

It’s the second most important endeavor that writers are instructed to do (after the command to “Write!”).

Because by reading and reading and reading and reading and READING and reading (and reading) and reading some more, the words, the styles, the structures, the conventions soak into our souls and become our words, styles, structures and conventions.

Therefore reading has the second biggest impact on your writing. Something so powerful should be managed well.

ringfrodo
Courtesy of Lord of the Rings Wiki- One ring to rule them all!

So, how can you manage it?

Choose good mentor texts. Choose books and stories and articles that exemplify the words, styles, structures and conventions that you want to be able to create. Books that you wish you had written.

  1. Start in your genre.

    If you want to write mysteries, choose the best selling, highest honored, best awarded mysteries to read and read and read and…

    If you want to write science fiction, choose authors and works that have been highly regarded and critically acclaimed to read and read and read and…

    If you want to write children’s books, check out 100 Greatest Children’s Books of all Time lists. Like, Time Magazine’s 100 Best, or New York Public Library’s 100 Best, or Amazon’s 100 to Read in a Lifetime, and read as many of the titles listed as you can possibly get your hands on.
    Visit the American Library Association to see the award winners and honorees for best children’s titles and read and read and read…

  2. Tailor your mentor texts to fit one of your writing projects.

    • Pick a book on your topic.

      I am currently working on a NF text about Nikola Tesla. So I’ve found books to help me absorb all the ways his life has been presented in texts already.

      Some mentor texts tailored to my current topic.
    • Pick books that are written in a similar structure to your project.

      Many times a certain genre will automatically give you a structure: mysteries follow a predictable pattern from crime scene to final revelation; many YA dystopian novels and high fantasy novels follow the Hero’s Journey structure; biographies often follow a chronological birth to death structure.

      Other times you can look across genres to find books written with a particular structure that appeals to you– like finding books written in verse, or following a circular narrative, or based on an ABC or 123 structure.

      Find the best examples of these books and read and read and read and…

    • Pick books that are written with a similar voice and tone.

      By choosing books that have a similar voice and/or tone to yours (or that exemplify the voice you wish to create), you can analyze the individual words that evoke that voice, the sentence structure that creates the tone, the point of view, the use of figurative language, the pacing, every little choice that your favorite writers use to make the story sing, laugh, cry, fly, crawl or stomp.

      I’ve read these books in the past to absorb and analyze their playful, humorous voice.

      Don’t forget to read and read and read and…

    • Pick books that exemplify the use of specific writing trait.

      If you are bound and determined to write a rhyming bedtime story, find rhyming picture books and read and read and read (you’ve got to get rhyme perfect… or so I’m told).

      *For non-fiction authors, I recommend hunting for books that incorporate primary sources and research well.*

      If you want to play with perspective or point of view, check out stories featuring multiple protagonists,  stories told from a surprising narrator, or stories that include episodes of meta-reference.

      I may or may not have or had an unhealthy obsession with meta-fiction titles
  3. Read for pleasure.

    Toni Morrison said,

    “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”

    So, what do you like to read?
    What books speak so deeply to your soul that they become a part of you?

 

Read them.

Then write them.

A Word of Encouragement from Pluto

At least half of the summer heat must come from the shining goals and ambitions I set for myself in the months when I’m not as tied down by teaching responsibilities. They glow with promise in the early days: glistening lists of ideas for first drafts, revision checklists, submission deadlines.

But like the much needed rain that sent the sun scurrying for cover, a multitude of teaching workshops washed out my personal writing goals. I spent my summer instead learning how to (better) teach writing and to (better) structure my classroom and curriculum. And also geeking out about NASA’s mission to study Pluto. It was time well spent, but I am now mourning the loss of time that I could have spent on (bettering) my manuscripts.

So, this is a word of encouragement for all of us who fly by their objectives with little to show for it, or who work so hard only to have to start all over at the end of it.

Speaking of fly by, we can take encouragement from NASA and their New Horizons Mission, known affectionately on social media as #PlutoFlyBy.

NewHorizonsPlutoSurface

New Horizons mission blasted off almost ten years ago. The primary investigator, Alan Stern, and his team had ambitions and goals they were shooting towards.

They knew any pay-off from their exploration wouldn’t come until much later, but they set out all the same.  The most advanced tools on the biggest payload rocketed into space.

So, what can we learn?

To reach your goals, you have to put forth your best effort, find some momentum, and be patient. If you are working towards it; if you are headed in the right direction with positive progress (with ANY progress), you WILL get there. Sometimes success takes time.

Since New Horizon’s launch in 2006, the international definition of planet has been redetermined, and Pluto has since been reclassified as a “dwarf planet.”

plutoeditorialcartoonisisn't

While many see this as a set back, or demotion, I think a better perspective is that this discussion is advancing our understanding of our solar system. To have the knowledge to reclassify something, means that we understand it more. And that is progress.

So, when you look at your goals and your direction, be encouraged in the knowledge that to redefine what you want to accomplish is helping you move towards your goal. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

And our knowledge about this dwarf planet has increased tremendously in the past ten years. When New Horizon’s launched, what we knew about Pluto was brief: we knew it had a moon, Charon, it was small, and that it was likely cold with varied geological surface features (based on a HIGHLY pixelated picture that had significant contrast). The End.

Look at how our knowledge has progressed in the past ten years:

pluto-observations-through-the-years

To find out about each of these images, check out New Horizon’s page.

Then, on July 15th, New Horizons completed its #PlutoFlyBy. More than one decades’ worth of hopes and dreams culminated in a visit that occurred 72 seconds early. Their goal had been attained.

In the one day, ONE DAY, that New Horizons waved to Pluto, all scientific sensors on and active, we have already have more information on Pluto than we have had in the past century.

But, really, it is just the beginning.

NASA says it will take 16 months (at least) for all of the data collected on this mission to be downloaded to mission control. Then, astronomers and geologists and myriad other scientists get to spend the next ten years analyzing the data to unlock Pluto’s secrets.

Be encouraged that the work is NEVER over, and what seems like an end is oftentimes the start of something better. Don’t be afraid of the next step.

But the most important lesson from Pluto, and the biggest word of encouragement that New Horizons has to offer is this:

Take Heart.

July 7 2015 LORRI Image of Pluto 5 million miles away

New Page Masters Book Club Selections!!

What can you do in the summer months, when school is out and the heat of the day spills into every corner of the yard?

Read, write and blog.

Every year I compile a heap of titles, some pinned to my Pinterest account, some purchased and laying on whatever surface or shelf has any room at all, and others written hastily in my journal, that I long to read. It is during the summer months that I finally get the chance to barrel through them, unrestrained and hungry for the characters and worlds that exist between the pages.

So, while I will read many, many more books than those selected for the Page Masters book club, I want to invite friends and followers to choose a title and read with me. Selfishly, because this way I have someone to talk to about the books. I mean, it hurts when you turn the last page and the adventure ends. Talking with friends makes it last that much longer.

The selections for July have been posted on the Page Master page. I cannot think of anything that ties them together (yet), except for my deep desire to read them. So check them out, and read them if you want to (this isn’t mandatory after all; its for fun!).

If you have other books you are reading, let me know, and I’ll join you.

Welcome to summer reading!

How to Create Character

I have been actively avoiding writing a blog post on characterization.
This avoidance stems from a few reasons:

1) What do I have to say that hasn’t already been said (and better), and

2) What do I know about it, really?, and

3) I have never considered myself particularly strong at characterization.

Until today. Well, a few weekends ago.

I am writing THE post on characterization today because, while attending the Austin SCBWI conference, I realized a couple of things:

1) The exact reason I am weak at constructing characters, and

2) A great method (perhaps fool-proof?) to REALLY construct a character.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators provides writers and illustrators with professional development and community support.

I feel like this revelation must be shared, despite having doubts that it is anything new or better than what already exists. It is new and practical for me, and I’ll write this down so at least I come back to it if I ever forget.

If that hasn’t sold you on reading further, nothing I can offer will.

BEHOLD: THE WAY OF CREATING CHARACTERS

  1. Collect some personality traits.Find five (5) traits that can co-exist in an interesting way.
    “Why five?” you might ask. Five traits can create a complex, more realistic character, and is still a manageable amount to describe and remember.

    (If you are creating a character-driven story, this is the first step you will do in the entire writing process, but if you are a plot-driven person, you will need to consider what 5 traits your character will need in order to create problems and find solutions for themselves.)

    Make sure that you have at least two (2) personality traits that oppose each other in some way. Not necessarily in direct opposition, but traits that might contradict each other or compromise each other when placed in certain situations.

    A character with heart and bravery won’t hesitate to save the day. But if that character is also paired with common intelligence, they might not always know how to save the day. Or even better, they might blunder into sensitive situations and cause more havoc than the antagonist could ever manage alone.

    For example:

    (Really, Harry Potter? You’ve only just learned you’re a wizard and you think you know how to take down a troll?)

    Also make sure that you’ve included AT LEAST one (1) flaw. Who wants to read about somebody perfect? And if that person IS perfect, what kind of story can you create. Perfect people tend to not have problems in life.

  2. Give your characters a soul-searing DESIRE.
    More than any other method of characterization, your characters’ deepest wants and needs will bring your character to life for the reader, and give the reader someone to cheer for or against.
    So, how do you do it?

    Ask you characters this question: What is one thing you don’t want to live without, and cannot for another day live without?Then ask them: What are you willing to sacrifice to get this desire?

    Now, it’s okay if this desire changes over the course of your story. After all, if the desire is changing, your character is changing. And dynamic, changing characters are the bomb.

    And it’s okay if you have an unreliable character that claims to want one thing, but really want something else. As long as you, the author, know what the core desire for your character is, you will be better able to write your character so that he or she jumps off the page and into your readers’ hearts and minds.

The first two steps are the absolute minimum you could do and still end up with any sort of complex character. This 3rd step is all about adding flair, and making it easier to write them.

  1. Find a picture of your character.

    Ever notice that when authors “show, don’t tell,” they use a sentence like:

    Her small hands curled around the pen. Her knuckles lost almost all the
    color the rest of her had.
    “Excuse me,” she bit out.

    This sentence gives us details about the character’s physical looks: short, possibly Latino or African American. Writing a sentence like this that shows the reader what your character is like on the inside is a whole lot easier when you know what they are like on the outside. When you know their physical appearance.

    The easiest way I’ve found to keep a stable mental picture of my character is to find a photograph or illustration of what they would like.
    Which actor or actress would I cast in the role of my character? I find a picture of them, change the color of the eyes or hair to match the mental image in my head, and—Viola! —I have a physical copy I can refer to every time I need to describe my character’s emotions and actions.

    Noomi Rapace

    Noomi Rapace

    Andrew Lee Potts

    Andrew Lee Potts

    (I’m trying to ship these loveys in my current WIP.
    It’s much easier to imagine the tender touches, and looks of exasperation when I can so easily visualize them.)

    Finally, make sure that your character’s physical characteristics are consistent with their character traits and desire(s). A girl who looks and dresses like Kim Kardashian is not likely to be your shy, demure wall flower.

What have you found to be an indispensable practice when it comes to creating characters?

Setting Your Character Down

I saw this beautiful photograph today, by Lars Leber Photography:

Lars Leber Photography

I couldn’t help but think, who would live here, in the shades of sunset and lavender? Is this the opening scene in their story, or the close?

Writing Prompt:

Create a character who would have a story to tell about the place in the photograph.
Why do they live here? How do they live here? What is their favorite hobby, their least favorite thing to do? What problems do they have in the life, and how do they try to solve those problems?

Bonus Prompt:
Tell their story.

Introducing Page Masters Book Club

Welcome to Page Masters Book Club!!!!

Part of being a great writer is being a good reader.

It’s been said by so many authors, that it’s easier to keep track of which writer HASN’T given this specific advice. But even then, no one comes readily to mind.

Therefore, part of this website will be dedicated to reading.

Every month, look here for two new book club selections. One will be a general audience selection and the second will be from the Young Adult (YA) or Middle Grade (MG) or Picture Book (PB) markets.

Selections will be posted at the start of the month, and during the last week, The Tyrant of the Blog (or her esteemed associates) will post questions and beg for YOUR comments.
Possible discussion will focus on A) our general worshiping or abjuring of the book, B) the book as a mentor text and what we as writers can take away from it, and C) sources of inspiration. Plus, any other stray thoughts that spring full or half or only fractionally formed from our heads, like Athena from Zeus. (Yes, I know that is a fragment; Mrs. D, my senior English teacher would require a notation here of ‘frag’ in order to use this in a written work). So, frag (frag).

For our inaugural Page Masters book club selections, The Tyrant and her faithful advisers have chosen the following novels:

August Book Club1

 

General Selection:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Middle Grade Selection:
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

For official Page Masters Posts, check out the Page Masters link in our sidebar. That’s where we’ll post new information and hold book club discussions.

So, choose one book or both books. We won’t hold your passion for reading against you. But, get reading!!

We’ll see you back here on Thursday August 28th, 2014 to begin discussing.

Until then,

Happy Reading!!

Writing Thrombosis

This July I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s a writing challenge, and I set a goal of 30,000 words for myself.

See, I’ve had this story bouncing around my head for quite a while. When I got frustrated at work or at home or at the grocery store, it would pop and say, “You could be writing me…”. You know, instead of doing whatever was causing boucoups stress. Every night before I went to sleep, the characters would stand up and start acting out scenes from their story. I even went to a writing conference and ended up pitching this as yet unwritten manuscript to an agent during a critique. He thought it was a good idea, and that cemented my resolve. I HAD to write it.

So I joined Camp NaNoWriMo for the month of July to help motivate me to put my “butt in the chair” (as Jane Yolen likes to say), and get that first draft written down.

At first it was easy to turn off my inner editor and just write. I knew my story because it had been building in my head for months. I knew my characters because they populated my dreams. I wrote and wrote and wrote.

Then, with only 3,000 words to go, I contracted the dreaded Writing Thrombosis. That’s the medical term for Writer’s Block: when your judgmental, inner editor lodges itself between your brain and your finger and all your ideas and words are obstructed.

 

Publication1

Suddenly, I couldn’t see past the repetition of the phrase “nodded her head,” or all the adverbs I used to describe how my characters said what, or the fact that my main character was always jumping on and off his horse. I was ashamed of how little tension was present in what was meant to be a climactic scene. My inner editor demanded I go back and fix every mistake before finishing those last 3,000 words and resolving the conflict of my story. What was I going to do?

Experts say when this happens, you should get your butt out of your chair (le gasp!) and go for a walk. Read a book or take a break from writing so that your creative veins can expand and your Writing Thrombosis will ease. Ideas will flow more easily, new possibilities will arise. It is good advice.

But, I tried it, and it didn’t work. I knew where my story was going. I knew how my characters were acting (even if it wasn’t described in the most effective manner). My ideas were there, they just couldn’t get past the inner editor.

So, I purposely wrote a bad sentence:

The boy jumped on his horse and nodded his head.

My inner editor screamed at me. I almost deleted it. But instead, I wrote another:

“I’m going with or without you,” he said fiercely.

I think at that point, my inner editor fainted. And that was all it took. The next 3,000 words came easily again. Some of them were very good words. Some of them were okay words. And some of them were downright ugly.

Most importantly, by the end of the day, I had a completed manuscript. A first draft that could be revised over and over for repetitious words, vivid verbs, imagery, improving my POV, deepening characterization, adding tension… the list goes on. I have a lot of work to do before I am ready to share my story.

But I’m one step closer, and now I sleep a little easier, except for the new characters that keep jumping up to say, “Look at me! Look at me!”

I did it!!