As any brave explorer would do before embarking on a journey, it’s important for us as children’s writers to choose a reliable flashlight to help us find our way.For writers, our flashlight is a mentor text. What exactly is a mentor text, you may ask? In a nutshell, it’s a children’s book that you want YOUR children’s book to be similar to. Your book won’t be similar in content to your mentor text, but in many other elements, it can follow your mentor text very very closely.
If there is a publisher where you want to submit your manuscript, choose one of their current published books that you want to model your book after. If there is an agent you’d like to submit your manuscript to, choose one of their client’s recently published books that you want to model your book after. If you plan on self-publishing your own book or just writing a new book for the experience, choose a current published children’s book that again, you want to use as your mentor text. If you’re following along with my teleclass, Write Your Middle Grade Novel in One Month (CLICK HERE to learn more about my class), the mentor texts are already chosen for you.
SHOULD YOU CHOOSE A MENTOR TEXT?
Once you select your mentor text, the first thing to do is read it straight through for pleasure. Then it’s time to dissect it and see what works for it so that it can shine a light on your own writer’s path as you move forward through the month to write your book.
TIPS ON DISSECTING YOUR MENTOR TEXT
How many chapters does your mentor text have? How many words are in each chapter? If it’s a picture book, how many words are on each page? How many words are in the total book? (If your book is listed on Renaissance Learning, they’ll already have that word count listed for you. CLICK HERE to access this helpful online tool. )
Plan to write your own manuscript with a similar format as your mentor text.
How does your mentor text’s plot develop? If it’s based on a three-act structure, in which chapters (or pages in a picture book) are the plot points to move from Act 1 into Act 2 and to move from Act 2 into Act 3? What significant event happens in the very middle of the story? If you’re not sure how to chart the plot of a published book, CLICK HERE to visit my blog for help.
Plan to write your own manuscript with a similar plot structure as your mentor text.
How does your mentor text develop setting? Is there a short paragraph of description at the opening of each chapter to put the characters in their place? Or are there pages of words that paint each scene?
Again, look closely at the techniques your mentor text uses to develop the setting and plan on developing your own setting with similar techniques.
What techniques does your mentor text use to develop the cast of characters in its story? Are there three strong character tags for the main character? How do the voices of each character differ from one another? How are the main character’s motives developed? How does the main character solve the main story problem? Is there much inner dialogue within the heart and mind of the main character?
Study the character development in your mentor text and plan on using some of the same techniques to develop your own cast of characters.
A well-chosen mentor text can help improve your own writing as nothing else can. Instead of stumbling around not knowing where you are going with your manuscript, your mentor text can shine the light more clearly on the path ahead of you and put your feet on solid ground.