Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide: Day 27

Books as Mentors for Writing Students

“For two years after my thirteenth birthday I used Oscar’s books to teach myself to be a better writer. Oscar showed me how to copy paragraphs that I liked and study them until their rhythms were a part of my thoughts.” ~ Oscar’s Gift

Portrait

When I have worked with young writers, I’ve often heard parents worry that their children’s writing is too close in style or topic to that of the children’s current favorite books and authors. What I try to help the adults to see is that using books and authors as informal mentors is a wonderful way for young writers to hone their skills and to expand their repertoires.

Just as visual artists learn from the masters by copying their works, writers—young and not so young—can “try on” different ways of writing by intentionally mimicking others’ writing styles.

To get started, here is a short exercise, using the first lines of J.R.R. Toklien’s The Hobbit.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

1. Memorize the first paragraph, above, until you can say it easily. It helps to read it as though it were poetry, with stresses on specific words:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole,

filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell,

nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole

with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat:

it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

2. Imagine a thing or place in a house or in nature, where a character can do things, then answer these questions:

  • What is the thing or place?
  • Where is the thing or place?
  • Who lives there?
  • What is the thing or place not?
  • What are more details of what it is not?
  • What else is it not, again, with details?
  • What is missing from the thing or place?
  • What specific kind of thing or place is it?
  • What does the thing or place mean or what does it cause?

3. Write like Tolkien by copying the structure of the first lines of The Hobbit using your own details. Here is an example:

  • What is the thing or place? corner
  • Where is the thing or place? behind my bed
  • Who lives there? an ant
  • What is the thing or place not? sunny corner
  • What are more details of what it is not? cleaned often
  • What else is it not, again, with details or what is missing? crowded, dusty
  • What is missing from the thing or place? somewhere to hide
  • What specific kind of thing or place is it? corner in the boy’s room
  • What does the thing or place mean or what does it cause? friendship between boy and ant

Write like Tolkien: In a corner behind the bed there lived an ant. Not a sunny corner in the kitchen, swept clean daily, nor yet a dark, dusty corner in the basement, visited by no one, it was a corner in the boy’s room: and that was where the story of their friendship began.

From here, you can continue your story or not.

What authors would you like to mimic? Feel free to share your examples in the comments!

 


Click HERE for the full Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide.

Oscar’s Gift: Planting Words with Oscar Micheaux is available from Amazon as a paperback and ebook.

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