For today's Mentor Text Monday post I want to focus on the very first passage from a book I've just started. The beauty and the curse of reading like a writer is that EVERYTHING you read becomes a mentor text. Every passage, every ad, every article, holds mentor text opportunities. Curling up with a good book must now include a pile of sticky notes or an annotation app close at hand to mark each new idea. The other afternoon, recovering from the flu, I downloaded The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman on my e-reader. My intention was to relax, rest, and recover. Within thirty seconds I had marked up the pages (using my favorite tools on my e-reader) and put the book down to try out what I had read.
Here it is:
Ask yourself, what do you notice? What is it that the author tells us in this short passage, and how does he do it? As a lead into a story what do you learn from this passage, and what does it make you wonder?
Here is what I noticed:
The very first line gives me a setting that I feel like I recognize--I've seen duck ponds before! It gives me a sense of a small, slow-moving, simple country-side.
Then right away the picture of a duck pond is contradicted with the word ocean. My image of a countryside no longer fits, and the fast-moving, vast ocean is in it's place. This also tells me about something about Lettie Comstock--she is an unreliable source. But who is "they?" Did they cross the ocean or not?
I watch the phrase "old country" grow and change. It was across the ocean, it had sunk, it wasn't the oldest country after all.
I learn more about Lettie Comstock as well--she has a grandmother and a great-mother who were alive at the time of this excerpt. This makes her younger than I originally thought and maybe an even less reliable source.
And then, the final line. Blown up? The old country sunk, which is concerning, but the older country blew up? That's so intriguing!
Part of my process in breaking down a new peice of mentor text is to try it out. I thought of a short story--a memory from my childhood--and tried to use the same strucutres to introduce the story. I'll admit, this was a challenge. I wanted to keep all of the writer's craft techniques from the original, but there were so many! Here's my attempt:
It was only an abandoned windowless house, next to the street. It wasn't scary.
Tracy Majors said it was haunted, but I knew that was silly. She said that it just rose up out of the driveway one day.
Her older sister said that Tracy didn't remember properly, and it was before she was born, and anyway, it was the family that built that house that died in it.
Mrs. Majors, their mother, said they were both being dramatic, and that the family that built it hadn't died in it. She said she knew their grandson.
She said said that their grandson still lived in it today.
Writing this helped me to realize how many different pieces of information the author put into this passage. As a whole, this is a complex lead to write--I really had to know the story I planned to tell well. Some of the simpler structures within the whole might be more accessible--using three different persepctives (Lettie, mother, grandmother), inserting a jusxtaposition (duck pond/ocean), giving relative historical context (old country/really old country).
Either way, I can't wait to keep reading. I'll share more as I do!
*I did some searching and I don't know if the O. stands for something in a literary way, or for ocean or for zero? If you know, give me a shout-out, would ya? It looks like so: