Mentor Text Wednesday: Anthology Inspiration

Mentor Text:  Pop culture anthologies, or anthologies of a thematic nature

Writing Techniques:

  •         Creative writing
  •         Fan fiction
  •         Establishing storytelling guidelines
  •         Pop culture analysis


I grew up with some pretty sweet pop culture. I’ve expressed my love for Star Wars already here, and if you’re creating something with a science fiction or superhero bent, well…you’ve probably got my attention, and will earn some of my dollars.

I can track my affinity for anthologies back to one I read a number of times as a teenager, called Shock Rock, a collection of horror stories with a rock and roll element. I’m pretty sure the promise of a Stephen King story was what drew my initial attention, but it was the idea that these were horror stories, which I loved, that were about rock and roll, which I also loved. Perfect!

It was my recent purchase of an X-Files anthology that got me thinking about anthologies as mentor texts. In many ways, they are very much the kind of thing that we do in our classrooms. An editor, in our case, a teacher, puts out a call for, or collects, a whole bunch of stories from writers, or students, that are all about the same thing. I’ve had students write stories from the perspective of another character in To Kill A Mockingbird. How far off is that from these anthologies?

As I write this, I’ve paused to pull books from my shelf, just to see what I have at home. That quick pull was eight titles. This included the X-Files and Wizard of Oz anthologies I mentioned in my last post, two zombie anthologies, a post-apocalyptic one, one of stories set in other worlds, a Batman anthology and a Star Wars book. Since I do a dystopian short story study, I know that I have two or three anthologies of those on my shelves at school. Also, I’m a book packrat, so I know that there are more anthologies like this somewhere in my house.

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Some of my favorite anthologies to share with students

And I know that I’ve taken many of them out of the library, or passed them along to fellow readers and fans. With the time that I spend in bookstores, I can attest to the fact that there are many, many more such anthologies out there. Five of the eight that I pulled from my shelf were edited by John Joseph Adams, an American science fiction and fantasy editor, whose website lists about thirty such works.

How We Might Use Them:

Creative Writing

  •         Well, it goes without saying that these anthologies would give us lots of great stories to use as mentor texts, just upon the virtue of the writing alone. I know that there are a handful of stories in my “go-to” short story folder that I’ve pulled from anthologies like these. (Bob the Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland by Joe R. Lansdale is one I love to use when we look at personification. Here’s a link to a comic adaptation.)
  •         For some writers, having established characters and worlds to work in would be welcomed. I know that often, creating characters is challenging for some students. As I watch my own daughters play, I see them borrow established characters from their favorite stories to use in the new narratives they create. They do this without prompting, and I’m always amazed at the incredible drama and adventures the PAW Patrol Pups and Octonauts get up to in our living room. By allowing students to work with established characters and worlds, then we relieve some of the pressure to create. They can focus on the narrative instead of forming character.
  •        I’m realizing, for the first time this year, my full plan with our dystopian story study. It’s the first year we’ve gotten to actually writing our own stories. In conversations with my students as they are planning and writing, we’re referencing so many of the stories we read. A common conversation has been around exposition in the beginning of our stories. Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” has such an amazing opening line for a dystopian short story: “The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal.” Boom. Our when is established, and our utopian ideal stated in less than ten words. I’m curious to see how many stories will use a similar tactic.

Fan Fiction

  •         Oz Reimagined could inspire writers to expand the work that they’ve studied. My Mockingbird fan fiction assignment asks them to look at the events of the novel from a different perspective than Scout’s. What if I asked them to tell other stories from Maycomb? What if we came back to Maycomb after the events of Mockingbird? What if we write pieces that start with the question of “What if…” and had our young writers making some changes, and writing about the ramifications of those changes?

Establishing Storytelling Guidelines & Pop Culture Analysis

  •         When engaged in characterization, to write effectively, it is important that students know the character they are writing well. Though it may not necessarily pay off in the story that they write this time, they have to “get,” say Batman, to write a Batman story. They need to think, like I often do, “What would Batman do?” They have rules to work within. If you’ve spent much time in any fandom, then you know that deviating in any way is met with much criticism. That kind of community in writing, if we can channel it positively, might be fun in a classroom!
  •       There are other story elements that they’ll need to consider as they write. If they are writing a piece in an existing world, they have “rules” to follow. The setting is set, as are the characters and many events. Students would need to understand those things to write pieces that work for that world. So, not only are we able to look at writing, but we’re also able to study a world, and analyze pop culture texts to give us those rules to work within.
  •         I think it would be a really rich activity to have students act as editors as well. Imagine taking a period or two to establish the requirements for inclusion in such an anthology.  I did it for my students writing dystopia, but in retrospect, wouldn’t it have been a better lesson had we discussed what makes a good dystopian story?

I just remembered another anthology I have somewhere here called Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd, which is an anthology of stories about geeky things. Through the magic of Amazon, I was informed that an anthology called 21 Proms exists, and 13: Thirteen Stories That Capture the Agony and Ecstasy of Being Thirteen. I guess whatever we want to have students write, we can probably find an anthology that would give us good examples, or one that would give us inspiration for topics to write about.

That Amazon click-through was almost a bad idea, because I almost bought more books. Many of these anthologies I’ve grabbed for myself as a geeky reader. It wasn’t until I started thinking about mentor texts that I realized the teaching potential they hold.

There’s one more thing about this stack of geekdom that may be really important though: If a student knows I have this stack, and if we use them in class, that very well may validate their interests and passions, which for many budding writers could be the very thing that they need.

What anthologies do you have in your classroom? What anthologies exist that hold mirrors to your students and their interests and passions? How might anthologies inspire instruction and writing in your classroom?

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–Jay (@doodlinmunkyboy)

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