Mentor Texts: A Right Way and a Wrong Way

Flapper, Purple, Vintage, Retro, Female, NostalgiaI have to admit.  I’ve been struggling to get going with my latest fiction idea.  Granted, it is an adult novel so it will be longer than anything I’ve written to date but that isn’t what’s been slowing me down.

I’ve been working from a mentor text.  Several agents have tweeted that they would love to see a character ala Miss Fisher.  I love Phryne Fisher.  Love.  LOVE.  Seriously.  She’s a favorite and I suspect that therein lies my problem.  I know this character well.

I’ve been playing with my character and I know her name (Frankie).  I know where she lives (St. Louis, North County).  I know when the story takes place (1975).  The problem is that I find myself waffling on some of the details.

No, no.  She can’t be married.  Miss Fisher isn’t married.

She can’t work full-time.  Miss Fisher doesn’t work full-time.  Other than detecting, she doesn’t have a job period.

Miss Fisher isn’t in college.

Miss Fisher doesn’t live in an apartment.

And it goes on and on and on.  It finally hit me last night while I was taking a shower (I do a lot of my best thinking in the shower).  When I do this, I’m not using Phryne Fisher as a mentor character.  I’m trying to use her as a template, to create a more-or-less exact copy.  And that’s well and good if I want an agent or editor to say “Wow.  Is this time-travel fan fic? Why is Miss Fisher in Missouri?”

Of course, that isn’t what I want so I need to spend some time getting to know my character as MY character.  She’ll be like Miss Fisher in that she’s sassy and independent.  She’s smart and she’s driven to see that justice is done.  She doesn’t have hang ups about what side of the tracks someone is from.  The word NO is more of a challenge than a dictate.

But if I am going to make her my own that will probably be where the similarities end.

Like Dottie, Frankie sews.  She’s from outstate Missouri and has a real can-do attitude.  At least in book 1, she lives in an apartment over a storefront.  I think she may be a church goer.

The only reason that she’s coming into focus is because I’ve quit trying to recreate Miss Fisher in bell bottoms.  Using a book or character as a mentor doesn’t mean duplicating it.  Instead, use if for pacing or tone.  Extract just a bit of flavor.  And then make it your own.