Mentors are an essential element to a good story. What would Harry Potter be without Dumbledore, or Hagrid? Would the Karate Kid have succeeded without Mr. Miyagi? What about Carlos Castaneda’s eccentric mentor, Don Juan, who guided him through his psychedelic experiences?
Mentors can be tricky to create in a story, because there aren’t really any rules for them, except that they have to help your character to grow. But how (and why!) they do this, and their unique personality, is only limited by your creativity.
Some suggestions to consider when creating your mentor:
- Let him/her be an outcast, someone living on the fringes of society. Or at least someone with the ability to see the bigger picture.
- The mentor need not be wise, but he/she must know more than the character.
- Mentors have flaws too. They can be alcoholics, philanderers, anti-social, selfish…
- Your mentor doesn’t have to be human – depending on your story it can be a book, an animal, or some other artefact.
- Mentors need not be external, although they often are. But your hero can be his/her own mentor by realising his/her inner resources.
- The mentor does not need to care about the character. But be sure to give your mentor a reason to help the character. There must be a reason why the mentor would bother with your character’s growth and success.
- The mentor is a part of the story, so he/she must appear more than once.
Common mistakes that make for weak mentors:
- A mentor that repeatedly rescues the hero of your story.
- A mentor that is all-knowing and all-powerful.
- A flawless mentor. Yawn, yawn….
- A mentor that’s always there at exactly the right time when your character needs him/her. That’s just too easy, isn’t it?
- A mentor that always miraculously survives. They can give their life for your character’s, and they can simply die because they made a stupid mistake.
- A mentor that’s the holder of some cryptic information that should just simply be stated, but isn’t. It’s a cheap trick to increase tension in a story where it’s not necessary or can’t be built in some other way.
- A mentor that gives cryptic clues and then waits for the hero to figure it all out.
- A mentor that pops up suddenly and then disappears again, and has no real reason to be in the story at all.
So what is the purpose of the mentor, if they can’t rescue the hero and they’re not necessarily good role models?
Well, the answer depends on your story, but usually the mentor serves one of these purposes:
- Someone who guides your hero into the new situation (this can be a new world, a new country, a new school – whatever poses the change to your character’s status quo.)
- Someone who greets them once they’re in the new situation
- Someone who knows more about the new situation than the hero does.
- Someone who provides guidance and motivation.
- Someone who is a role-model to the hero (although not perfect!)
- Someone who teaches the hero new skills.
- Someone who can showcase the villain’s (antagonist) epic evilness. If your mentor can’t overcome the antagonist, it creates just that much more pressure and tension for the hero, which makes for a better story.
Whatever your decide for your mentor, the most important thing to remember is that mentors must never be flawless. Like any good characters, mentors must have depth, which is created by giving them imperfections, shortcomings, history and, most importantly, a reason for their existence in the story and in your hero’s life.
Before you go:
If you’re interested in more writing resources, why not check out my writing classes on Skillshare? Use the links below to get taken directly to the class. Some are free, some are not, depending on when you’re reading this blog;-)
10 Ways to Develop Your Story Idea
6 Fun Creative Writing Hacks
Intuitive Development for Writers