Jul 31 2008

Manuscript Killers: Mentors

Published by at 9:17 am under Character Development,Writing Articles

Mentor characters are usually insufferably bad.


Why mentor characters are a problem:

The relationship between a mentor and his student is rarely interesting and cliche.  On the one hand, we have a Friendly Mentor. We’ve read this story before, and it’s awful. The young protagonist is removed from his family, either for his safety and/or because his parents have been killed. Then he comes across his mentor, who acts as a surrogate-father and will eventually die to give the protagonist an excuse to sob over himself and demand revenge. See Eragon.

The other popular sort of mentor is one that means well but is fairly abusive, like a drill instructor or Batman. This is a more interesting relationship, but is typically overwrought.  This mentor will tend to scream things that are supposedly dramatic but actually laughable, like “Why are you here?” See Wanted or this Minesweeper trailer at 1:11.

How to fix your mentor character:

1) Make the relationship between the mentor and the protege more complex than a surrogate father happily helping his adopted son. For example, the mentor might despair that the protege is just hopeless and that he would have been a better choice to fight the bad guy. Maybe the mentor is considering replacing his protege with someone who has a chance of success. That could be especially effective if the Eragon and his mentor have some ethical disagreements.

2) Please avoid cryptic mentors.  If your mentor knows some useful piece of information, like what the kid is training for or the identity of the character’s true parents, does he have a good reason not to tell the kid?

3) Have him be more of a more indirect influence on the kid. For example, over the course of this article did Albus Dumbledore ever cross your mind as a mentor figure? Probably not, because he has more distance from Harry Potter than most mentors do. I think that contributes to a fresh and more interesting relationship.

45 responses so far

45 Responses to “Manuscript Killers: Mentors”

  1. Bretton 24 Sep 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Suppose I alter the “friendly” and “drill sergeant” mentor stereotypes.
    Ex: The main character’s “drill sergeant” are actually his own (real) uncle and father, who will go to extreme (and nearly fatal) methods in order to develop the inner strength they see in him, even if they have to hurt him in the process (despite the infuriation of their wives, who are concerned for their child/nephew). Suppose the main character meets my “friendly” not because of forced separation from his family, but rather because he ran away from school because he was constantly being persecuted, he found it hard to make friends, and all this on top of learning to master his powers was too much to bear?

  2. B. Macon 25 Sep 2008 at 5:55 am

    You have a lot of characters here, by my count five (the father, wife, uncle, aunt, son). I think the three most conventional characters are the father/wife/son. Normally I think 5 characters would be very doable, but it sounds like your story already has an ambitious amount of background. Would it be possible to remove the uncle and/or the aunt?

    Also, it seems like the father and uncle fit pretty neatly into the well-meaning-but-abusive category. You might want to shake things up a little bit. For example, you could make the relationship between the uncle and the father more conflicted. Maybe the father is REALLY pushing for results and the uncle thinks that he’s going to ruin the kid. Maybe the uncle feels like his input is falling on deaf ears, etc.

  3. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 08 Oct 2008 at 4:49 am

    I’ve always wondered about mentor characters. If the mentors already have the skills to train the young hero, why don’t they go on the quest instead and save a lot of time? Then maybe they’ll get there before the princess is tossed into the ravine.

  4. B. Macon 08 Oct 2008 at 5:42 am

    Great question. Furthermore, if the mentor is very well-known in his field, why can’t he get a pupil that’s more promising than some whiny farmboy that’s never handled a sword? If the author’s answer is “because the farmboy’s the Chosen One,” that will make an editor somewhere very angry. Every time an author uses the phrase “chosen one,” “destiny,” or “prophecy,” a puppy dies in a completely avoidable orgy of violence.

  5. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 08 Oct 2008 at 5:50 am

    Yeah, if there must be a “chosen one”, why is it always the inexperienced teenager? They should at LEAST be the local fencing champion, if they absolutely MUST come from a poor background.

    I’m not big on the whole “chosen one” sort of thing. There is but one exception where I find the destiny sort of thing compelling, and that’s in Maximum Ride. But the thing with Max is that the stars/gods etc didn’t choose what she would be. She was genetically engineered to save the world, and she’s not drawn to the right places to do it. She’s forced to by being followed around by human-lupine hybrids who beat her up and take her hostage, trying to make her do what they want.

  6. B. Macon 08 Oct 2008 at 6:04 am

    “They should be at least the local fencing champion…” Amen.

  7. B. Macon 08 Oct 2008 at 6:21 am

    From a story-telling perspective, a “diamond in the rough” story (where the mentor prepares an unlikely hero) could work. It will probably be most believable if we have some reason (better than prophecy/destiny) to believe that the hero has uncommon potential. For example, he may have one extremely uncommon but absolutely necessary skill that would be virtually impossible to teach to anyone else. For example, Armageddon and Space Cowboys used familiarity with drilling technology and 1960s computer programming to show why a group of oil-riggers or 1960s astronauts were the only ones that could save the world from astronomic disaster. Alternately, fantasy stories often use incredible magical (or Force) potential as the trait, but that’s really cliche.

    In the Superhero Nation novel, the trait in question is uselessness. The director of our superagency is trying to force Agent Orange to quit, so he picks A.O.’s partner based on who A.O. will find most aggravating and useless. When Agent Orange finds out that Navy Seals and FBI agents were rejected in favor of an IRS accountant, he is enraged but eventually figures out what’s going on. A.O. decides to get back at his boss by training the IRS agent into a useful and savvy partner. Hilarity ensues… I hope.

  8. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 08 Oct 2008 at 6:15 pm

    Sounds hilarious! 🙂

  9. Ragged Boyon 05 Nov 2008 at 3:48 pm

    What if the mentor had a very eccentric twist and his attitude was wish-washy (He make the student wonder about how he feels about him). The mentor is also well known as a weirdo in his profession. For example a past partner of his would say something like this, “You’re still those invisible clothes?” or “You still making cups that repel liquids?”. It’s part of my other story.

  10. B. Macon 05 Nov 2008 at 4:15 pm

    I like the element of eccentricity. I’m not quite as sold on the mentor’s ambivalent attitude towards the student.

    If the student wonders how he (the mentor) feels about him (the student), then I’d say they have a cryptic relationship. I think it would be more interesting if the relationship were conflicted. For example, the student might have bad habits but the teacher provided “tough love” to help him overcome his shortcomings. (I just recommend against taking this sort of mentor into well-meaning-but-abusive territory).

  11. Ragged Boyon 05 Nov 2008 at 4:42 pm

    What about things like, seeing as he is a sorcerer, he purposely curses the student with brief spells in which afterwards he would have to go to school and deal with, for example, bad luck or his body feels really cold or hot. The teacher generally likes the student, but shows it in an akward way (without going into pedophilia).

  12. silason 20 Nov 2008 at 4:18 am

    Okay, first off, I’d like to say that I’m really excited that I found this site. I’ve been reading articles all night and have voted to change some of my plot elements because of some of the articles I’ve read. One thing that I do not want to change though, is my mentor plot line. I’d like to know if my idea will seem plausible/work:

    My main character is a female, around 18 years old and a senior in high school. She has an unusual power (not sure what yet though) but doesn’t really have control over it. She basically gets glimpses that it’s there but nothing really more than that at first. Well, she then meets her “mentor” who’s a little older than her, but not by much. He knows about her powers, but basically doesn’t approach her at first as knowing them. They become acquaintances but really don’t like each other, though he knows he has to help her learn control. It’s revealed that he knows all about her powers and that she needs his help to learn to control them and use them effectively. He’s in control of the own powers that he has and tries to teach her, but she’s basically a broody teenager and really doesn’t want to listen to him. Through time though, he’s finally able to get her to start listening to him and she learns.

    Does a relationship like that sound like it would work or no? Thanks!

  13. B. Macon 20 Nov 2008 at 5:24 am

    That sounds fairly workable. I like that they’re roughly of the same age. That said, I have a few concerns.

    1) The phrase “broody teenager” worries me a bit– will she be likable?

    2) If the main character is the less eager of the two, another problem that may arise she might not much of a player. In contrast, if she were the eager one and he were reluctant to help her, then she’d have to work to overcome that. Instead, the main action in this relationship is him trying to get her on-board. As it is, the main obstacle in this relationship is internal for her, so your readers might wonder “well, why didn’t she just get with the program 50 pages ago?”

    I love that they don’t get along very well. 100% cooperative relationships are neither dramatic nor particularly believable. As you develop the story, you’ll probably want to flesh out what’s holding them together in spite of their differences. I think that aspect has quite a lot of dramatic potential.

    Also, I find it very refreshing that their efforts to figure out her powers aren’t a thin pretense for the two to fall in love. Even if you do end up taking it in a romantic direction, I suspect there will be much more chemistry than, say, between Eragon and his trophy elf.

  14. Bretton 20 Nov 2008 at 6:05 am

    How many chapters would you need to develop a mentor relationship to the point where it’s believable that the pupil would cry if the mentor dies or appears to die? (Technically he’s a phoenix, so it’s more like regeneration, but you gety my point.) Would three chapters be enough? Four?

  15. Silason 20 Nov 2008 at 6:38 am

    Well, as I am planning it, he’s being forced to help her. The eagerness of his wanting to teach her is because he thinks that with control, she could be a powerful ally. His main motivation is that his brother was taken prisoner and is expected to be put to death. For her, she’s just not in any hurry to get away from her mostly human existence.

    When I say broody, I mean she starts out that way. After the onset of her powers she pulled away from her friends and family because she wasn’t sure what was happening to her and was afraid to tell anyone else. She’s a very likable character though, as she learns more about herself and is able to basically relax a little bit. She’s kept herself in secret for so long that it’s hard for her to accept that he can help her and that he is like her.

    If they did end up falling in love (I haven’t quite decided on that yet), it wouldn’t be a “love at first sight” deal. I’m not really a fan of the “Our eyes met from across the room and instantly I knew he would be in my future” kind of deal. I think it’s far more believable that they started out resenting/not liking each other and to grow into a respect and maybe falling in love.

    Thanks for the input though! It’s helping a lot!

  16. B. Macon 20 Nov 2008 at 6:51 am

    Brett, I think the main factor here is depth-of-relationship rather than length-of-relationship, but if I had to give a page #, I’d say 100 at the low end.

    But I think that tears may be kind of unrealistic for a reasonably old male coping with the apparent death of a close friend. I’m by no means Every Reasonably Old Guy, but I’m not particularly macho and I’ve cried three times in the last decade. So, umm, maybe something like numbed shock (particularly as an immediate response) might be more plausible for the character’s demographic.

    Also, I wouldn’t recommend having the character die unless the moment was extremely climactic. If it turns out that the phoenix is going to regenerate anyway, it’d probably feel unduly emotional and dissatisfying.

  17. Yaghaon 23 Nov 2008 at 2:50 pm

    I was wondering how my ‘mentor’ character would rate on the originality scale.

    Both men are part of a military organization and are the same age- 17. The difference, however, is that one of them (the ‘mentor’) has four years of experience in this war, which stretches the limits of human psychology, as he has been fighting since he was a child. Thus, the main character looks up at this other character for advice and support, as well as friendship. On top of that, he idolizes him.

    Throughout the course of the novel the main character grows out of his shell on his own, with some help from the ‘mentor’ and he becomes fully independent when he gets married several years later.

    However, in the very climax of the novel, the mentor makes a decision that that practically tears the main character’s life to shreds, just as the main character had been looking to him for salvation. The ‘mentor’ does this for good reasons, no evil whatsoever, but the main character is wrecked.

    So when they reach safety the main character, whose life has just vanished, attacks the ‘mentor’ because of his apparent ‘betrayal’ and as he’s beating him within an inch of his life, he realizes that he can no longer function on his own again.

    Would this be considered a realistic psychological reaction, considering the role that this ‘mentor’ has played in the main character’s life?

  18. B. Macon 23 Nov 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Hello, Yagha! In response to your question, “Would this be considered a realistic psychological reaction, considering the role that this ‘mentor’ has played in the main character’s life?”

    Probably not, but it depends how deep the betrayal is. I’m inclined to say that it would probably be an overreaction unless the mentor had committed a serious sin, like murdering or torturing noncombatants. For example, anti-heroes try killing New York City to save the world in The Watchmen, Heroes and Fail Safe. If it’s remotely that serious, a mentor-pummeling would easily be plausible. On the other hand, if it’s just something like roughly interrogating a captured soldier, then the hero would probably come off as flaky and unrealistic for attacking a friend.

    Another relevant factor is the way in which the mentor’s decision involves the hero. If the hero is only a bystander to something evil, he’d have less reason to be outraged. On the other hand, if he were tricked into taking an evil action, then he’d understandably be more upset.

    I think the critical question is whether his life actually has vanished and, if so, for what reason. For example, if a friend forces you into Witness Protection for your own safety, in a manner of speaking that would ruin your life– you’ve just got to pack everything up and leave. But a friend that forces you into Witness Protection is unquestionably acting as a faithful friend (whether or not you like that). Beating him would not be in order. On the other hand, if your boss took advantage of you for military advantage, he may be helping your country but he is definitely betraying you as a friend. Ultimately, if the mentor is acting as a military officer rather than a friend, a beating would be more plausible.

    What do you think?

  19. Yaghaon 24 Nov 2008 at 8:10 am

    Thanks for your reply!

    Alright, i’ll go a bit deeper here and add some more detail:

    The setting is apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic and the major rule of life in this Earth is that there is no hope whatsoever. Humanity is apparently doomed to die, no matter what. But there is still a military order surviving, constantly fleeing.

    The main character meets a woman who gives him his only reason to keep fighting and is the element that keeps him afloat on the sea of despair. They get married, and everyone’s happy for the course of a four year timeskip.

    Then, at the very climax of the story, the main character’s wife gets herself into a situation in which survival seems impossible, and she’s willing to sacrifice herself. The main character despairs and turns to his ‘mentor’, pleading with him to send all his men out to save her (they both reached the rank of Sergeant) because he has the only intact platoon.

    Instead, listening to the wife saying it’s okay, he incapacitates the main character and forcefully takes him to the plane on which they’re heading (literally the last vestige of humanity on Earth). The main character resists until his wife calls him directly and tells him of what she intends to do, which shocks him into submission. The main character is practically frozen in shock until the plane’s ramp closes. Then, amidst the silence, he looks at the ‘mentor’, lost, shocked, and broken. He’s just lost ‘everything’.

    The ‘mentor’ is simply quietly looking down at the floor. After several moments he finally realizes that he had not helped him save her, quite the opposite, he had, in his mind, further caused her death.

    There’s no government left on Earth. No intact groups of people larger than the dozens on the plane. He has no family left, and now, nothing left to live for. The ‘mentor’ made his decision for the greater good of the few humans left on Earth. But by doing such he stripped the main character of everything that life meant to him, for even at the end when everyone had accepted the fact that they had no chance in the final battle, he was willing to die as long as it was with her.

    Instead, he is alive and she is dead.

    That’s when he attacks him brutally, amidst the last several dozen people on Earth.

    What would you think about the reaction? I’ve spent ages pondering it, seeing as it’s the very final action of the novel.

  20. Yaghaon 24 Nov 2008 at 10:39 am

    Forgot to add:
    The ‘mentor’ meant no ill or evil whatsoever towards the main character by taking these decisions. He was trying to do what he thought to be best for him and everyone else.

  21. B. Macon 24 Nov 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Hmm… I think your book sounds unusually dystopian. If humanity is lost anyway, and he has no desire to live among the shattered remnants of whatever is left, then attacking his friend would probably be a fitting climax. (Better than waiting for the enemies to come and finish them off, in any case). I will note, however, that it is generally tough to sell works that are very bleak and I can’t think of many that are bleaker than that.

  22. Bretton 24 Nov 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Isn’t Watchmen pretty bleak? The trailer just looked really dark.

  23. Yaghaon 24 Nov 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Yeah, I got damn carried away with the darkness of the ending. Although I did litter the last three chapters with subtle hints that if I ever make a sequel, it’ll have a totally happy ending. Anyways, its my very first ‘draft’ novel. I just wanted to get a good feel of writing before starting with a true project, although I put a helluva lot of effort and consideration in this one.

    Hey, my central inspiration came from Neon Genesis Evangelion! If anything, consider my ending happy in comparison.

    Thanks a lot for your input, man, I really appreciate it. I’ll come to you for further wisdom and advice when I get started with my first true novel.

    S.D.

  24. B. Macon 24 Nov 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I think Watchmen was only kind of bleak. Yeah, an astounding number of people died in the graphic novels, but at least the movie kind of offset that with some cheerful images (like a patriotic montage at the funeral… even though that was a funeral, that suggests an uplifting message of sacrifice and meaningfulness that was absent from, say, post-national dystopias like The Matrix).

    I don’t want to spoil The Watchmen too much, but I’d say its ending is mostly kind-of-happy. There is a major tragic event and the heroes make a decision that is profoundly unsatisfying and irrational, but ultimately I think that’s more cheerful than having a few dozen survivors on a mostly dead Earth. (I don’t mean to sound like I’m bagging on Yagha, though! Except for my concerns about its bleakness, his synopsis sounds fairly dramatic and I like the resolution).

  25. Yaghaon 25 Nov 2008 at 8:36 am

    Watchmen has an AMAZING ending. Although it will seem totally screwed up, it’s all “for the better good of peace and such.”

    Just the last few panels, with the notebook in the editorial, left me going, “Oh damn.”

  26. B. Macon 25 Nov 2008 at 10:31 am

    That’s part of the problem, I think. Ultimately, the main heroic actor at the end is a neo-Nazi newspaper because the supposed “protagonists” are failures.

    I also found that the neo-Nazis struck me as probably the best-written of the characters, although I’m sort of fond of Rorschach and the psychiatrist.

  27. Ragged Boyon 25 Nov 2008 at 11:46 am

    You know they’re coming out with “The Spirit”. It looks very much like Sin City, in having a darker story and that it is selectively black and white.

  28. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 21 Dec 2008 at 5:04 am

    You know what would be a cool twist on the mentor-student relationship? If the mentor was a teenager training an adult for battle!

    Mentor: “Next, we’re going to practice sword strokes.”

    Student: (Imitating) “Next, we’re going to practice sword strokes!”

    Mentor: “Don’t mock me!”

    Student: “You’re just a kid! How can you teach me anything?!”

    Mentor: “My youthfulness gives me an as-yet untainted view of the world, so your training will be more pure than it would be if I was an adult.”

    It’s better than the Eragon type thing where the mentor is an adult teaching some whiny kid. Why the hell is Eragon the Chosen One when he’s never handled a sword? He probably cries every time he loses at Naughts and Crosses!

  29. Cadet Davison 21 Dec 2008 at 5:58 pm

    This sort of reminds me of one of the reasons I left AF-ROTC. A second lieutenant commissioned out of college is 21 or 22 and frankly doesn’t know jack about either life in the military or the situation on the ground over there (wherever that might be). Most of his enlisted men will have more experience than he will, and some of his more experienced NCOs (noncommissioned officers) may have 15-20 years of military experience. His NCOs will probably run the show, given that he’s more or less unable to.

    So I think that, to succeed under those circumstances, you’d have to be a freakishly fast learner, a born leader, and uncommonly good at commanding respect.

  30. Educated Amateuron 03 Jun 2009 at 1:14 pm

    You could make him someone who ages backwards, like Merlin, or make him the repository for eons of ancient knowledge or something, that makes it more interesting.

    In my own story, there are sort of two heroes. The immortal warrior, Simon Kale, serves as the mentor, while the much younger girl Lara Valn is the student who learns how to survive on the bleak ice world where her escape pod crash lands.

    I’m still working on their relationship. He mostly doesn’t talk too much except to explain things and teach her tips for survival. He starts talking more when we learn his past, and his past with the story’s main villain, Shane Redblood. He gets involved in Lara’s conflict because she’s actually a spy who is on the run, and he now has the both protect her and teach her how to protect herself, not to mention that he gets to face off against his old friend, Shane.

  31. Tomon 03 Jun 2009 at 1:24 pm

    I think that all fiction writers are secretly aware of the problems mentors create and that’s why they’re always killed off. What’s that? They’re killed off so they can’t help the hero and he has to fight the big bad by himself? That’s nonsense!

    😛

  32. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 13 Jun 2009 at 5:05 am

    I’ve been considering the addition of a mentor for Isaac. It will help get rid of some of the internal monologue about handling his powers, because he’ll have another Yinyusi to speak to, and may come in handy later. Here’s a short character description:

    Lazuli was in a similar situation to Isaac, but she lived on the streets for ten years while she honed her powers and used them to steal things in order to survive. She only used her basic powers for fear of being put in a government research facility, and as a result of not flying away; she got caught and put into the foster system. When she hears about the Guardian, she corners him and offers help because “quite frankly, he looks pathetic” Isaac initially rejects the offer. But after a few close calls, he lets her become his teacher. They train in a bush clearing behind her house.

    She is mostly friendly and treats him like a brother, but gets frustrated and sometimes ends up hurling him across the yard. She sometimes does it deliberately to find what his breaking point is and exploits it by taunting him mercilessly. She then shows him how to control it and not let it get the better of him. Afterwards they say their goodbyes until their next training session.

    It will also be good to make the parents suspicious: “Where does Isaac go every Saturday?”

    Also, I do not plan on killing Lazuli off at any point. 😛

    What do you think?

  33. PaintedSainton 29 Nov 2009 at 3:26 pm

    Would it be terribly unlikable of my ‘mentor’ character to use his student as a rather flimsy reason to kill the antagonists?

    Kir, a parasite that has taken over the concious of a female human host, wants the mentor character, Domovoi, to teach her how to live as humanly as possible.
    Domovoi is a hardcore utilitarianist, and he is under threat of his previous comrades because he had betrayed them. His train of thought:

    -My comrades are bad people, they have murdered under orders, but they murdered for their own amusement as well.
    -I have betrayed them and they are ordered to kill me, but I cannot kill them because it would cause unhappiness to their families that a friend did it.
    -Kir’s ‘father'(or at least, the parasite that gave her a host), was murdered by my friends on orders. Kir must absolutely want to have revenge.
    -My comrades caused unhappiness to Kir and hundreds of previous victims. Therefore, it is okay for me to train Kir to kill them, but I myself cannot do it.

    So he trains Kir in order to kill them, when all that she wanted is to learn to fit normally as a human in civilization. The plot progresses to the point where Domovoi realizes he made a monster out of his own selfish needs, and tries to atone and undo what he has done to Kir. But really, would readers have an extreme hate for Domovoi if I go in this direction?

  34. B. Macon 29 Nov 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Extreme hate? Probably not. I think he will probably come off as manipulative, but depending on the unlikability of the victim, his own likability might not be affected much.

    I’m having some trouble understanding the moral reasoning leading him to think that it’d be substantially more acceptable to have his pupil kill his ex-comrades rather than do it himself. Also, why would he care about the happiness of their families if they are trying to kill him? Wouldn’t their families be unhappy if ANYBODY killed them?

    I would recommend establishing something about the culture in question that makes this moral reasoning make sense to them. (For example, if he was in a culture that held words in extreme disregard, they might think that he hasn’t really done anything wrong because all he did was talk and talk is inconsequential to them. It’s the killer that bears all the responsibility for the kill).

  35. PaintedSainton 29 Nov 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Admittedly, it’s not as fleshed out as I wanted it to be, but Domovoi wants a scapegoat that is outside of his culture. He basically forces onto Kir, “They killed your ‘father’, you must kill them, an eye for an eye”. So not only does he want a scapegoat, he would prefer to be an indirect influence rather than the sole murderer of his comrades.

    I’m thinking of adding that Domovoi inherited his abilities by harvesting. As in, his culture breeds the next generation by selective genetics. The parent does have some influence in what their child’s physical appearance and temperment would be like, but traits such as strength and ability are decided beforehand. So he feels burdened to go against his comrades, like he was a ‘mistake’. After all, if mistakes like him were to surface within the community, everything would go into chaos. There were families of his comrades that trusted him as a friend, a protector of their culture, one of the higher ranking people in his subdivision. However, if Kir was to get into the way and kill his comrades, their families would recieve news of an unknown crazed ‘backwoodsy’ girl being the murderer, not Domovoi, someone that they had trusted and had known personally.

  36. LeFlamelon 04 Apr 2012 at 10:08 am

    Crap. I have a mentor character who acts as the protagonist’s surrogate father and dies to give the protagonist something to avenge. I mean, the mentor is totally connected to all the other aspects of the story, so his death, and the MC’s desire to avenge him, ends up bringing out all the other plotlines necessary to the plot itself. Is this too stereotypical? There’s nothing he really keeps hidden from the protagonist except for the identity of his parents, in order to keep him from confronting the ungodly powerful antagonist and dying miserably.

    Personality-wise, I wanted their relationship to be as close to father-son as master-apprentice can possibly get, but would it be more interesting to show a very antagonistic relationship and overplay the fact that the mentor had to raise the protagonist to repay a favor? He’s loyal to the person he owes the favor but hates the fact that raising the protagonist has prevented him from doing other things in life. Would that work better?

  37. YoungAuthoron 04 Apr 2012 at 4:16 pm

    @LeFlamel- keep in mind these are suggestions not things that are requirements

  38. LeFlamelon 04 Apr 2012 at 10:16 pm

    I know. I just have a distaste for the cliché

  39. Mr. Oshimidaon 02 Feb 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Personally, I think if you want a good example of a mentor, look at “NCIS” character of Mike Franks and his relationship with the main character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

    Franks is a gruff, dangerous SOB who is distant from Gibbs, yet they are still close at the same time (Franks lives in Mexico, while Gibbs lives in DC; but they manage to maintain contact). Franks is also not exactly a mentor (when Gibbs tells Franks that he taught him how to be an NCIS agent, Franks says, “No, I didn’t teach. You observed.”).

    I think he is a great example of a mentor.

  40. SquirrelShinobion 29 May 2013 at 10:43 am

    In my story, the protagonist is the mentor. His student isn’t a chosen one or anything of the sort, she’s just an orphan girl with magical potential. I wanted to play around with the father figure motif, make his relationship with her more of a single dad type situation, down to the whole having no idea how to raise a little girl. The mentor was in his late twenties or so when he decided to take her in, not realizing the full consequences. He’s just training her so she can learn how to use her magic, not because they have some great evil to defeat.
    Over the course of the story she will gather a rather large non-traditional family including a “mother” who is a clergy man and former commando, the ships first mate, who actually is a woman who straddles the line between mother and father, an uncle in the form of a womanizing elven mercenary, and an entire rowdy ships compliment of cousins and uncles to teach her all about fighting and sailing and which are the best taverns at each port.

  41. SquirrelShinobion 29 May 2013 at 10:45 am

    When I say that the ships first mate is actually a woman, I mean in contrast to the main mother figure who’s male, she’s not a cross dresser.

  42. Proxie#0on 30 May 2013 at 12:43 am

    One of my favorite examples of an interesting mentor-mentee relationship, albeit overused in some, if not many, cases, was recently used in the movie “Cloud Atlas.” It runs along the lines of the horrible, manipulative mentor.
    *******
    ***SPOILER***
    *******
    A man leaves his boyfriend temporarily to try to find a famous aged musician that he respects, in hopes of finding “inspiration” (i.e. possible blatant plagiarism) for his own works. He hopes to be able to make enough money to support himself, as well as his boyfriend. He finds the old musician, who accepts him immediately as his apprentice, who would take down all of the music the man imagined.

    The young man is nearly fired a few days later after the musician attempts to have him write down a piece he dreamed about, but is allowed to stay after he has rewritten and played it almost exactly (of his own accord) as the musician imagined it. After a series of songs they attempted to write together, the young man believes the musician and himself are beginning to fall in love, and after proclaiming it, is shot down. Afterwords, they continue working together, but the musician begins investigating into the younger mans life, as well as making his living conditions worse.

    The quick rise to the climax begins when the older musician discovers that the young man has secretly written a masterpiece. The young man later confronts him, and says that he is going to be leaving (he does not know yet that the musician has read his works). The musician throws the piece out in the open, and they begin to discuss his musical career. The musician, having discovered several strange and frowned upon actions in the young mans past, provides an ultimatum. He either stays with him to complete the work and not get credit for it himself, or return home and attempt to compete it himself (while having the old man exploit his past, making it nigh impossible for the young man to become a successful musician).
    *******
    ***SPOILER***
    *******

  43. Anonymouson 18 Dec 2013 at 8:43 am

    Good article. I’m also utilizing a mentor archetype in my piece and want to be sure it isn’t cliched or predictable. I’m doing this by trying my best to find a believable middle ground between various mentor modes, rather than a specific type of relationship. No, there’s absolutely no pretense of a father-son dynamic, but neither is the mentor a harda$$. My mentor character is genuine about trying to provide as much guidance as possible for the MC, but there’s little he can provide as far as preparedness or training in his abilities (he doesn’t possess anything even close to what MC can do, so it’s really an on-your-own trial/error experience, which is often rocky). My mentor offers what he can as far as information and straightforwardness (direct but not necessarily unkind), but he’s also adamant that the MC learn to uncover certain truths for himself. This is especially critical given the nature of the circumstances under which they’ve been brought together.

    And lastly, my mentor doesn’t die, but neither does he remain in the world…

    So yeah, Mentor Character = Super Challenge! Heh. Here’s to working it out. 🙂

  44. Aj of Earthon 18 Dec 2013 at 8:45 am

    Name overlook; the above comment was me. Damn auto-anon…

  45. Andrewon 03 May 2016 at 3:55 am

    I think you gotta be careful with a mentor character, true, you don’t want him to be cliche but at the same time, you don’t wanna make him come off as a complete d***. Maybe firm but fair perhaps. Like making the student go through a very complex training course and failing him until he completed it unscathed, or making him trek the Alps with nothing but trousers and a bag full of rocks. I think a lesser known but still effective example is Green Lantern Ermey, the GL Drill Sargeant who trained Kilowog. The term ‘Poozer’ being another word for ‘Useless rookie’. He was brutal and ran the recruits into the ground, Kilowog recieving it the most. But the reason he was so brutal on Kilowog was because he knew the potential Kilowog had as a Green Lantern. That’s how everyone’s favourite Alien Green Lantern got that rough disposition of his

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