How to Craft a Memorable Mentor For Your Story
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We can all think of a few memorable mentor characters.
There's Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, Dumbledore from Harry Potter, Professor X from the X-Men comics, and Haymitch and Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, among countless others who've stayed with us long after we've closed the pages of our favorite books.
Crafting our own memorable mentors who find homes in the hearts of our readers, however, is often easier said than done. Fortunately, with a little time and intention, anything is possible. So let’s get to work, shall we?
Should you include a mentor in your story?
To craft memorable mentors, we first need to address whether including a mentor character in your cast serves a specific purpose. (It’s all about intention, right?)
A mentor or a guardian is a character specifically designed to prepare the protagonist for the mental, physical, or emotional hurdles they'll face in their journey to overcome an inner conflict and/or achieve their story goal.
Despite the popular examples we listed above, mentors aren't limited to fantasy and science fiction stories. Take, for example, the character of Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada or M, the head of MI6 in the James Bond novels. See? No lengthy beard or wizard’s staff necessary!
Does your story need a character to fulfill the role of mentor? If you’re unsure, consider your protagonist. What is the lie that they believe? Do they have an established story goal? What will it take for them to overcome that lie and/or achieve that goal?
If your protagonist doesn’t already have the knowledge, skills, or determination needed to complete their arc, providing them with a mentor can be a great way to keep your story moving forward.
My Top Two Tips for Crafting Memorable Mentors
Cobbling together a quick character who can inform and inspire your protagonist won’t ensure that your mentor finds a home in the hearts of readers. To make them truly memorable, here are two tips you should keep in mind as you work to craft your story’s mentor:
#1: Give them autonomy.
If the only thing readers know about your mentor is that they provide the protagonist with a little insight or inspiration, your mentor is going to fall flat. As with any secondary character, your mentor deserves a life outside of the protagonist’s story.
But just how much should you develop the mentor before writing? And how can you craft a mentor that feels rich and compelling on the page without distracting from the main storyline? Check out these tips from our article on crafting spectacular secondary characters today!
#2: Give them purpose.
Every element in your story must serve a purpose. That’s a statement I’ve often made in the past, and it’s one I’ll continue saying for many years to come.
If your mentor character doesn’t serve a strong purpose within the framework of your story (and preferably several), they’ll only add unnecessary fluff that weighs your story down. But just what purposes can your mentor serve? Let’s discuss!
Eight Ways Your Mentor Can Pull Their Weight…
Mentor characters don’t always appear frequently in stories. But when they do, they should pull their weight by adding irreplaceable value to the protagonist’s journey. How so? Here are eight easy purposes your mentor can fulfill:
#1: They can share a little wisdom.
Making mistakes is a hallmark of any hero’s journey. Fortunately for your protagonist, it’s likely their mentor has been in their shoes before and can offer a little wisdom to help them better navigate their struggles.
#2: They can save the day.
Your protagonist will likely find themselves in a tough situation more than once throughout your story. To give them the tools they need to overcome, a mentor can lead by example, helping your protagonist out of a bind early in your story’s plot.
(Note: Try to avoid using this technique later in your story, however. A mentor should never serve as a deus ex machina at the story's climax, saving your protagonist from a situation they can't get out of themselves.)
#3: They can prove the villain’s evil.
To showcase the consequences of the villain’s abilities and desires, a mentor can serve as a story’s sacrificial lamb, prompting the protagonist to actively engage in overcoming the villain.
#4: They can serve as a role model.
Whether your protagonist finds themselves a fish out of water or in desperate need of a little maturity, a mentor can teach the protagonist how to better acclimate to the life they’d like, or need, to live.
#5: They can guide the way.
If your protagonist finds themselves on new terrain, who better to serve as a physical guide than one with knowledge and experience of the landscape? Allow your mentor to lead the way!
#6: They can teach the hero new skills.
Whether it be a physical skill or a new body of knowledge, let your story’s mentor be the one to teach the protagonist exactly what they need to know to keep moving forward.
#7: They can dish out some humility.
Your protagonist will win some and lose some, but a little early success can poison their perspective. Fortunately, a mentor can pop your protagonist’s bubble and put them in the proper mindset to tackle any obstacles to come in their journey.
#8: They can provide healthy encouragement.
With wisdom and experience on their side, a mentor can offer the kind of grounded encouragement that has the power to push through your protagonist’s mental roadblocks and set them back on the path to success.
When crafting a mentor of your own, ensure that their value to the story is irreplaceable. If you can remove the mentor with little to no consequence, it’s time to reconsider the purpose they serve within the context of your plot.
That said, your mentor certainly doesn’t have to serve every purpose we listed here today. Fulfilling just one or two purposes well will always make a mentor more memorable than one that ill-advisedly attempts to go above and beyond. Remember, when crafting your story’s mentor — or indeed any element of your story — intention is key.
Show up, put in the work, and watch your story’s mentor shine!