Fantasy Writing: The Mentor


So, has anyone been watching for this post??….(The answer is yes, because you better have been.) *evil laugh* Anyways, let us begin.

NOTE: Sorry this is so late, WP was having some trouble with saving this post and I had to re-write it.

Mentors. In almost every fantasy epic I’ve ever read, there is at least one mentor. Gandalf the Grey in LOTR.  Aslan in Narnia. The Giver in The Giver. Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.

A good mentor is very hard to write, as is all good characters, even the ‘bad’ ones. You must consider motivation, personality, history….the list goes on and on. Not to mention looks, jobs, and how they help the character. Now, to help you in you mentorly journey, I have assembled a (hopefully) helpful post on how to let these normally grouchy and ancient characters grow some life and uniqueness.

First off, let’s look at Mentoring for Dummies,  A how-to on grouchiness,  beard-growing, and wise sayings, by Gandalf the Grey.

“Grouchy, older than dirt, and full of wise sayings and dry humor, a regular mentor has a long, grey beard(it’s quite scratchy, and sometimes has leaves or twigs in it), a long, LOTR type tunic with draping sleeves, and usually a tall, pointy hat. (This, of course, only goes for human mentors, animal mentors don’t tend to wear clothes.)

Other mentors go for the more ‘conventional’ look, and wear vests, glasses, and shined shoes, often going with a pipe, but most tend to settle for a cloak, pipe, sword, and whatever dress seems mysterious and suitable for their era.

As for wise sayings, a mentor can be sure to be found reading at one time or another: “1,001 Wise Sayings for the Perfect Mentor.” This wonderful jewel of knowledge can be picked up at your local bookstore, market, or dragon library(In Atheria, dragons are very fond of books and knowledge.), so be sure to buy it.

So, now that we have a picture of the typical mentor, we can build off of that.

What if your mentor isn’t like that? What if your mentor is a younger person, or not even a person at all? What if he is a child?

Plot twists like this are great. For example, a mentor in Nobelon is Torrin, who is only around 25 years old. And I also added Gabriel, who is not what he seems…and Raidenn, who is an old man, but he has a twist..which I’m not going to tell you about because it would ruin the story.

And then there’s the mentors attitude. Grim, grey, and focused on doomsday sayings. What if he isn’t grim? What if he’s happy, cheerful, and loving?  What if instead of being a mysterious man with a staff and a big hat, he’s a warm, friendly cook who has a fondness for chocolate? Or a kind and gentle woman who shares legends of the past?

And even if he is grim and grey as a rainstorm, add a fresh twist. For example, the grumpy old man who seems to care only for himself, but every month, anonymously contributes money to all the orphanages across town? Or the tough soldier who takes a few moments help the little boy learn to shoot an arrow.

Mentors can add warmth, and life to your story, not just a prophecy of eternal doom and a sudden death that motivates your MC to go on a ‘save the world’ spree. In which we come to cliche one.

Cliche #1: Killing Your Mentor. Do You Really Need To?

Killing a mentor is one of the most-used cliches in the big book of cliches. If used correctly, it works well, motivating your character to go on and ‘fulfill his destiny’. But do you really need to kill your mentor?

Look at your story, and ask yourself: What wold a happen if I didn’t kill my mentor? Would he go on helping the apprentice, or would he not? One great way to twist the typical mentor-apprentice relationship is make him abandon the MC. This also works very well for younger mentors.

If your mentor simply must die to make the story work, think of how he or she dies. The typical Disney mentor will fight to save the MC’s life, then after defeating the big bad-guy captain(but not the villain himself), die from some wound he ignored before because he was fighting so hard he didn’t have time to notice, or the villain kills him…..and then he gives the MC some mysterious clue in his last breath……………*yawn* Do we really want to hear that again?

What if the mentor is already dead by the time the hero reaches him? What if the mentor is wounded, but lives to ‘tell the tale’? What if the mentor runs and abandons the MC instead of helping him?

What if the mentor is the villain himself?

These are all great ways to avoid the ‘mentor death scene’, and to make your story sound completely original. After all, who ever heard of a mentor who abandons his student to fight for the wrong side because his sister is being held captive? It’s a totally new twist on the typical mentor-student story.

Examine your story closely, and try to avoid the typical death scene. If the mentor simply must die, make it different. Have him dragged of a cliff by a falling dragon. (I know, I’m being really mean to poor Gandalf) Have him imprisoned and executed for high treason, etc. Do something different, that will jar your readers and MC into action and suspense.

Cliche #2: Mentors are all old men.

Is your mentor character an old man? Is he grey, grim, and doomsday-focused? If so, you might have a problem. Think for a moment. Where have you heard that description of a mentor before?

Everywhere. Almost every book’s mentor is an elderly man, usually skilled in sword fighting, legend-telling, and mysteriousness. This type of mentor has been used some much, it’s a GIANT cliche.

Now, I am guilty of doing this as well. I’ve wrote many stories with an elderly mentor, but I’ve also written some with a young mentor. My main WIP, for example, has a 19-year-old mentor/wanderer/rogue/survivor/victim (just scanning every character archetype ever made, trying to describe him..). *and no, he doesn’t die*

Also, think child mentor. What if a child taught an old man a new trick? What if a child had the wisdom of an old man, and an old man had no wisdom. (Think #crazyuncle). These twist add a new look to the story. Also, if you have a mentor who simply must die to make the story go on, having a mentor who’s life goal or teachings weren’t finished will be much more emotional than one who fulfilled his goal. It will push your MC to try to finish that goal, or learn that task.

And finally, Cliche #3: Mentors always want what the MC wants.

I know, long title. *cringes* But it’s one of the best cliches to kill. Mentors seem to always want what your MC wants, but what if they actually don’t?  Take Gabriel, the second-most-important character in my WIP Nobelon. He’s nineteen, and his character archetype is pretty much rebel/survivor/wanderer/rogue/introvert/fake.  He hides who he really is, because he’s afraid if someone knew, they’d hate him. He also is an expert ‘ranger’, and teaches my MC how to survive on his own. But he also wants to fulfill his own destiny, and fix his own mistakes, and there is nothing that will stop him once his mind is made up. Basically, he’s the guy who lives on the edge, fighting occasionally for something he feels is right, trying to fix his mistakes of the past, and constantly moving, so he doesn’t get attached to anyone/anyone finds out who he is.

He has a goal, which I’m not going to discuss in depth here, as it would be a major spoiler. But he will stop at nothing to make his wrongs right, and the reason he pushes so hard is because he–even though he seems to care for nothing at first–has a strong sense of morals and has a soft side for those who are worse off than him, and also, he feels it is his fault for what happened.

Now, this is a good emotional motivation. Past mistakes and actions are great ways to prod on a mentor(or any character). Think Obi Wan Kenobi. He trained Anikan. Think the Giver, in the Giver. His daughter died because of him. These tragedies can force someone to change, and do something that will change the story.

Another thing to consider is personality types. This is one of my favorite things to do when developing characters, give them key personality traits that define them. My MC is afraid–more like terrified of the dark, and he is very impulsive at times. Gabriel is afraid of his past, and what it could do if someone found out, so he’s very introverted and almost bullying.

A mentor can be more than a mentor archetype. He could be an adventurer, a guardian, a gossiper, a manipulator, or even a villain. You can find a great archetype form here, at Go Teen Writers. But who your mentor is, and what he does in your story, all depends on you.

So get out there, have fun, and write that story.

Did you enjoy this post? Did it help you? do you have any suggestions of your own on mentors?

Tell me!






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