Monday, January 30, 2017

How To Strengthen The Theme Of Your Book During Edits

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her authorwebsite.

For some writers, the theme comes first. This is often true for those who write children's literature. The author is passionate about healthy body image, kindness, or something else, and the story is crafted around teaching the reader.

Some writers figure out their theme before they write the first draft, same as they do their characters and plot, but other writers (like me) figure it out as they write.

When I start a story, I typically have a general idea of what some potential themes might be, but nothing specific. Usually during the first draft I reach a moment where I think, "Wow, I had no idea that this story was going to be about what it means to be free/how vulnerable love makes us/the correlation between risk and reward."

What I love about this method of discovering my theme is how organic the message feels. I didn't lay the story out in a way that would sell my point, and my characters are not just props for my message. While there are lots of thing to love about figuring out your theme as you write the first draft, there are also a few common weaknesses that I've learned to watch for in edits:

The theme isn't as strong and effective as it could be.

This happens to me with every book. Because I'm figuring out the theme as I write, there are always scenes early in the novel that aren't as focused and strong as they could be. I know that wording is vague, but I do think a lot of the editorial work regarding theme is about "feel" and "instinct" and "what the story needs."

While you don't want every sentence to point to your overall theme, you also need to be mindful of how each scene supports the overarching message. I once read a novel where the author took so many different stances on so many different issues that it didn't read like a cohesive story. There were all these tangents. One chapter a character would be wrestling with an unwanted pregnancy and decisions, the next character would be dealing with ethics in journalism, the third a character would struggle with honesty. It was very jarring.

I read this book as part of a book club, and a friend who's not a writer said to me, "Good novels feel like trees. This book feels like a bush." I found her word picture really insightful, and I think of it when I'm editing and I notice tangents the story takes that don't serve the overall theme.

My expression of the theme is unintentionally one-dimensional.

If you write a book specifically to deal with a theme, you hopefully were very careful in your planning so that you wouldn't cross over into preaching. Especially if your theme has to do with political issues (or the political issue is a vessel for your theme). You made sure to cover multiple sides of your point, and you were smart about who was saying what and how they were being portrayed.

If your theme arose organically, however, you have possibly been insensitive about opposing viewpoints and didn't even realize it. Maybe it's because your theme feels like an undisputed truth to you. Say your theme is "It's best to be honest."

Sure, we can probably all agree that honesty is great. But a smart writer knows that gray areas exist and that one of the best ways to serve the story is to raise those questions. How honest is too honest? What if your honesty puts somebody else at risk? Keep on going with that train of thought, and then find ways in your story to raise those questions.

I'm not saying what I think I'm saying. (And I'm accidentally saying things that I don't mean!)

This can happen whether or not you've planned out your theme. Jill Williamson was one of my early readers for The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet. When she sent me her feedback, she highlighted a few problematic areas and said, "I know this isn't something you believe, but in these scenes, it sounds like you're saying Hispanics and Caucasians can't be good friends."

My response was, "WHAT?!?!?"

That's not a viewpoint I've ever held, and I never intended to say anything at all about race in the story, especially not that. How was it possible that she was taking away that message?

Fortunately, the fix was pretty easy, but it's something I never would have noticed without her help. Because we know what we mean, we can't always be trusted to hear how it could sound to someone else. Yet another reason to be thankful for critique partners!

Where does theme fall in the process for you? Do you know what it is before you start writing? Do you discover it as you write?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Writing Exercise #2: Filling Out a Scene

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

How is everyone doing this glorious Friday? I've had a fantastic week of writing and I hope that if you haven't, I'll be able to provide a little encouragement and motivation that will get you writing today.

A quick reminder about how these writing exercises can earn you a little something special as you write:

Most Fridays, I'll post a writing exercise here on Go Teen Writers. When you participate, leaving your work in the comments section, your name will be entered into a drawing. Every quarter (or thereabout) we'll draw names and each winner will get to submit one writing-related question for the three of us to answer. Steph, Jill and I will then stage a panel. We'll film our answers and post the video here on the blog! Fun, right? There is no limit to how many times your name can be entered, so please participate in every exercise you possibly can!

With that in mind, let's write!

Earlier this week, Jill posted an article called 'Too Long, Too Short: A Closer Look At Getting Your Manuscript To The Right Length'. It's full of tips and tricks revealing some stellar ways to beef up a sparsely-written manuscript or trim words from a hefty guy. And it gave me a fantastic idea for a writing exercise.

Here's what we're going to do. Below, I've provided you with some very naked bits of dialogue. No tags. No action beats. No description. No plot. Nothing. Using Jill's post as inspiration, I want you to fill out this scene. Do it in the comments section here and be sure to come back throughout the weekend to encourage your friends and applaud what they've come up with.

A quick note: This might be one exercise where it is beneficial to wait to read the other responses until after you've submitted your own. The idea is to start with the raw dialogue and develop the scene entirely unhindered by other expectations. Seeing your friends' work will undoubtedly fill your mind with other interpretations of the dialogue, and while I can't make you write before you read, I highly suggest it!

Here it is, friends.

Now go! Write! I cannot wait to see what you all come up with.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Too Long, Too Short: A Closer Look At Getting Your Manuscript To The Right Length

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

A couple Mondays ago, Stephanie talked about how to write characters who are different from each other. I had a guest post scheduled that week, so today, I wanted to catch up on that subject and show you how such a thing might look on the page. Since I have access to my first and last drafts, I’ll show you some actual examples of how I increased and decreased my word counts.

If your books are too short 


Most writers forget to add description in a first draft. If this is you, adding in description throughout your book is a great way of boosting your word count. 

Here is an exchange from my first draft of THIRST in which Eli and his companions return to the lodge after their long camping trip (54 words).

       “First!” I jogged up the split log steps of Deadwood Lodge and yanked on the antler door handle. It didn’t budge.

       “This ain’t a race, McShane.” Andy Reinhold, a retired US Army Ranger, our guide, and owner of Wilderness Way Adventures, clumped up the stairs behind me. “What? Is it locked? It shouldn’t be.”

And here is the same section as it appears after a rewrite, adding just a little bit of description for Andy Reinhold (78 words).

       “First!” I jogged up the split log steps of Deadwood Lodge and yanked on the antler door handle. It didn’t budge.

       “This ain’t a race, boy.” Andy Reinhold, a retired US Army Ranger—our guide, and owner of Wilderness Way Adventures—clumped up the stairs behind me. “What? Is it locked? It shouldn’t be.” His hair and beard were so bushy that his eyes were pretty much all you could see of his face. The quintessential mountain man.

Here is an excerpt from the first draft of my novel King’s Blood (76 words):

       “Land.” It really was. “Land!” [Trevn] yelled down. “Land to port beam!” He wasn’t the only one to have seen it. Signal flags were waving high on three of the nearest ships.
       This must be the island Captain Livina had discovered. Was there truly only one? He squinted into the distance but could not see any other islands from this vantage point.

       Might this place become their new home? It didn’t look large enough to him.

And here is the final text that appeared in the print book (152 words):

       “Land.” It really was. “Land!” [Trevn] yelled down. “Land to port beam!” He wasn’t the only one to have seen it. Signal flags were waving high on three of the nearest ships.

       They had reached Bakurah Island. A few days before schedule, as the admiral had predicted. Trevn pulled out his grow lens and studied the shoreline. It didn’t seem to have much more than a sloping elevation. There were no cliffs or cracks that he could see, no river holes, no distant mountains. The strangeness of that and the multitude of trees set him on guard. From what he knew of land, this didn’t look large enough to support the passengers of some six hundred boats. Trevn squinted into the distance but saw no other islands from this vantage point. Beneath the ship, the water was so clear that he could see a massive coral reef with colorful fish darting about.

As you can see, with both examples, I simply went in and added description where I had neglected to have any before. Now, not every single person or place needs to be so fully described. If you do that, you risk making your book overly wordy and boring. Important characters, however, should be described, preferably the first time they appear in the story. And describing setting, even if it’s only a sentence or partial phrase, can really help immerse your reader in the storyworld. I make it a rule to describe each new setting the first time my characters arrive there, especially if it’s a place they will come to again and again.

Change some of the said tags to action tags
Changing some of your said tags to action tags can really help the flow of your story. Go back through and look for dialogue that seems to fit with action. If a character is doing something, describing that can be a good way to both add words and show the reader what’s going on. You can also look for places to describe characters when they speak. But again, you don’t want to change every said tag. Sometimes you want the back-and-forth to be quick.

Here is a first draft scene from THIRST (237 words), in which the crew has stopped to get gas. FYI, Pete is the gas station attendant.

       “The electricity is out all over?” I asked.
       “Well, I don’t know ’bout all over,” Pete said, “but it’s been out ’round here for the past three days.”
       “Three days!” Logan shrieked. “That’s a long time for the power to be out.”
       “Sure is,” Pete said.
       “Does that work like a hand water pump?” I asked.
       “That’s right.”
       “Looks like pee,” Logan said.
       “Nice, Logan,” I said.
       “Well it does,” Logan said. “I’ve never seen gas before. You know, like in a see-through glass. I didn’t know what color it was.”
       “You know why the power is out?” I asked Pete.
       He slid the pump nozzle into the Evoque’s gas tank and flipped a switch. The gas in the globe started to drain. “All I can reckon is that everyone got too sick to work the grid.”
       “Everyone got sick?” Zaq asked.
       “I suspect so.”
       “What kind of sick?” Logan asked.
       “How’s it you ain’t hear of the sick? It all but took over the world the past two weeks.”
       “We’ve been camping,” Riggs said.

       “Well, it all happened real fast like. I had a blood sugar test over in Flagstaff. Had to fast from food and drink the day before. That’s when it hit ’round here. By the time I got to the doctor’s office, the place was a madhouse. Doc told me not to drink any water that wasn’t bottled. It’s why I’m still healthy.”

And here is the rewritten text (296 words):

       “The electricity is out all over?” I asked.
       “Well, I don’t know ‘bout all over,” Pete said, “but it’s been out ‘round here for the past three days.”
       “Three days!” Logan shrieked. “That’s a long time to be without power.”
       “Sure is,” Pete said.
       “Does that work like a hand water pump?” I asked, intrigued by the old gas pump.
       “That’s right.”
       “Looks like pee,” Logan said.
       I snorted. “Nice, Logan.”
       “Well it does.” Logan slurped at his braces. He’d never really gotten used to them. “I’ve never seen gas before. You know, like in a see-through container. I didn’t know what color it was.”
       “You know why the power is out?” I asked Pete.
       He slid the pump nozzle into the Evoque’s gas tank and flipped a switch. The gas in the globe started to drain. “All I can reckon is that everyone got too sick to work the grid.”
       “Everyone got sick?” Zaq asked.
       “I suspect so.”
       I thought back to the rash on the dead man’s body. “Something going around?”
       “How’s it you ain’t heard of the sick? It all but took over the world the past two weeks.”
       My stomach twisted. Zaq raised his eyebrows at me. Yeah, Pete was giving me the heebie jeebies too.
       “We’ve been camping,” Riggs said.
       “What happened?” I asked.
       The globe had emptied. Pete flipped the switch again and went back to cranking the handle. “I had a blood sugar test over in Flagstaff. Had to fast from food and drink the day before. That’s when it hit ‘round here. It all happened real fast like. By the time I got to the doctor’s office, the place was a madhouse. Doc told me not to drink any water that wasn’t bottled. That’s why I’m still healthy.”

Adding a subplot or plot thread
In my novel Broken Trust, my first draft had one serious plot hole. I had created a subplot with my character Nick and his girlfriend, but it didn’t tie in with the rest of the story. So I spent some time brainstorming how to connect Nick’s story with Spencer’s. Because Spencer is a spy, the obvious solution was to have him investigating Nick’s girlfriend. This added several scenes to the book. I placed them strategically, so that his investigation would flow, and that started with his recognizing her on a movie in the very first chapter. Here is a scene from the first draft of Broken Trust that was originally the first appearance of Kimatra in the story and later became the second time Spencer had seen her (110 words).

       A gorgeous supermodel was waiting outside. I slowed down, staring at her face and legs and, well, everything. She had dark skin; thick, long black hair, and a tight dress that left little to my over-active imagination.
        “Kimatra!” Nick pushed past me, knocking into my shoulder.
       The supermodel smiled at Nick, reached out to him. “Hey, baby.”
       Nick grabbed her, twirled her around, and pushed her up against the wall of the school. Then they started tongue dancing.
       I looked away, annoyed that Nick had a psychotically hot girlfriend. But then I remembered that name. Kimatra.
       I jogged to catch up with Isabel. “Hey, can I talk to you?”

And here is the same scene from the final draft once I had set up Kimatra earlier in the book as someone Spencer would eventually investigate (305 words):

       . . . a gorgeous girl was waiting outside the classroom. I slowed down so I could stare at her face and legs and, well, everything. She had dark skin; thick, long black hair; and a tight dress that left little to my overactive imagination. But that wasn’t what caught my attention—seriously. I had seen this girl before. In a movie. Jolt II, to be precise.
       I was about to meet the pregnant actress from yesterday’s vision.
       Only she didn’t look pregnant. At all.
       Before I could figure out what to say, Nick pushed past, knocking into my shoulder.
The actress smiled wide, reached out to him. “Hey, baby.”
       Nick grabbed her, twirled her around, and they started sucking face.
       As I was staring way too hard, I caught sight of faint Jolt grid marks up her right arm and forgot to breathe.
       Were those for real? Or was she just fangirling, like those Doctor Whovians with their pen-and-ink hash marks?
       Wait. Forget that. Nick’s girlfriend was pregnant!
       Or soon would be.
       My whole face burned at that thought. Mother pus bucket, what was I supposed to do now?
       The actress broke away from Nick and waved at Isabel, who had just exit the classroom. “Hi, Bella, girl,” she sang.
       Isabel smirked, real unfriendly like, said, “Hola, Kimatra,” and kept on going.
       That name—Kimatra—sent another memory rushing over me. Something Prière had once said. Nick and Kimatra relocated their make-out session to a nearby tree. I stared until Arianna exited the classroom and gave me a dirty look that brought me back to earth.

       I took off after Isabel, walking as fast as my crippled self could. I caught up with her in the parking lot. “Hey, you know that girl Kimatra, right? Can I ask you some questions about her?”

If your books are too long

I don’t have as many examples here to show you about shortening your prose, since I’d pretty much be posting cut scenes. Here are my tips to cut words:

-Look for too much description. Trim it down.
-Examine action tags and dialogue to see if you can tighten things up. Cut any action tags that don’t really add anything to the character or scene.
-If your book is overly long, you might need to cut some perfectly good scenes. Ask yourself if each scene is moving the plot forward. If a scene is only there to characterize, cut it and look to fit in that characterization elsewhere.
-Do a search for weasel words and cut, cut, cut. This can be tedious, but it can also really help.
-Look for paragraphs that have only one-to-five words on the last line. Trim that paragraph until it bumps up to the previous line. For example, making a five-line paragraph only four lines.
-Look for chapters that have only one-to-five lines on the last page. Go back through the chapter and trim until you get that chapter one page shorter. Here is an example of how that might look from my book Broken Trust. I cut the word "really" and reworded a sentence to take up less space ("guy" was much shorter than "profile match"). It only saved me two words, but it did make the paragraph shorter, which also made the chapter shorter. This type of thing doesn't help so much with overall word count as it does for page count and typesetting a manuscript for publication. But hey, two words are two words!

Original (62 words):
       I had to get away. Anya had practically killed me last summer with her knife, and I really didn’t want her to know I now sported a cross-shaped scar on my chest. I had a feeling she’d take that as proof that I was the profile match she’d been looking for and decide to torture me for information I knew nothing about.

Rewrite (60 words):
       I had to get away. Anya had practically killed me last summer with her knife, and I didn’t want her to know I now sported a cross-shaped scar on my chest. I had a feeling she’d take that as proof that I was the guy she’d been looking for and decide to torture me for information I knew nothing about.

Does this help? After seeing some of the above examples, do you have any ideas on how you can make your manuscript longer or shorter? If you’ve dealt with this before, what are some things you did to reach your word-count goal?

Monday, January 23, 2017

What To Do When You Can't Let Go Of The Story Of Your Heart

Tessa Emily Hall writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show teenagers they’re not alone in their struggles. The debut novel she penned at 16-years-old, PURPLE MOON (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) was a Selah 2014 Finalist. Her second YA novel, UNWRITTEN MELODY, released with Clean Reads fall 2016. She’s the YA Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, columnist for Broken But Priceless Magazine, and Founder of, a magazine that inspires teens to embrace their calling. She enjoys helping other writers achieve their dreams through her role as a Jr. Agent at Hartline Literary Agency and by coaching young writers.

When Tessa’s fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, she can be found making healthy homemade lattes, speaking to teens, decorating her insulin pump, and acting in Christian films. She writes in a small town nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Southeastern coast. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website:

I’m sure you’ve heard it advised that aspiring authors should write multiple books along their journey toward publication. I don’t necessarily disagree with this. But what if the book you’re working on is the one you long to share with others and isn’t simply a “practice novel”?

That’s what happened with my latest release, UNWRITTEN MELODY. I first brainstormed the story idea at seventeen-years-old, and I fell in love with the story while I wrote it. I didn’t feel like it should remain for my eyes only. The passion I had for it is what drove me to not only complete it, but also to continue to grow as a writer and learn how to better unveil the story.

Finally, it came time to receive the edit letter from my literary agent. The feedback she gave wasn’t what I had expected. While many of her comments were encouraging, she also highlighted on the flaws of the story—plot errors that seemed far too complicated to fix.

She presented me with two options: Rewrite the story from scratch, or begin a new project. 

I went for the second option.

Perhaps UNWRITTEN MELODY was destined to remain a practice novel, I started to think. Besides, I had grown tremendously as a writer over the years of writing and editing the manuscript. Authors have to start somewhere, right?

So, I opened a new Word Document and set off on a new project. But it wasn’t long until the main characters in UNWRITTEN MELODY started tugging my heart back to them. Their stories weren’t finished, and I knew they wouldn’t stop nagging me until I returned.

As I read over the manuscript, I knew my agent was right; the story didn’t live up to its potential, nor did it match the story I had brainstormed all those years ago.

But it wasn’t too late to change that.

So, I spent about 2 - 3 months locked in my writing cave. Using the original manuscript as reference, I created a new plot structure, wrote a brief outline, set tight deadlines, and began rewriting UNWRITTEN MELODY from scratch.

It was the most fun, draining, and exhilarating time I’ve ever spent with a project. I had the opportunity to watch the story in my imagination come to life. The book I had originally envisioned was taking shape, living and breathing, and I knew the hard work would pay off.

If you believe your work-in-progress (WIP), the story of your heart, is too “broken beyond repair”, let me encourage you: Don’t give up on it too soon. Sure, it might be easier to start fresh with a new project—but if you have a burning passion to share your WIP with others, perhaps it’s for a reason. As long as it’s your current WIP then it’ll remain just that. A work in progress. If you abandon it, though, then it’ll never be complete, and you’ll never know how it could have resonated with readers.

So how can you tell if your WIP is the “story of your heart”?

1) You’re passionate about every aspect of it—the theme, characters, setting, genre, etc.
2) Any time you try to begin a new project, you find yourself returning to this one.
3) You can’t stand the time in between your writing sessions.
4) You hardly ever have to force yourself to write. You feel an exhilarating rush as you write, and your passion gives you perseverance to see it through to completion. 
5) It’s the kind of story you would love to read if it were already on the shelves.

If the story of your heart is in need of an overhaul, don’t be discouraged! Allow it to evolve as you continue to grow and learn. Use feedback and criticism as a launching pad to help you better tell the story of your heart. Also keep up with the trends of the industry so you can see how, and if, your book fits in with the current trends of the marketplace.

If you believe your WIP is the story of your heart, yet you also realize it’s in need of a rewrite, here are steps you can take to begin:

1) Ask others to read it. Preferably find trustworthy beta readers/critique partners online. (The Go Teen Writers Facebook group is a great place to search for potential readers.)

2) Read your book from beginning to end and keep a running list of content flaws. Ignore how much you love the story during this stage and instead view it from an objective standpoint.

3) Keep your notes, feedback from your readers, and your original manuscript on hand as you write. 

4) Create a rough outline and brainstorm how you’ll fix content issues.

5) Set goals and carve out a certain amount of time each day/week to work.

6) Once you’ve finished writing, I’d advise putting it aside for a couple weeks. When you come back to the manuscript, read through your original edit notes and see if you were able to fix the content issues.

7) Edit.

8) Send to beta readers and critique partners.

9) Revise based on their feedback.

10) Wash, rinse, and repeat until necessary! 

The process of writing a book can take several years—and the publication process is often even longer. Why not choose a project you’re passionate about? One that will make it nearly impossible for you to give up on?

If you do, your passion will drip onto every page and potentially connect with readers and tug on their hearts. Sure, you might have to hang with your characters for several years as you transcribe their journey. But the passion you have for sharing their story will make it all worthwhile in the end.

Is the WIP you’re working on now the story of your heart? Have you been tempted to throw it away and begin a new project? Share in the comments below!

Friday, January 20, 2017

How to Liven Up Your Mentor Character, a guest post by Savannah Grace

Happy Friday, lovely friends! Shannon here. First of all, I want to thank you for such a lovely response to last Friday's writing exercise. I've had such fun reading your work. If you haven't had a chance to read that specific blog, please do so. It explains a new feature we're showcasing on the blog and invites you to earn a shot a submitting questions to our upcoming video panels. So go! Read!

But first! I am so pleased to introduce you to another of our teen article submission winners. Please welcome, Savannah Grace to the blog! Her thoughts on mentor characters are true and wise and just might get you writing today.

Savannah Grace is dreamer, a believer, and a creator of imaginary worlds – among other things. She’s also a teenage Christian writer living in Nebraska. Writing is her passion, and writing for God is what she loves most. She spends a lot of her day with her nose in a book or thinking up the next adventure for her insane story characters. You can connect with her on her blog, Scattered Scribblings.

Mentor characters. Almost every book has them, and a lot of the time they become a beloved character of the series. Some examples are Gandalf the Grey in Lord Of The Rings, Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Brom in The Inheritance Cycle and Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter. But what is it that makes these characters so well loved?

They’re unique. They’re memorable.

And that is what you want your mentor character to be.
I’ve had plenty of problems with mentor characters in the past. I mean, how hard is it to keep your mentor from becoming a carbon copy of the aforementioned well-loved characters? It really isn’t that hard. Trust me. I would know.

I’m in the middle of writing a Snow White retelling called Killing Snow. I needed a mentor character, and started writing one up. But halfway through his creation, I realized he was basically Obi-Wan. Like, there was almost no difference between them. His name was even Benji (You know, Ben Kenobi. I’m terrible, aren’t I?).

So I had to flip all my ideas on their heads and give it a spin. A really big spin, because I needed some serious help. I began to refer to some of my favorite books. What made their mentors different? 

What made them stand out?  

Soon enough I scratched the old mentor character and made a new one – one that took on a life all his own. I learned a lot in the process, and what better to do than share that knowledge with all of you! Here are some tips on how to liven up your mentor character. 

  1. Give Him An Ulterior Motive
Bonus points if his ulterior motive goes against what your main character wants! That gets very interesting. For instance, think of Skelley Chase from the Out Of Time series, by Nadine Brandes. Skelley helps the main character, Parvin Blackwater, but he doesn’t help her as well as he could. The reason for this is because he wants more fame and publicity (these are his ulterior motives) – he knows if Parvin has a hard time with her quest, her story will be more interesting to people, and he’ll be able to sell it.    

Maybe your mentor and main character both want to achieve a similar goal, but the mentor’s ulterior motive stops him from giving the mission his all.
  2. Give Him A Unique Personality
Who here has read the Harry Potter series? If you have, you’ll have met the wonderful wizard Dumbledore, who has quite a personality! He’s a little odd, but that makes him all the better. His oddness is part of his unique personality; it sets him apart from other mentors.

A lot of the time mentors are wise and kind, ready to help the main character and guide them along in their mission. Why not give him an entirely different personality? Think of Haymitch Abernathy from the Hunger Games series. He’s certainly not someone I would want as my mentor – he’s sarcastic and uncooperative (and oftentimes drunk). But he’s memorable, and definitely a well-crafted mentor.    

A mentor character’s job is basically to be the one with the info, and to help the MC along. But that doesn’t mean they have to be nice about it, does it? As I said, In Killing Snow my mentor started out as Obi-Wan (*facepalm*). It drove me bonkers. I knew my mentor had to be different, but how?

Then I had a thought bubble. Why not make my mentor into someone who is hot-tempered and a little rash; someone who has the info and brains to play the mentor part, but doesn't exactly want to? Thus my new mentor was born.

  3. Have The Mentor Be Young
One example is Elva from the Inheritance Cycle. She isn’t quite a mentor character, so to speak, but she is one of the biggest assets in the book – and she’s a four year old who acts like an adult.  But I think it’s a wonderful concept! From what I’ve seen, the mentor tends to be older-ish (all the mentors I mentioned in the beginning of this post are old), so why not have a young mentor? A teenage mentor? Maybe even a child mentor! Now that would be cool. Very hard to pull off, but very cool.

  4. Give Them An Interesting Backstory
(*SPOILER ALERT*) Brom was a dragon rider, Obi-Wan taught Anakin, Dumbledore almost killed his sister. Their backstory can have a big part to play in the story; I know my mentor’s does. What, you thought I was going to tell you how? No way, too many spoilers! But backstory is important. It’s not very likely that your mentor had a perfect childhood – I bet many things happened that changed how they look at the world. This matters, and it can end up mattering a lot.  

  5. Make Sure They Have A Purpose

Trust me, nothing is going to work unless your mentor has a purpose. This is seriously important. Think of Han Solo as Rey’s mentor, or (again) Haymitch Abernathy. No one could call either of them a fly-on-the-wall type of mentor.

Don’t let your mentor be some random person who jumps in now and then to say the perfect words and then pop back out until needed again for a few more words. The mentor is a person, and every person has a mind of their own, and (hopefully!) a purpose. Make them passionate about something.

  6. Don’t Make Your Mentor A Carbon Copy

Give your mentor their own quirks - don’t take the quirks of another mentor. Maybe give your mentor a cool name (mine’s is Cerulean Kane) or interesting hobbies, perhaps a seriously strange fear or a collection of something very odd. Or a weird habit (maybe they like to jump in puddles for good luck!) or ability (photographic memory?). Do something no one else has done yet! Make it yours.

And that would be my two cents on livening up your mentor character. Hopefully I did my job well and gave you a few helpful bits of information that you can apply to your own mentor!

Even if you get stuck in a rut with your mentor, keep on keeping on. If I was able to do it, so can you! The world is waiting to meet your mentor. 

How are you doing with your mentor character? What are some of your favorite fictional mentor characters?