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?

40 comments:

  1. Amazing post Savannah!
    It's amazing and the tips are so helpful. AND CERULEAN. YES. AWESOME CHARACTER.
    Loving your character posts! Gonna have to print them off so I can read them for working on my characters, mentors being one of them. :)
    Awesome guest post!

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    1. Thank you, Soleil!
      Aw, thank you so much - you were such an awesome beta reader :D.
      I'm so glad that this was helpful! Mentors are some of my favorite characters ;). I hope this helps you with yours!

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  2. Great job, Savannah!! I'll have to make sure I include a mentor character in my next book and follow these guidelines! Thanks for sharing :D

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    1. Thank you, Abi! Mentor characters are tons of fun ;). Glad you enjoyed this!

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  3. Great post! I always love twisting clichés. For some reason, I tend not to write older characters, so my mentor characters end up being younger. Most of the time I don't like giving my protagonists the kind of help that a mentor typically gives, but I kind of fixed that in my current WIP by making the mentors double as antagonists.

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    1. Ooh, yes - twisting cliches is one of the best parts of storytelling! And your stories sound amazing, mentors doubling as antagonists would be SO interesting to read about.

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  4. What a great concept to explore, Savannah! :D I don't think I have a problem with stereotyped mentors simply because I don't have that many that I initially label "mentor." I do have a few who might be mentors, though, and your tips will definitely help me in making them unique. It was so nice of you to share with us. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you, Olivia! I sure hope my tips can help - I had SO much trouble with my mentor xD. I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  5. This was SUCH a great post, Savannah!!! It's got me thinking about how I can work on a mentor character in a fantasy series I've had brewing in my head for a while. I love how you focused on mentor characters specifically - it seems like often they share such similar qualities from book to book, it's hard to make them unique. Thanks again for your solid advice!

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    1. THANK YOU, Alicyn! I had such a fun time writing it ;). I'm glad this got you thinking - brainstorming for characters is so much fun! Making characters unique is something I struggle with - so when I figure it out, I love helping other people with it ;).

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  6. Thanks a billion for letting me post, Shannon! I had an awesome time working on this with you - and I learned a lot of stuff along the way ;).
    Thanks again, friend!

    ~ Savannah
    scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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    1. Hooray! It's a lovely post, Savannah, and I'm glad I got to know you a little bit better through your writing! Thank you for sharing with us.

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  7. What if the mentor is hostile to the character's aims? I know this is probably a nerdy example, but Harrison Wells in Flash is basically helping Barry get faster so that he could use him to get back to his own time.

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    1. A mentor that's actually hostile to the character's aims? I actually think that's an AWESOME idea - it's a interesting way to twist a cliche, and it would definitely keep me on the edge of my seat (once I found out that the mentor was hostile to the character's aims, of course ;)).

      ANYWAYS, that was quite a ramble - but all in all, I think it's a great idea.

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  8. Great post! This is super helpful!!! Your mentor character is my FAVORITE, so of course I'll need to keep your tips handy when I write. =D

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    1. Thank you, Micaiah! And OH MY, you're the nicest, girl - I'm so glad you like Cerulean! <3 Glad this helped you ;).

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  9. Love this post! I'll have to refer back to it while editing my current WIP. :)

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    1. Thank you, Lucy - glad you found this helpful!

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  10. Ooh, this post is really good! I do feel like mentor characters are often stuck to the same concept, and I feel like people don't consider much how to make their mentor unique. Well done!

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    1. Thank you so much, Emily! Yeah, I normally LOVE mentor characters - just not the ones that are super cliche, which is probably why I chose to write this post xD.
      Glad you liked it! ;)

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  11. I loved what you had to say! If I ever write characters like mentors, then I will DEFINETLY follow your advice! Thanks for the great tips.
    *I love the Hunger Games. Haymitch was a great example of a mentor there! :)
    -LHE

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    1. Thank you, LHE! Mentors are lots of fun to write - they're some of my favorites ;).

      Isn't it great? I love how all the Hunger Games characters feel so real - and I knew I had to include Haymitch somewhere in here! :D

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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    2. It is! They really do. Haymitch is my favorite character.
      I might do a mentor in another book. Right now I'm trying to finish mine.
      :)
      -LHE

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  12. Do you have any advice on good characters?
    -LHE

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    1. Actually, I'm doing a whole series of posts on my blog about writing good characters! You can hop on over there and check it out, if you'd like ;).

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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    2. I will! Thanks for the info! You give great tips. :)

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  13. Thank you for this!! I've been have the same kind of problem, with my mentor character seeming like a copy of Yoda. ;P Hopefully I can apply some of your useful advice as I develop him!! :)

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    1. Star Wars for the win, then - mine was Obi-Wan, yours was Yoda xD. I hope this can help you!

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  14. Quick question- Who were the winners of the suspenseful dialogue contest?

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  15. Savannah, thanks so much for this article! I started planning a fantasy story earlier this week and I was stuck on my mentor, but I have all kinds of ideas now--this was SO helpful. I love Dumbledore and Haymitch. :)

    Hailey
    haileyhudson.wordpress.com

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    1. You're welcome, Hailey! Ooh, fantasy series are so fun. I'm super glad that this gave you some ideas to play with! (and YES those two are the best :D)

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  16. Thanks for the advice! You made some pretty good points! I'll remember to look back to this as I write my stories. :)
    -G

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    1. P.S. I love the reference to Haymitch. :)
      -G

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    2. You're welcome! I'm glad that this post is helping all of you guys :).
      (Haymitch is DEFINITELY not a cliche mentor character - so I had to include him! :D)

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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    3. :) I go on GoTeen Writers every day, and no one fails to inspire me!
      I think Gandalf is a good example, too!
      -G

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  17. Savannah!!! This was fantastic! I especially love how you brought up Haymitch (he is so hilarious and awesome and unpredictable and NOT cliche!) and having a snarky or mean or reluctant or young mentor. Brilliant, my friend!

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    1. THANK YOU, Kayla! I'm glad you liked it :D. People are my favorite part to a story, and it doesn't take much to get me going on a character-ramble - so this post was a ton of fun for me xD.

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  18. MEEP. My Savannah doing a guest post on GTW. THIS IS AMAZING!!!! And you've done it again. This post is perfection.

    I always love the mentor characters. They tend to hold the MCs together and push them to do what's needed. But they CAN be so cliche sometimes. I love, love, love your ideas of stomping that cliche! Especially your thought on giving them an ulterior motive, that may even be against the MC. Can you imagine all the tension and drama that could cause?? Too fun! And them being young! YESSSH. I LOVE THIS IDEA. When we think "mentor" our brains do seem to jump immediately to "wise old man". But why? A mentor could be ANYONE.

    Haymitch was a wonderful example for all of this. He's so far beyond your stereotypical mentor character, and it just made the books.

    Thanks for sharing with us, Savannah! I'm definitely keeping these thoughts in mind for future books.

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    1. YES it's me - I was so excited to this :D. Thank you so much, Christine!

      Aren't they the best? (plus, if the characters NEED holding together, that means that feel-sy things have happened, and that's the best xD) Mentors with ulterior motives are SUPER interesting - I wish there were more of them!

      The Hunger Games definitely wouldn't have been as good without Haymitch Abernathy - but basically all the characters in those books were incredibly well done!

      You're welcome! I had fun writing this for you guys :D.

      ~ Savannah
      scattered-scribblings.blogspot.com

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  19. I have one or two mentor type characters, but they haven't showed up yet (one does in the chapter I'm working on, though!)

    ~ Gracelyn

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