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?