The mentor character

My company is headed South, and I have a few minutes before paying the bills and working up critiques. I've been doing a bit of daydreaming about my next big project. This project has a mentor character, but he is more spiritual than heroic. I don't know if that will sell or not.

Mentor characters have been around forever, and make some of the more memorable characters in our stories. People remember Merlin, Obi Wan, and Mr. Miyagi.

Real life provides a basis for these characters. There have been some people who survived incredible events who have been called upon to share that knowledge with a new generation. Winfield Scott was called back into service as an old man to lead the Union Army in the American Civil War. It was a short lived term, but ultimately his overall plan is how the war played out.

When The Spanish American War broke out, the USA asked for the help of a former enemy. Confederate General Joe Hooker was given a field command, because he had experience that nobody else could claim.

At the outset of World War One, Americans had little experience moving and supplying large groups of men. These things had been done in the past, but the days of Joe Hooker were over. The US turned to one William F. Cody. His Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show moved and supplied hundreds of people, including livestock, for many years. This included most of the known world, including the European theatre of operations.

Many of the silent movie actors sought out Wyatt Earp to get a feel for the era and men they portrayed. Earp didn't just stop living after the OK Corral.

It's great when an old hero can share wisdom with the new hero. My issue is going to be having the mentor provide non heroic guidance. I still think I can pull it off, but it's going to be a challenge. It also doesn't help me find a genre to fit this project.

The mentor needs to step into the background at some point. The new hero has to face his destiny, and worst fears, alone. The standard these days seems to be killing the mentor off. It also adds urgency and grief to the mix. Reference Sean Connery in The Untouchables, or Obi Wan in Star Wars.

This doesn't have to be the case. Mr. Miyagi fared well, but Daniel had to face the villain alone. I'll make sure this happens in my next book, but I won't kill my mentor off. He will just guide less and less as my main character matures. I want this story to be more about wisdom and maturity than strength and combat.

Merlin wasn't about combat, and Miyagi was anti combat. This tells me I can succeed here. It's up to me to pull it all together.

Mentors can be helpful with bits of backstory too. Writers should avoid info dumps, but a snippet of a story from someone who lived through it can help. Mentors can establish how a farm boy becomes a top swordsman without dedicating ten chapters to training.

Writing this out helps me think it through. Sharing it might get you thinking too. Do you include mentors in your stories? Do you know of any outstanding female mentors? It occurs to me the female mentor has been left out. Have you, or would you ever write a mentor into one of your stories?


Filed under Writing

39 responses to “The mentor character

  1. Finally something about writing that I can relate to! lol I actually have a mentor character, yay me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had not really thought about mentor characters before but I got to thinking that sometimes the female mentor gets overlooked not because she isn’t there, because her role as mentor is not immediately obvious? It’s thought of more as a mothering role than a mentor’s role, I think. At least for me….

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    • There are a lot of kickass heroines in some genres. What happens to them as they get older? Maybe it’s time for a female mentor. A grandmotherly Mulan still has all the experiences. One of my own Amazons could fill the role.

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  3. Yeah. I have the spirit of the protagonist’s best friend as a mentor. Still not sure it’s going to work

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  4. I loved the way mentors were done in the old series Kung Fu with David Carridine. (sp) I watched every episode waiting to see the slips in time through his eyes…usually just before he opened up a can of whoop ass.

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  5. It’s about time for the female mentor!! Spark of an idea…thanks!!

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  6. I didn’t know that about the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Always thought it was nothing more than a show. The mentor character appears several times in my stories, but most of them have already done their training part. So it’s more a visit to the hero’s past. For a while, I looked at it as an apprenticeship system. The experienced warrior/caster/thief/whatever trains the next generation to carry on the trade. As far as female mentors, I know I’ve run into a few, but they’re fairly new in terms of use. There’s Lady Pauline in ‘Ranger’s Apprentice’ and Izumi from ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’. I have Selenia Hamilton in my stories, but that’s all I can think of.

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  7. This would be a tough thing for me to write, because the people in my personal life who were supposed to mentor me ended up sticking knives in my back. Three examples of this popped into my head almost instantly, and I’m not going to search my memory banks any further.

    But hey, maybe that’s a cool plot twist for you. Or, the apprentice who expects the knife and lashes out first?

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  8. As you know, I had a mentor character in Marred, Mr. Chen, Sage’s spiritual advisor. I really like mentor characters. In Wings of Mayhem I have a different sort of mentor, more of a mother figure, but she works well. Over the years there have been many women mentors in history. Rosa Parks comes to mind as does Sally Fields’ true life character…her name escapes me, but she stood up for women’s rights in the workplace. I think the movie was a book first, but I can’t recall the title. Old age. LOL In the writing world Sisters in Crime mentors women writers every day.

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  9. I’ve written several mentor characters in a variety of trunk novels, but nothing current (although I suppose in some ways Rick Rothrock in my first release, Weathering Rock, could have been considered a mentor). One mentor who I really loved and probably had the largest impact on me as both reader and writer (other than Merlin) is Gandalf. White or Gray, he was always there to guide 🙂

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  10. In my first novel, which turned into a duology, my main character did have a mentor — the man who trained her. At the start, he assigned her a case as sort of a final project. By the second book he got promoted and she handled all the work, but he was there to give advice. I don’t think writers should be too quick to kill characters. After all, we invest llot in creating them.

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    • I agree. There are plenty of stories where the mentor is kidnapped or otherwise misplaced. I kind of think Yoda came along because they offed Obi Wan too soon. (That and a puppet is easier to control than an academy award winner.)

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Sounds like a great one for you to write. I feel like I’ve seen a strong female mentor somewhere but I can’t remember in what, I think a film rather than a book though. Look forward to hearing how this one develops for you!

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