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Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Amanita, May 29, 2011.

  1. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    For anyone who has a mentor character in their story or is just interested in them. Do have certain expectations from a mentor character? Many fantasies have wise and "saintly" mentors who're always right, especially on moral grounds and manage to solve everything (till they die and the hero has to go on on his own.)
    What do you like about mentors and what do you dislike? Or do you dislike the kind of plot with the young, learning main character anyway? Some of you do as some other threads seems to imply. ;)
  2. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    The stereotypical mentor is so annoying. Why does there have to be one specific mentor anyway? Why can't a character learn different lessons from different people, or from trying something for themselves? I certainly never learned everything from one person, and not everything I've learned has been from someone in a position of authority over me (parents, teachers, etc) - some have been from coworkers or friends.

    The problem of the single guiding mentor is that at some point the main character has to do without them; you can't go through life always following someone else's lead, after all - and so inevitably, the mentor dies. But that's not how things really work. Like I said, we learn from many people, and from our experiences. And you can't just have everyone the main character has ever learned from dying so the main character can gain independance or whatever. If that happened someone would be at the top of the list of suspects for serial murder, and I don't mean the bad guy.

    The worst bit is that if the character the main character has learned the most from is old, they die; if young, they sometimes live, sometimes get captured by the bad guy, sometimes betray the main character, and sometimes die. It's inconsistent and ageist, not to mention contrived: can't they just lose touch? Or move away? Or have different goals from the main character?

    Also, the idea of a flawless, saintly character is itself flawed and contrived. Just once I'd like a character to learn something from a mentor which they later decide was actually wrong, absolutely regardless of the author's view on the topic. Or a mentor whose methods are harsh without them being proven to actually be for the benefit of the main character in the end, or who has some other flaw which doesn't become a positive thing in hindsight. Please.

    So yeah. For me, the old mentor who dies before the end is one of the most annoying cliches ever.
  3. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    I think mentors can be a part of the story. They can also be a tool used by the writer to introduce the world to the reader.

    Sure, some mentors can be saintly and all wise. Others, not so much. Just depends on the story and situation. It can even be an older brother/sister or cousin that fills the role.
  4. Heavy Thorn

    Heavy Thorn Dreamer

    Hahaha, never thought of it that way.

    My personal approach to the matter is that of not having an ignorant hero who needs "learned" in the ways of the world. I like heroes who have a pretty good idea of what the world is like and aren't constantly needing forced exposition to explain things over a sparring match.

    One of my favorite examples of a non-mentor character who acted as a mentor at times is Raistlin from the Dragonlance trilogy by Weiss and Hickman. Raistlin knew a lot of stuff and occasionally would share that information, but only as he saw fit - not out of some arbitrary "No, the hero can't know that yet or it will throw off my awesome plot twist on page 78!" - but because he's looking out for himself more than anyone.

    If you have to do a mentor character, find someone who has little to no interest in being your hero's mentor. Then find a reason why he has to be. And not "If you don't teach me how to use magic, I'll tell everyone your Dirty Little Secret."
  5. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Mentors? Sure. Always right? Not a chance. That's just boring… let alone improbable. Besides, if the mentor's so damn hot, why isn't he solving the problem himself?

    One of my favorite "mentor-like" (perhaps not technically a mentor) characters is Akiro from the Conan movies–the wizard played by Mako. (A similar character is Egg Shen in Big Trouble in Little China… and the lines are better in that movie.) Sure, they're wise; sure, they've got special powers; but they also have very real limitations, and they're far from perfect.

    The best mentor character I can recall offhand from fantasy/SF lit is Robinton from the Pern books. While he's almost "always right," it's only within his own sphere of knowledge… and he's the first one to admit when he doesn't have an answer. He can't solve everything, and he knows it. He advises, he does what he can, then he steps back and lets others do what they can… and he's willing to, and often does, learn from his protégés. It's that sort of two-way interaction that can make a mentor interesting; often, the most important moment of realization in a story is when the student realizes that his mentor wants to learn as well, and that's part of why he's a mentor–to generate opportunities for new discoveries. He's not just there to pedantically bestow his wealth of experience upon less fortunate souls. Nor does it hurt, in Robinton's case, that also very human, and completely lovable–everybody's favorite uncle/grandfather type.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  6. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    That's exactly what I'm planning. ;) And the hero(ine) has little to no interest in being his apprentice. And she doesn't need to be taught about the ways of the world but about the ways of her magic which will happen this way as I've decided by now.
    My mentor character doesn't have much in common with the version I've described above anyway. He's another character important to the story in his own right who happens to have to spend some time teaching her.
    He's highly intelligent and knows much about their magic but where morality is concerned he definitely isn't a perfect role model. And he's only giving her a filtered version of magical politics etc. but she figures this out quickly because she's been brought up thinking differently about many issues and questions his ideas.
    In the end (of her training) she's taken in a few ideas of his and rejects others.
    The issue is that he isn't a character the readers or the characters can trust to do the (morally) right thing. (And he's not expressing my own beliefs.)
  7. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Maester

    I have a mentor in my rewrite, not completely hashed out his character yet. My thoughts are :

    He speaks to no one, cannot be easily harmed and wholeheartedly believes that violence is often the best solution. My main character can read his thoughts, but my mentor only communicates with my main character. I think his guidance will get my people into hot water a few times.

    He is deceptive and cunning. Because he does not speak, and carries a stuffed animal, people think he is simple, gullible and stupid, but this is how he wants to be seen. He indirectly guides people, manipulating them to do what he wants, without them knowing it is him.

    I worry though, that a flawed mentor may become cliché as we try to avoid the cliché of an infallible mentor.
    Last edited: May 30, 2011
  8. Donny Bruso

    Donny Bruso Sage

    The closest thing I have to a mentor is my demonic priestess POV character who is going to twist my evil sadistic prince POV character into a darker and more focused kind of pretzel. It's not really your classic mentor/student relationship, since she is definitely using him. Of course he's trying to use her too, so I suppose it all evens out. There are just so many fun options for conflict I don't even know where to start...
  9. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

    I really, really, really hate the idea of a single mentor being responsable for everything the character does, and also forms their moral compas. it's annoying as heck. it's like the author has just said 'this is what the main character will look like in x years, ready to repeat the story'. and then they die. which too, is annoying.

    I don't mind mentors who are actually, y'know, mentors - so someone who teaches the MC, but who has their own life and their own goals. Think like an apprentice from the real world.

    I also hate it when the character learnt everything from one guy, and no one else - not even themselves. it's just stupid to me that someones clone can succeed where they obviously failed (becuase their a mentor, they died 99% of the time). I like it when a character might have learnt something from more that one person (and the obligatory sage/madman warning lesson dosen't count, as that's generally the mentor is a very obvious disguse, or their identical re-incarnation)

    rant over...

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