1. The Peanut Monster
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    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

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    The "mentor" archetype

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by The Peanut Monster, Jul 30, 2013.

    My book includes a significant "mentor" character to one of my MCs.

    Now, my limited understanding of mentor archetypes is that often a key function is simply for them to die. Indeed, that is what befalls my mentor character, after which my MC becomes self-aware, his mission clear(er) and he begins his own path through the pages.

    I'm interested in anyone who has written anything with a mentor character in it, or read works with such characters in them, and how they feel toward mentors. What do you like and dislike about them? In particular, how do you usually consider the relationship between the mentor and his MC? When the mentor is still alive, it seems to me that the MC tends to have a juvenile, naive and even shallow quality as a character, that is only really unleashed when the mentor is gone.

    This seems to lend itself to predictability in the book: the MC (who we know is MC by reason of the POV) is kind of just following along, until he is forced to lead himself. This annoys me. My solution is to try and give the MC concrete goals/conflicts/motivations before the mentor's death. However, they generally seem to have to conform with the mentors own goals (the two can't really be in major conflict, else he is no longer a mentor). Then, if the goals (etc) change too much after the mentor's demise, it feels the first part of the book is a "waste". If they don't change at all, then what was the point of the mentor and his death?

    Have people had similar difficulties? How have people given life and meaning to their character before a mentor's demise?
     
  2. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I love mentor characters, and generally, looking at characters through archetypes. The predictable relationship you mention I'd specifically avoid, it's a bit juvenile, perhaps suited to literature for younger audience.

    I have a story I'm working on that prominently features a shadow mentor. She herself is a monster, but in fact she is just a feral vampire, whose life fell apart when her mortal husband died. She kidnaps my protagonist who is also capable of the same change, but the plot thickens because they are related. So what starts as a battle in a dungeon, is in fact just a boot camp. There is a heartbreaking moment when the protagonist escapes, but all that is strictly confidential for now ;). I'm very fond of that character.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm. I assume this is a fantasy-type 'mentor' you're creating here? You could do worse than think of the mentor as a teacher—for example your favourite teacher you ever had—then mature the relationship a bit. I don't think your teacher necessarily expected to die before you could start using what he/she taught you. Think about how maybe the mentor and your MC could work together after the MC has acquired enough skill and knowledge to be an asset to the mentor. This can occur either with or without conflict between them. Could they be fellow mentors to yet another younger person? Is there some point where your main character surpasses the mentor in ability? All this can happen before the mentor 'dies.'

    I agree with Jazzabel that the scenario you presented sounds predictible. I'd play around with ideas for a while. You could mess with ideas like : does the mentor like/love your MC, or maybe the opposite? Were they forced together by circumstance? If not, who chose whom? Was the mentor compelled to take on your MC because of coercion? Maybe your MC's parents or some other bigwig who has a hold over the mentor, or someone he owes a debt to?

    I'd play around with ideas, and resist any attempt to channel their relationship in a predictible way. Try to think of opposites, and what-ifs when you're constructing your story idea. That's what can turn a genre convention on its head and make people gasp, then keep turning pages wondering what's REALLY going to happen.

    You could do worse than read Joe Abercrombie, if you haven't already. He takes every stock fantasy cliche you could imagine, from characters straight through to quests, etc, and turns everything around. None of the characters behave the way their counterparts do in most fantasy stories, and the heroes turn out to be the most unlikely characters in the book. If you can do half of what he does to create new statues using old wood, you'll have a great career ahead of you.
     
  4. Orihalcon
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    Orihalcon Active Member

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    Both jazzabel and jannert give great examples and suggestions. I hope my addition measures up to theirs.

    A mentor is a friend, a teacher and a guide. The MC still has a life and objectives of their own, unless the MC's life and objective are intimately connected, and the MC may progress only after the mentor's training is complete or close enough to completion. It's difficult to give proper suggestions without knowing enough about the relationship between the MC and their mentor or its background or foundation. I'll give it my best, though.

    Case 1: The life and objectives of the MC are intimately connected, and progression is possible only after sufficient training by the mentor of the MC. Adjust with respect to details accordingly, but you could either have the MC and their mentor not always agreeing; perhaps the MC feels that there are some parts where the mentor's well-intentioned guidance is not "correct". At some point, the mentor will want to measure the MC's progress empirically, likely through a sort of "field exam" where the MC is sent on a minor mission/quest without the assistance of the mentor; the outcome of this mission/quest could become a catalyst to a significant event or change in the MC-mentor relationship or change in the MC's personal objectives.

    Case 2: The MC has a personal life of his own - that is, his life does not necessarily revolve entirely around his relationship with his mentor or the purpose behind that relationship. Then it becomes obviously easier to create dynamics; at some point, the objectives of the purpose of the MC-mentor relationship may conflict with the MC's personal objectives, or the MC pursues an objective that leads to an interpersonal or scholastic conflict between the MC and their mentor. This gives a lot more freedom for you to place the MC in situations where the MC's training is put to the test, and increasing success in the outcome of each situation could reflect the MC's progress due to their training. Or, perhaps even more interesting, the MC at one point achieves sucess by going against what they have been taught by the mentor; this is always an interesting and crucial point in any mentor-apprentice relationship. How do you as an apprentice deal with things when it turns out that your mentor was wrong about something? The deeper the relationship is between the apprentice and the mentor, the more importance this question will have.
     
  5. The Peanut Monster
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    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

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    Thanks guys for your thoughts, and excellent suggestions. I'm working through the dynamic a bit now. It's a kind of political tutelage (with the death of the mentor, the leadership position passes to the MC); so I think I may try and give them differing political ambitions and work a bit more on their personal relationship.
    [MENTION=53222]jannert[/MENTION] it's interesting you made the comment about it being a fantasy mentor role. Actually, its not at all - and I've never really through of how a mentor role would work in the fantasy sphere (a genre I have little experience in). It's interesting to me because, it shows how pliable the mentor archetype role is across genres, and also, how our own perceptions narrow and create assumptions. Not a criticism of course (it applies equally to me, and probably anyone else too), but just an interesting observation.

    Thanks again.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That was silly of me to assume 'fantasy,' actually! I guess it's because so many of the people who belong to this forum are writing fantasy, when you said mentor I immediately thought of wizard/junior wizard or something like that. Just goes to show, as a former colleague said to me once: "assume" makes an ass of u and me! :)
     
  7. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    This is an interesting thread. In my own novel, my mentor character dies...I didn't even know he was supposed to die! Anyway..
    The way that I see mentors is like a character who can only be defeated by something beyond human control. In my book, the mentor dies when he is completely overrun
    by an amount of enemies that no one could ever hope to handle. I really love the idea of mentor characters. In my book, although the first one dies, his position is later
    filled by another mentor character, who does not fight at all, and will be seen less frequently throughout the story. This will allow my character to grow, and to only go to
    the new mentor character when he could never figure it out himself.

    This also keeps me from being ostentatious. What do I mean exactly? I believe that mentor scenes should be the best written
    in your book. Because as your readers read, they take on the world of your book, and inevitably the outlook on that world via the main character.
    When your main character is being mentored so is your reader. The scene should be memorable. The dialogue should be on point. I try to pack my
    best dialogue in the mentor scenes. That means that if I keep my mentors too close, I will have to use a lot of parables and analogies and flowery
    language. So killing one and introducing another allows a gap for you, the writer, to allow the main character to grow and reflect until he runs into
    someone who challenges what he thinks as the "new and improved" main character.
     
  8. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm. This got me thinking.

    In my book, everyone seems to mentor one of the other characters into fulfilling their plot purpose. The one who sets it all in motion, and the mentor to the MC, is also the antagonist whose goal is to eventually kill the MC. Except from his being an older brother, he's about as far from the archetypal 'mentor' as it's possible to get, both in terms of character and motive.
     
  9. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    As an aswer to that, read The Earthsea Wizard. The mentor-apprentice relationship in the book runs counter to
    both your statements and has affected my perception of it in many ways, so much it almost seems Biblical.
    It is also so deep that trying to describe it is futile, you have to discover it for yourself. It's worth it. In the book, you
    can feel the MC's mentor could be mentor for everybody. The author of the series abounds with wisdom.
     
  10. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    ...got me thinking what the mentor in your novel is like...
     

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