1. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    Avoiding the Mentor cliche

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Andi. Just Andi., Jan 11, 2020.

    Lately, I've had a lot more time to continue writing my story, and I've been able to notice a lot of problems with it such as a passive protagonist, a heavily sagging middle, and a plotline that doesn't make any sense. I've been able to solve some of these issues or I'm in the middle of trying to fix them. However, one problem that I've been having a difficult time with is making the second main character stand out.

    To give some context, this character, Corvus, was basically cursed to be an immortal servant as he committed a certain crime that even the gods found offensive. Due to this, he lives out his days serving under the rule of a goddess as repentance for he's done. One of the tasks he was given was to watch over a boy, the protagonist, who has certain abilities that the goddess has been looking for. There's a whole plan that she has that involves Sulja, with the ending being that he dies. After watching the protagonist grow up and even interacting with him, Corvus becomes attached and doesn't want him to die. So, he and Sulja come with an alternative plan that has Sulja taking his life into his own hands. Essentially, they go on a journey to save the Sulja's life and, hopefully, the world.

    With that being said, I want to make Corvus stand out as his own person outside of just being the main protagonist's protector and guide. So, any suggestions?

    Sorry if the description was pretty vague, but if you need anymore context, feel free to ask.
     
  2. More

    More Member

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    I don't actuly understand what your story is about, so my suggestion my not have any value. The way that you make characters centre stage is the use of point of view. You can shift the focus from one to another characters in the same story in different chapters . A more radical approche is to divide your story up into a sequence of interlining short stories . This was used in the Game of Thrones .
     
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  3. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I asked a similar question to someone I look up to as a mentor in writing and she said:
    "When it comes to cliche do the unexpected."
    Yup, that's the help I got! It's fine to use cliche but what could you do to jazz it up? Goals drive plot, even plot-driven stories. And what is created by goals? Conflict. How could you add external or internal conflict.

    So this mentor is attempting to save the life of this boy because he cares for him. What about if another God or fortune teller tells your mentor saving the boy will directly lead to his own death or that it will cause him to be enslaved for eternity (I imagine the Goddess wont to be pleased to find her plans have been derailed). If your mentors goal is to save the boy put obstacles in the way of that goal. What does your Mentor want most?
    Saving the boy leads to his eternal enslavement but he really wants freedom.

    Often what makes a character stand out is how they battle their conflict and the want behind the goal. I watched a TV show recently. The main character was a very plain Jane with a simple goal. She could have easily been boring. But her want made her interesting. She wanted her goal so badly you never knew what she was going to do to get it.
     
  4. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    Hello there!

    I'll just dive into this since I got some ideas.

    1) Make him flawed. Not completely of course, but to some realistic extend. Not just because of his past. Make his flaws present, in order to mingle smoothly with the plot points. Make him grow in the story as well. For example he might be competitive in some areas, or even jealous. He might be a perfectionist in some areas, while a complete sloth in others. For example in Samurai Champloo (fave anime for many reasons) we have two opposite characters that make for a brilliant dynamic. Mugen who is a rogue wildling and Jin who is a structure freak. Let's focus on Jin. How can this character grow in the story since he is already so "perfect"? Well, he's not. That's the way he perceives himself in the beginning and although it's not too apparent, he is kind of arrogant. In an episode, we see him fishing at a lake and while Mugen and Fuu have already caught fish and have called him to just quit it and share their food with him, he just won't give it a rest. He can't accept that he is worse than them in fishing. Furthermore, he is humorless. He can't stand Mugen's and Fuu's teasing upon a speech he made before starting fishing, in which he sounded like a sensei of sorts. What a fail! He ends up losing his composure (which is very rare) and dives in, in a comedic manner, hunting the fish. Well, in the end he didn't catch any fish, but he did find a pouch full of golden coins in the pond that was the element this episode's story centered around.

    2) Give him a dangling cause. This cause has an effect that will manifest in the future. For example, your highest dramatic point for this character might be admitting the change of heart he has for your protagonist, or the point where the truth - one way or another - gets revealed to the protagonist. What a shock! How will he handle this? Cause and effect.

    3) Give a piece of information to the reader that is very important for this character, but this character is yet oblivious of it. This creates tension. A character might have been plotting a whole masterplan to achieve a certain goal, just to realise at some point that he has been used. He has been conned. For example, he has been plotting a revenge plan against the king, since he believed that the king murdered his wife, just to find out that his current wife murdered his wife. The reader knew that before him and witnessed him fighting another cause. Poor character!

    Hope this helps. Good continuation!
     
  5. LastMindToSanity

    LastMindToSanity Contributor Contributor

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    What if a big point in their relationship is that Sulja believes that Corvus is more of a friend than his protector? As the story goes on, and Sulja becomes more capable of taking care of himself, Corvus could start to believe this himself. This would then lead to him finally declaring that he is no longer Sulja's protector, but his friend. Leading up to this, you could have the dynamic between them slowly change, with Corvus start to slowly act for his own best interests and safety rather than Sulja's (He'd still want to help Sulja, though), until the audience can finally see him as a fully autonomous person that isn't attached to Sulja as a protector, but a friend who wants to help him.

    Good luck with your story!
     
  6. Rockatansky

    Rockatansky Banned

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    I hate the term

    "Avoid Cliches"

    Might as well stop writing, since at this point everything is a cliche.

    It's not a matter of avoiding cliches, but making the cliche your own, your own spin on it or how you handle it

    The normal reading audience isn't going to give a shit that something is a cliche, but rather how you handled it.
     
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  7. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    Wow, I didn't think I would get this many replies this fast!

    @More I was originally going to write this story in 3rd person limited, specifically for Sulja. But, as you've said, it could give some insight into the situation from Corvus's perspective rather than solely that of Sulja's.
    So, since nothing's set in stone yet as I'm constantly changing things, I'll definitely have to consider this idea.

    @cosmic lights & @Rockatansky Both of your replies are similar in how they address cliches. You're right. I guess I meant to say avoiding the typical path that a Mentor character would normally take. Specifically, where they're the extremely patient old man who's a tool for the protagonist's development. Therefore, giving him a goal and conflict of his own would definitely be a step in the right direction.

    @Malisky I've only seen the first two or three episodes, but that was a few years. Hopefully, I can finish it this year though. Anyway, these all sound like great suggestions, especially #1. I'm not very sure how I would implement #3 though. The first idea would develop Corvus as a character outside of his enslavement. However, could you please explain #2 further? I'm not sure what you meant by "dangling cause".

    @LastMindToSanity Brilliant! And to further push this point, I was also thinking that Corvus mainly addresses Sulja as "boy" in the beginning of the story. Then, as Sulja becomes more autonomous, in other words becoming a man in Corvus's eyes, he addresses him as "Sulja".

    Overall, thank you all for your suggestions.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2020
  8. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise New Member

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    Just by reading your brief synopsis, I'm curious as to what crime Corvus committed and why. Also is the goddess working towards a goal of greater good or personal pleasure? One way to avoid a mentor feeling cliched is to make them morally grey (or even outright villainous). Maybe Corvus doesn't actually care for Sulja but just wants to rebel against the goddess by ruining her plans. Naturally that might not work for the story you are trying to tell, but it is a potential way to twist the mentor cliche.

    Ultimately, as has already been said, as long as Corvus has his own arc, his own goals, his own motivations, and his own flaws, he won't feel like a stereotype copy-pasted into the story.
     
  9. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    To answer your first question, Corvus essentially killed his brother. The motive behind it is still debatable. I've lower down the options to keeping his brother silent in order to hide another crime, and/or it was an accident. However, I do know that he killed him for selfish reasons. About the goddess, Ava, she's working towards the greater good, which often leads to her disregarding the wants and needs of others, including other deities.

    As for your suggestion, I don't think that would fit into the plot as far as I can see it. However, I'll keep it in mind. Thank you for your time.
     
  10. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    I can kind of see what your problem is. The first problem is that Sulja has absolutely no purpose other than as a plot device. There's nothing that Sulja actually gives Corvus that would explain why they connected so well.

    First question, what does Sulja give Corvus, that Corvus either 1) never had or 2) had at one point, but lost?

    If we look at the video game The Last of Us we see this same sort of set up. Joel is given the task of saving Ellie because Ellie holds the key to saving the world. But there is a bond that is created between Joel and Ellie that's explained by the fact that early in the game, Joel's daughter Sarah is killed. Ellie is about the same age and has the same mannerisms as Sarah, and so begins to serve as that surrogate child to Joel. This becomes the foundation of his love and attachment for Ellie and starts to influence the decisions he makes later on.

    And this could be something that was lost directly due to the very same decision that caused him to offend the Gods to begin with, thus making his true hell and punishment, not that he did something wrong and thus became a servant compelled to serve the gods for eternity, but what he deprived himself of.

    This sort of irony is found in Greek mythology. Greek culture places pride as the single, most offensive sin against the gods. Pride, understood by Greeks and Christians (which was heavily influenced by Greek thinking) is when a person pits his or her will against god.

    When Agamemnon showed this offensive pride by killing a deer sacred to the Goddess Artemis and boasting his skill over her, she stopped the winds and stranded the fleet on her island until Agamemnon scarified his daughter to appease the goddess. Now, he is suffering, not because he simply offended Artemis, but because his actions deprived him of a loved one.

    In Christianity, pride is one of the seven deadly sins, and many Christian leaders cite it as the root of numerous evils. It was Cain's pride that caused him to slay Abel. It was Judas's pride that caused him to betray Christ. Pride was the cause of Saul's enmity towards King David, and later King David's own downfall and the turning of his children against each other.

    Yes, this is a bit cliche, but it is also very human.
     
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  11. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    These are some very good points to go off of. And since I am heavily basing this story off of mythology and folklore, your references will help a great deal.

    As I am still developing Corvus's backstory, I'm not sure what Sulja could provide for him that he's never had. However, I can give some options based on what Corvus did have previously. To start off, one thing Corvus will immediately be depreived of would be his younger brother. Therefore, one option would be that he could view Sulja as a surrogate younger brother of sorts.

    Another option that I was originally going to go with was friendship. Ever since committing his crime, Corvus has had little to no friends, and that ones that he does have are moreso acquaintances. So, to have someone Corvus can actually call a friend without any ulterior motives would be a nice thing in of itself.
     
  12. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    Either of those ideas could work. And remember, you can always change your mind if you're going a direction. You could even make it that Sulja is both of these things, so therefore represents everything that was lost.
     
  13. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    I see.

    This also makes me think that some conflict could potentially arise from this as, even though Sulja does value Corvus as a friend, Corvus could pin certain expectations on him due to his projecting an image of a younger brother or even a friend on him. When Sulja is unable to meet those expectations, it forces Corvus to realize that Sulja is not his lost sibling. He is his own person. Something along those lines.
     
  14. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    One of my favorite (mild) subversions of the mentor trope is to have the mentor be too cool, apathetic, excitable, occupied, etc. to really stick around for the entire story. This is an alternative to killing him off, Obi-wan style. The mentor could be evil but that is probably more cliche than them just being too cool for school. Making them unreliable or a have an off putting personality can also accomplish this.

    Examples of mentors who are unavailable for non-dying reasons (through a majority of the stories):
    • Gandalf, wizards have many duties. He can only help so much because he needs to go off to the wizard council or something.
    • Chade (Fraser Trilogy), also a busy man, and he goes into hiding a couple times because court politics.
    • Dumbledore: He is kind of crazy, thinks being standoffish is more productive, and has to preserve the British boarding school power structure. So often is not available to Harry for the majority of the book series
    Of course, the mentor must be unavailable in some manner, otherwise the heroes have no time to shine.

    I don’t think mentors are any more cliche than the concept of “adventure” or “heroism” — it is just too universal to ignore. But there are tiresome ways of handling all of these aspects of fiction.
     
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  15. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    Dude, ever read the Hunger Games?
     
  16. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    Yep.

    Catnis had two mentors. The previous champion, who was kind of a coolish lameish layabout. And also the stylist, who did get killed, mostly for dramatic effect.

    i don’t remember what happened to the former champion mentor guy. Did he survive until the end? He didn’t seem directly cliche, though the originality bar was a bit low for the entire series.
     
  17. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    Although this sort of subversion doesn't really fit into my overall vision of the story, this does seem really interesting. Like, yeah they're still somewhat of a Mentor. But, at the same time, they're not gonna constantly hold the protagonist's hand and reassure them for one reason or another. They won't be a doting, wise teacher that'll always be there to give advice as needed.

    I probably won't use this idea for this particular story, but I'll keep it in mind for something else. Thank you though!
     
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  18. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    Hello again!

    I just gave some ideas of how you could make Corvus more vibrant. You don't have to use all of the methods I suggested. Some might not work in your story. It was just brainstorming. With "dangling cause" I mean that Corvus has a cause, might be a dilemma of sorts that will manifest in the future, as the story unravels. Let's say that in the beginning, Corvus didn't feel anything about Sulja. He didn't care the least bit about him so he didn't care knowing that he was going to die. Going on, Corvus gets closer to Sulja and starts liking him, a little bit more, day by day. In the end (as you said) he comes to the realisation that the boy affected him to the extent that he cares to help him escape the evil cause he initially had for him. This means that he has to admit first to himself that he has to change his course of action, betraying his original mission and master and secondly, find a way to communicate this to Sulja, without losing his trust and friendship. This is Corvus's struggle. His cause changed and the reader sees him trying to come up with a plan upon this. It's not the main theme of the story but it's a very important cause, because it affects the dynamic between him and the protagonist.

    For example, Sulja might learn from a third party the truth about Corvus and his initial plan and lose his trust and feel betrayed. He might even become his enemy! In this scenario, Corvus has to figure out a way to regain his trust. To prove his remorse or at least explain himself. That's what I mean with cause and effect. At some point we know as readers that Sulja is going to find out the truth, one way or another. Depending on the way and the circumstances upon this revelation, his relationship with Corvus will go through a rollercoaster ride, which might end up in an oasis (their bond deepens) or a fatal crash (become sworn enemies).

    To put this much more plainly:

    Corvus:

    Cause: "By the end of this month I'm going to tell Sulja the truth in a way that he won't hate me, because I want to save him and remain in good terms with him".
    Effect: "Corvus lost Sulja's trust and Sulja turned on him. Whatsoever, Corvus persevered and regained Sulja's trust. They're bond became stronger after this incident."

    The "effect" is something that the reader wonders about throughout the story and awaits for an outcome.

    Farewell for now!
     
  19. Andi. Just Andi.

    Andi. Just Andi. Active Member

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    Thank you for the clarification! This does have really great potential for a great conflict that isn't just formed from some petty misunderstanding romance movies are infamous for. However, I'm not sure how this conflict would fit into the beginning where the journey begins after they run away together. Therefore, there is an upcoming conflict that occurs later on in the story.

    I don't really mind giving away more of the story since writing my ideas out for other people to read helps my process. Anyway, the conflict goes as follows: Throughout the story and prior to it, Corvus was withheld a lot of info about his past because, well, if you learned someone killed their own brother, would you feel comfortable around that person? Anyway, when Corvus finally feels as though he can trust Sulja, he divulges more info about himself. Seeing as family is really important to Sulja, he can't imagine why someone would do something such as that, and he starts keeping his distance from Corvus.

    To involve the conflict you came up with into this scenario, Sulja could remember the trust established between them from Corvus basically putting his own life on the line just by telling him Ava's plans. That can help Sulja realize that he's being unfair and treating Corvus wrong.

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure how else I can involve this conflict for now. But, thank you for your suggestion!
     
  20. Richach

    Richach Senior Member

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    I would say don't force your characters. I have characters in my WIP that were never intended to play main roles but they end up doing just that. I've also had intended MC's that have still not fulfilled such potential. Let your characters grow naturally.
     

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