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  1. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    To kill off a mentor/friend or not?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Pharthan, May 4, 2017.

    I know this sort of seems more about plot-development based on the title, but the reasoning is much more geared towards MC's personal character development.

    I'm currently writing a sci-fi series about a character who operates what equates to shipboard nuclear reactors. Being that this job is incredibly boring to read about, he's going to branch off and become a much more action-involved character, with this process starting while he is an operator, learning the new skills as a hobby, being taught by a friend who is essentially Special Forces. The friend proves to be a more level-headed individual and, seeing as he's teaching, he takes on a mentor-role as well for the main character, driving his character development.

    Really bad stuff happens. MC is saved by Mentor-Buddy. MC has moment of success and helps save surviving party, but everyone's still all super-depressed because of the really bad stuff that happened.

    MC gets training to be superawesome by military, with mentor-buddy's chain of command pulling some strings to help him out and he gets what are essentially technological superpowers that all special forces dudes have.

    One thing I need to work out:
    I want them to stay together for at least a good portion of the following story, but military logistics being what it is, this is unlikely. I can explain this away, though.

    Killing him off would add drama. Statistically speaking, it's combat, so people will die, and it will cause MC pain. He doesn't need more pain, though.

    But if I do, it will drastically alter the MC's state of mind further into the hole I want to drive it into - "the worst enemy he has to overcome is himself" - so that he can have a moment of actualization and victory in the end, where he manages to recover from a pit of anguish and hatred for those who have wronged him, and proves to be the better man, forgive himself, yadda yadda.

    What I do need are more solid characters to work with, though. I have plans for a couple, but it's going to be hard to have many due to the transient nature of friendships in a military lifestyle. This one mentor-character is one of the few MC can actually have.
    Do I kill him off to drive the plot?
    Keep him around to kill him later, i.e. potential sequel?
    Or just not kill him at all, leaving him to go off on his own adventures, eventually?
     
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  2. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

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    I'd like to recommend another option: What if he goes MIA? Possibly captured, possibly killed... your MC wouldn't know what happened. He'd begin to spiral with all of the questions and unknowns and find himself in that familiar pit of self-hatred... all of the things he'd go through if the buddy was dead. He can still go through the drastic state of mind change and when/if the buddy comes back your MC will realize that he did this to himself and the world didn't do this to him, he did it to himself.
     
  3. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I'm not one to decide other people's plots for them, but I will say that mentor characters dying to further mcs' development is a pretty common trope. You might want to avoid it just on those grounds unless you've got an interesting spin on it.
     
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  4. Marina Grönbäck

    Marina Grönbäck New Member

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    Thanks for sharing this with us
     
  5. The Scarred Servant

    The Scarred Servant Member

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    This is a pretty interesting angle, and could create further intrigue with having the mentor figure see what the MC has become as a good tragic and tension-filled moment.
     
  6. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    This option gets my vote. HOWEVER. You'd have to play your cards right to avoid the disappearance looking convenient or contrived when he reappears. If the mentor buddy figure only exists in order to disappear, in order to push the MC further into his despair, in order to reappear and drive home the message that the MC's despair was self-inflicted, this runs the risk of the mentor buddy guy being a pretty bland character who only exists for the furtherance of the MC's development.

    Give the mentor a reason to need the MC, just as the MC has a reason to need the mentor. Even if it's just really simple: the MC gives the mentor comic relief, or is really great at those pesky sudoku puzzles the mentor loves but is useless with. Remember: the mentor needs to be a well developed character who exists in the story because HE deserves to be there, not just because the MC needs him.
     
  7. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    This is actually a really good idea. Killing him off is rather tropey.

    The mentor exists for far more than to just disappear, I'd been writing him for a while before I came up with this notion of whether or not he needs to die.

    There is actually a really good, long period where he won't be near the MC at all, off doing his own thing, which would be an ideal time for him to go MIA.

    As for making the Mentor need the MC, Chase, that's a good angle I hadn't thought of.
    It's not so much that the MC is incompetent (though that is the mental struggle the MC is having), he's actually a pretty smart dude, but it's the effect of a nerd trying to become a combat soldier. The Mentor-character attended the same training school as the MC (at different times), so the Mentor is also a smart, technically-minded dude, but due to administrative errors he was temporarily removed from the training program, and then found to be fine and allowed to pick his new job, whereupon he became a superawesome special forces guy. So the MC, in this regard, is the friend the Mentor-character can talk to about sciencey stuff - Special Forces are smart, but they aren't nerdy, and I can totally rewrite the Mentor as being "the nerd" among the special forces guys.
    It could also be that the Mentor sees a person that just needs help, and Mentor is a helping-type-of-guy. MC and Mentor are legitimately friends, so part of what they're both getting from the relationship is friendship, though I should probably convey that more.
     
  8. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    I have not read the other responses, but my initial reaction is "trope". MC's mentor dies resulting in MC either having to avenge death or survive alone. If it is required for character development, then fine, but otherwise, why not just keep him as a father figure? Does he have to die? Does it improve the piece?
     
  9. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    He doesn't have to die, no.
    A large part of my thinking is "Statistically speaking, people will die." More about realism than plot development.

    My goal is to shift him from being a mentor to just a very good friend who is a good influence and a "shoulder to cry on" for things MC is not comfortable telling his wife.

    MC already has the whole "Avenge and survive" thing down. The "survive" is going to be a big point for my next two chapters I have yet to write.
     
  10. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    Personally I think it would be nice to keep him as an Alfred figure.
     
  11. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Could the mentor be transferred away somewhere else by military command higher up? The main character would feel the loss, if that's what you need, but the mentor wouldn't be dead, nor would he be missing (and needing to be found, etc.) It also leaves the possibility of reunion later on, if you want him for more stories.
     
  12. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    He's spec ops. Not going to be Alfred'ing.

    This is actually what happens for a while. Loss would be less than you might think on its own - it's expected in the military and the lead-in is pretty long to the transfer. He does feel alone, granted.
     
  13. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What if he was spec-ops but wounded out of operator status? Not sure exactly how much in the way of "technological superpowers" your guys have, but there has to be something that would render him no longer effective as a fighter, but still able to serve in a planning/advisory/command role.
     
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  14. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

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    My take? I don't think there'd be a 'transient nature of friendship' at all. Going off my own experiences as a sailor, every guy I've worked with on a boat (no matter how short a time) is still in the forefront of my mind. I'd greet them as an old friend and be overjoyed to meet them again. They are still my buddies.

    Sure, we may have clashed in personality during the ride (and would clash again, if we met), but at the end of the line they were still there for me (and vice versa). I'm not unique in that: every intensive experience leaves this bond, and I think being in combat together is one of the most intensive experiences a person can have.

    This worries me. I don't think an operator would teach a friend this kind of stuff. Sure, basic skills like CQB by the book, or how to take care of a weapon and not shoot yourself in the foot, but the more advanced skills would be off-limits. And besides, learning these skills takes years. How much of a timespan are we talking about?

    This is another one I'm worried about. From all I've read, SF members are very streamlined thinkers. They can't afford to get side-tracked or rattled, because if one makes a mistake, all are in deep shit. If your MC is not this kind of guy, he wouldn't get to be an operator. Or at least I think so. Take it with a grain of salt. I'm just an interested bystander :D
     
  15. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I tend to agree - SF types aren't likely to be teaching their non SF friends 'skills' - in theory they arent even supposed to let on that they are SF, although close friends tend to know. If somebody was show boating and showing off their n"SF skills" to all and sundry, I'd conclude that they are a wannabe walt, not an actual operator

    IMO needs to join SF first, then be mentored by his mate, not the other way round

    (ETA I have a feeling Caden, Iain, and I are all using the word operator in the SF sense, but the OP may mean while hes still operating his machinery)

    On point - I killed off my MC's mentor in After the wave... further more he died as a result of a cock up on the MCs part ... its war, shit happens. EOTD yes its a bit tropey, but as with cliches tropes don't really matter if you write them well and don't over do them.
     
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  16. Thomas Babel

    Thomas Babel Member

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    Ballsiest move Lucas ever made: killing off the mentor in the first movie. The reason it worked is it served to give Luke's character more depth by showing Luke has anger, hatred, and the will to kill; it set up the possibility that he could go to the dark side, given his attachment. So... the answer to the question isn't "is it okay to kill a friend and mentor," the question is "does the killing of this friend and mentor serve a crucial purpose."
     
  17. Thomas Babel

    Thomas Babel Member

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    You can do ANYTHING you want, as long as it pays off.
     
  18. Minty Talons

    Minty Talons Member

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    Why not cripple him. He see's his mentor go from badass super-soldier to unemployed and disabled.
    That would certainly scar him abit not to mention giving him a great fear to overcome.

    But due to the advanced sci-fi in your story you could also bring the character back for a sequel.
     
  19. Ulquiorra9000

    Ulquiorra9000 Member

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    I was going to say what Minty Talons said... the mentor can be physically disabled, which limits his combat abilities and even everyday tasks, and/or mentally harmed, such as a head injury, insanity, exposure to something causing mental harm or loss of memory... done right, it may cause the MC more anguish than simple death. Seeing your mentor broken can be demoralizing! Such as, "what if I end up like that?" or "even the strongest are more fragile than I thought."
     
  20. Pharthan

    Pharthan Active Member

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    Of course.
    What I mean is that while they are nowhere near you, they aren't the buddies you go and hang out with. You are certainly still attached to them after a fashion; if any of them said, "Hey, I'll be in town for a night, can I crash at your place?" You'd say "Oh hell yes you are!" But they aren't your immediate friends; you expect to "lose" your military friends.


    MC shows promise early on with the skills; a very, very low level of them is available to all sailors in this 'verse (or at least in this starnation), and MC shows that he is adept at them (being an "adept" is notable). Mentor Character teaches him some basics. He learns the meat-and-potatoes at a training school while Mentor goes off to fight a war that starts because of things mentioned in the original post.


    MC doesn't wind up being an Operator, he goes a different route, working with SF. Think more CIA working with SEALs.
    But this is an excellent point I need to include.

    When you're on a warship, you know who the SF guys are. Trust me. "Hey, who are those physically fit guys in forest fatigues walking around with sweet a** tricked-out M-4s that are way cooler than what Security gets?"
    ".... Uh, nobody. Nobody at all."
    He only gets rudimentary training, and the Mentor's Chain of Command is a bit more lenient.
    Yeah, pretty much. I may try to complete my "post your own work" requirements soon and put out a few chapters.


    As far as disability: Not exactly a problem in this universe.
    Mentor-character is already missing an arm.... except it was replaced with a replica-bionic arm that houses gear that serves to further his technomantic abilities.
     
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  21. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Are american SF routinely stationed on warships then ? - I thought that was pretty much limited to green army USMC dets.
     
  22. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Contributor

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    @big soft moose : The OP is talking about sci-fi ;)
     
  23. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'd urge you to reconsider that. Even if you don't use the "injured mentor" thing in your story, I'd have a hard time believing a universe where any wound that's not immediately fatal is completely repairable. I could go with the bionic arm, but surely there's some chance of nerve damage, organ injuries, or really bad PTSD that can take people out of the actual fighting without burying them. Psychology is getting better, but there are still very tough guys (and girls too) who served for years before things caught up with them, mentally and emotionally.


    I know what all of those words mean individually, but I've never seen that combination before. "Green" as in noob? army USMC confuses me, and I don't think the guys on float consider it a det, except for very oddball units.

    Speaking of oddball units, the unit I used to be with was one of the ones that wouldn't even open an MRE without being behind a triple strand of barbed wire because reasons. Not exactly badass, but you know the guys with all the weird electronic gear? Yeah. So in Desert Storm, the story goes, there were these two Marine lance corporals, with a corporal in charge of them, in a tent with a lot of concertina and funny looking stuff, doing what junior enlisted do when left without adult supervision, like not shaving, not wearing proper uniforms, suntanning themselves, blasting the music, etc. Lo and behold, an Army major (or some such) rolls up on the site in his Humvee. He's about to go into full-bore officer mode when the 23 year-old corporal, who is only wearing bits and pieces of uniform, along with bits and pieces of beachwear, says to him "Listen, major, I don't know what the fuck you think you're doing out here, but you've got no business being here, you were never here, and you certainly did not see anything in this particular bit of desert. Am I clear? Now fuck off," and off the major fucked, convinced he'd seen something he wasn't cleared to see.

    Or so the story goes, no idea if it's true, but the guys who told it were crazy enough to have tried it...
     
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  24. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Yes but he said "trust me" like he'd experienced it - assuming he's not from the future I have to conclude he's talking about his experience on board a floating warship
     
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  25. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    In the UK "Green army" means 'not Special forces' (its a misnomer because the SF wear green a lot too, but it comes from the idea of operators wearing black assault kit)

    So I know the marines aren't part of the army, I just meant that warship duty would be the preserve of standard USMC not of USMC Special forces.

    In regard of det - I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that the units on board frigates, destroyers etc would be detached from their parent units.

    My core point however was that sailors presumably wouldnt routinely see special forces types wandering about with tricked out rifles unless they were supporting a special operation
     
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