How to Use a Mentor Character in Your Novel, by Samantha Smith

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Today’s guest article is written by teen contributor, Samantha Smith.

How to Use a Mentor Character

If your goal in your novel is to have your Hero learn something by the end of the book, you most likely will use a Mentor. Although mainly used in the genre fantasy, with a little work, you can form a Mentor for any genre or style of novel you are writing.

Some examples of popular Mentors are Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, Haymitch/Cinna in the Hunger Games, Rafiki in The Lion King, and Dumbledore in Harry Potter.

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Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

What is a Mentor character?

A Mentor character is there to guide your Hero, to direct them, to show them the way. The Mentor provides advice, experience, hope, kindness, motivation and sometimes disappointment. Mentor characters are great fun to use, although there are some novels where Mentor characters are non-existent because the Hero needs to figure out things for himself, or there is just no need for one.

How can I create a good, solid Mentor, you may ask?

Here are some ways you can create a memorable Mentor:

1.)   Don’t let the Mentor solve the problem. Whether you follow all the advice I give you, or whether you only use a couple of rules, please let this be one of them. Whatever you do in your novel, no matter how stuck you may seem, no matter how bad of a situation your character is in, do not let your Mentor solve the problem. If you let your Mentor solve the problem, and don’t let your Hero have the “oh my goodness, I know what I’m supposed to do!” light bulb moment, then you might as well have written your novel about the Mentor. As I stated before, your Mentor is there to guide your Hero and point him in the direction he should go. He is not there to solve all the problems. Plus, if you allow your Mentor to have some faults and not know every answer to the questions your Hero might ask, you could work some really good plot-holes into the scene.

2.)   Don’t let your Mentor be perfect. On the topic of giving your Mentor faults, you should really strive to not letting your Mentor become too perfect. You have heard this rule before: “Don’t let your Hero become perfect” and that is an excellent rule. But if you chose to use a Mentor in your novel, you need to really make sure your Mentor isn’t absolutely faultless. It won’t be an interesting novel if your Mentor has all the answers, which would end up making it easy for your Hero to solve the plot of your book. No one wants to read a novel where it’s easy for the problem to be solved.

3.)   Your Mentor must be completely absorbed with helping your Hero. No one wants to read a novel where the Mentor is half-hearted in what he does. It makes for a slow read, and I personally don’t find it at all interesting when one of the characters in the book doesn’t find it interesting, either.

HG Photo Drawing, Smaller Size

*I would like to add that there are some instances where you could write some good humor with a half-hearted Mentor. Haymitch in the Hunger Games didn’t really have Katniss and Peeta’s best interest during the first ¾’s of the book, and that added some very nice humor. Another example is Nuic, Elli’s marayth, in the Great Tree of Avalon. Both of the Mentors were only helping because they had to in the beginning, but after they saw the ability and greatness of the Hero, they pulled through.*

4.)   Make your Mentor a little off, or have some quirky behaviors. ***This is completely optional, I just find that in everything I’ve ever written that requires a Mentor I have done this. ***

The Mentor, if used correctly, can create character, depth and add humor to your book. Haymitch in the Hunger Games was annoying at times, but the small snippets of humor you got out of him were so much fun to read! I usually make my Mentor crazy, or say things at the wrong time, or he has little quirky behaviors. It gives your reader a breather before you launch him back into a battle scene or dialogue argument.

Overall, Mentors can be used to benefit your novel greatly! I know that if you spend as much time working on your Mentors as you do your Heroes, you can make a very memorable story.

What’s your MENTOR CHARACTER like?

 

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Comments

  1. Interesting article with many good points. As I work on the sequel to Ozette’s Destiny, I think I may need to further develop the Divine Miss Piddlewinks a bit more as a character as she is as close to a mentor as Ozette has had.

    • Hi Judy – A mentor can spice up your story and get your character to see things they wouldn’t ordinarily see.

      Btw, I wrote a review of Ozette’s Destiny last night. I put it at Amazon and Goodreads. Well done!

      Michelle

  2. Carol A. Hyatt says:

    I also thought this was an interesting article and read parts of it outloud. My first novel, based on a true story, sadly, does not have a mentor. I look forward to writing and reading other novels with mentors. Thanks again for these focused, helpful, writing rants.

    • Hi Carol –

      Not every novel has a mentor character, but having one could add more depth to your story. Your mentor’s story could be a subplot to the greater picture.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting on Samantha’s post!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting! (:

  3. Drew Carson says:

    Nice job, Samantha! Glad to see this got posted!
    In my current WIP, the ‘mentor’ is going to be very controversial and sometimes detached. I hope this will provide some feelings of tension, betrayal, regret – all those horrible things that we love to inflict upon our characters. (:
    What’s yours like?

    • Hi Drew,
      Thanks for editing this for Sam, too. She said you helped her. I love that!
      My YA mentor, Aunt Fifi (short for Stephanie) is quirky, pink-haired, stiletto-heeled, brazen, direct, and speaks with a twang. She adds humor to the story. I really enjoyed working her in because she’s fun and is the one who helps WILLOW learn to accept herself for whom she is.
      Your mentor sounds scary–the detached part. Does he help your protag at all? He sounds more like the villain. Does he draw out your protag’s character or teach him something? Just curious.
      Thanks for stopping by.
      Michelle

    • Oh I just love inflicting things like that on my characters. I don’t know why, I guess thats just what writers do.
      Drew-
      I haven’t exactly created my Mentor for what I’m working on yet. I’m still sculpting the main character (and main characters take forever to create!), so as of now, the Mentor is in the back of my head.
      In previous things I’ve used the Mentor to guide my character, but, as I said, I always made him a little quirky, just to add entertainment to the book.
      And yes! I cant thank you enough for helping me edit this!

      Michelle- I think I like your Mentor the most!. She sounds so intriguing! Especially in her fashion sense!

  4. Beth Steury says:

    My YA novel’s teenage guy main character (Preston) has a mentor, his former Little League/Junior League coach who Preston later helps/works for in the community’s baseball program. “Coach” becomes Preston’s accountability partner. They have very candid discussions, and Coach holds Preston to a high standard. Some in my critique group have commented that Maggie, the teen girl main character, needs her own mentor/guide. I’ve toyed with this idea but do NOT want it to appear contrived. I’m revising now, hopefully for the last time!, so will have to make a decision soon. Any thoughts on a story having TWO mentors???

    • Hi Beth –
      Does Preston have his own POV (scenes) in your story? Or is the whole book from Maggie’s pov?

      In WILLOW, my male character, who has his own scenes from his pov, has a mentor too–he’s not as big of a character, but he’s there for Trae. (my male protag)

      I think it would be fine to add a mentor character for Maggie. But what genre are you writing this for? MG (middle grade) novels will be shorter than YA so you might have to consider the length of the story first. A mentor character will add pages to the story, but depth to your character too.

      Can Maggie have a girlfriend mentor?

      M

      • Beth Steury says:

        It’s definitely YA, not MG. The POV alternates between Preston and Maggie. Maggie’s best friend does NOT relay words of wisdom but she does meet someone later in the book who does encourage her in the right direction. I was concerned that this girl not come across as too wise & mature & un-teen-like. But i think it’s possible to make her believable AND a mentor-type figure. Thanks!

    • Monica C. says:

      Like Michelle said, could she have a girlfriend mentor? A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be an older person, or an authority figure. It could just be someone who knows more about something than the protagonist. In this case, it could be a friend her own age that helps to guide her through some things, or is a good example.

      • Beth Steury says:

        Her friend Claire is one year older and has experience in the area Maggie needs guidance so it makes sense. I’m afraid another adult mentor would be too much at this point in the story. Maybe later… Thanks for the feedback!

    • This might take away a little bit from the “clicheness” if you do decide you need an another adult mentor. Speaking from my own life, I often take on “mentors” without ever telling them this. Instead, I shadow their lives from a distance. I keep close tabs on them, watch how they handle issues in their lives, listen closely to any stories they share, and file all the information away in my mind.

      While I never have a traditional mentor that I talk to on a regular basis, I do have a wealth of knowledge of what other people have done in situations. I also end up with a wide variety of people I can glean ideas from without directly going into a, “Hey, this is what’s going on in my life,” tirade. Maybe something like this could cross over into a novel to help.

      • Hi Lauren – I love this comment. I guess I do this often, but never thought about the people I observe as my “mentors.” It goes to show that we always need to set a good example, doesn’t it? You never know who’s “watching” us and emulating our actions.
        Thanks for stopping by and encouraging.
        M

  5. Vie says:

    Great article, Samantha! I love your suggestion of the mentor being a bit quirky!

  6. Azaria says:

    I agree with this post completely! Actually, my novel writing teacher covered this in part of the curriculem. Have you heard of One Year Adventure Novel, for teen writers? That’s the curriculum I am taking.

    • I’m using the same curriculum! It’s amazing!
      I haven’t gotten to the part about the Mentor yet, though, but I bet it’ll be good! I’m only on lesson 8, I think. It’s the lesson entitled “Something To Want, Part Two”.

      • Okay, so I just looked through my “Compass” textbook to see what Mr. S said about it, and what he says is totally true! Although he only touches on it briefly, I feel like he thouroughly explored the Mentor. He gave some good advice!

    • Hey Azaria– I need to find this book–One Year Adventure Novel. Thanks for mentioning it. No wonder all you teen writers are rocking out the words and stories. Hmm… I’m sure there’s something I could learn from it too.
      Michelle

  7. Phew! Well then I’m glad to say that the mentor (the king) in my book is completely how he should be! 😉 He’s a bit like Dumbledore.

  8. Azaria says:

    Hey, that’s cool! I should have known, though… OYANers have a lot of things in common. I’m almost done the curriculum, and it has helped my writing so much!
    Here’s the link for the curriculum.
    http://www.oneyearnovel.com/

  9. Mentor characters are great…as long as they don’t take the limelight from the hero character. I’m really glad you had that listed as #1. Great post, Samantha!

  10. John says:

    Super useful points, thanks!

    Do you have a few suggestions on where to add a mentor? I’m not really sure where he should show up, to be honest.

    • It depends on the story. Typically the mentor is someone who’s close to your main character–a mother, brother, friend, who’s been through something similar to your character, who’s funny or has an opposite personality. It might help to know more about your story. In my YA novel, my main character is 17 and she goes to live with her eccentric aunt who becomes a mentor. The main character doesn’t think of her as a “mentor” but she helps her SEE things in life she wouldn’t ordinarily see. Great question, John! Give me your story and maybe I could help you brainstorm a mentor.
      Michelle

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