This is part 7 in a series called The Epic Guide to Character Creation. In this part I will show you different mentor archetypes. I will provide examples of characters from both literature and movies/TV-series to provide you with an overall understanding of fictional characters. Let’s get started:
Who is the Mentor?
The mentor is generally a common character in fantasy and science fiction. However, you can have a mentor in other genres as well.
The mentor is a secondary character. He/she is a source of knowledge, information, support, etc. for your story’s protagonist.
The mentor can appear into the story at any time. He/she can be introduced at the very beginning of the story and be reveled to have helped the protagonist with minor issues in the past. The mentor may also be introduced when the protagonist is in trouble. Some mentors also travel with the protagonist on his/her journey.
The mentor can also take many different roles. He/she may teach the protagonist valuable lessons, help the protagonist develop a certain skill, reveal vital information (for example about the antagonist). The mentor may also act as an example of what the protagonist should not be or should not do.
If you want to craft a mentor for your story you need to give him/her a strong purpose.
Categorizing the Mentor
If you want to know more about the categories that follow, you can read the first post in this Epic Guide to Character Creation-series: The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 1: Categorizing Your Characters
Dynamic or Static, Round or Flat? You should craft a static mentor. The mentor is meant to be a source of guidance for your protagonist and should, therefore, already be who he/she is meant to be (he/she should not have a major development/growth through the story).
Your mentor can be either round or flat. A round mentor may have a background story that have some meaning to the plot (perhaps he/she has crossed path with the antagonist in the past and that’s why the mentor know so much about the antagonist).
A flat mentor may serve as a guiding light for the protagonist and his/her development, and stand more in the background in order to avoid taking too much focus of the story.
Black, White or Grey? The mentor can be either a white or a grey character. While many mentors are white characters, grey mentors are not unheard of.
White mentors often have wisdom obtained after years and years of experience. They use this wisdom for good, to help the protagonist on his/her journey in order for him/her to meet their goal.
Grey mentors are usually troubled characters that get involved with helping the protagonist not because he/she necessarily want to (the mentor may not even like the protagonist) but because he/she is forced to do it (perhaps the fate of the world is dependent on it).
Common Mentor Archetypes
The most common mentor archetypes, and some examples to these, are:
- The Master — Yoda in Star Wars, Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid
- The Wise Man — Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter
- The Counsellor — Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings
- The Experienced Friend — Sirius Black in Harry Potter, Haymitch Abernathy in The Hunger Games
Descriptions of the Mentor Archetypes
Here are a few notes on what signifies the different mentor archetypes.
This mentor archetype is usually an older male character. The master is meant to teach the protagonist some kind of skill. Yoda teaches Luke the ways of the Force (Star Wars), and Mr Miyagi teaches Daniel the skills of karate (The Karate Kid).
The Wise Man
This mentor archetype is also an elderly male character. The wise man is a very common mentor archetype in, especially, fantasy. He is often very powerful and have a lot of experience from his many years in life (it’s common that these wise men are a hundred years old or older). He may also have been a hero who fought his own battles against evil in his past, and through that experience learned the skills he now excels in.
This mentor archetype can be either male or female. The counsellor is often wise, a good adviser, and may bring light to the protagonist’s darker paths. He/she will guide the protagonist onto the right path and may even help spur on the protagonist’s development.
The Experienced Friend
This mentor archetype can be either male or female. The experienced friend have usually gone through a similar journey to the one the protagonist is experiencing (like Haymitch), he/she may also have a larger understanding and experience of the world and the darker parts of life (like Sirius). No matter what, this mentor’s experience will offer the protagonist a way to deal with the challenges that lie ahead or the problems he/she face at the moment.
How to Choose a Mentor
There are some general guidelines that may help you choose a mentor who will suit your story.
Your mentor should first and foremost give guidance to your protagonist. It’s your choice to decide in which way the mentor should help your protagonist, just make sure it gets the effect you want in your story (what you want your story to be in the end, what you want your reader to feel when he/she has read your book, etc.).
Your mentor can either guide your protagonist on an emotional level (to motivate, inspire, to offer the protagonist courage, etc.), on a physical level (by physically training the protagonist, by showing the protagonist the right way on his/her physical journey, etc.), on an intellectual level (by education, by sharing knowledge, by teaching the protagonist something vital or helping him/her find a unique skill, etc.). The choices are many.
Loyalty and sacrifice
Your mentor should always have your protagonist’s back, no matter what (even if the mentor is a grey character and even if he/she may not like the protagonist). In the end, the mentor will realize that the protagonist’s journey towards the antagonist is what matters most (not whether the mentor likes the protagonist or not).
The mentor should also be capable of sacrifice. Gandalf sacrifices himself in Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring in order to protect the rest of the Fellowship. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Sirius Black gets killed when he’s fighting the Death Eaters in order to rescue Harry and his friends in the Ministry.
Your mentor’s sacrifice doesn’t have to end in death, but you should make sure that (if he/she is in a position where a sacrifice is needed) it’s a sacrifice to save the protagonist and offer him/her the chance to continue on in his/her fight against evil.
This was the last post in this series on character creation. I hope they have been helpful.