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Why your mentor character sucks, is cliche', and how you're novel is missing out on the thematic truth your readers are craving.
Wise old men who are full of Power & knowledge-NEXT!!
Firstly, it’s time this stereotype ends. Period. It’s not a thing anymore and more importantly-IT’S BORING. So, now that that’s out of the way, we can get to the good stuff.
Why Have A Mentor?
Secondly, even though I feel like this is self-explanatory, sometimes people need a refresher course in this archetype. I’m going to go about this archetype in the exact same way I did in my last blog post, “What Is A Contagonist And Why Your Novel Needs One”. In that post, we explained that the Contagonist was created to oppose the Mentor by the creators of Dramatica. (I highly recommend you go read that post because the two characters are deeply intertwined.) They are each other’s equal opposites, each creating stark contrast FOR the Protagonist. Additionally, the Mentor is more than just a source of inspiration and knowledge for the hero. The Mentor is the Protagonist’s direct source for one of your novel’s prime directives: The Thematic Truth.
What is A Story's Thematic Truth?
Many different writers and authors have described this many different ways and called it many different things-but it all boils down to this: The Thematic Truth is the core message your protagonists (and audience) reach at the end of the story. The Lie your character believes (if well written) helps steer the plot to the ultimate discovery of The Truth by your Protagonist. The lesson learned. Theme. A Positive Character Arc. Whatever you wanna call it, it’s all pretty much the same thing.
Okay, great! So why am I writing this Mentor character so wrong and what do they have to do with The Thematic Truth?
Jenny, our resistant hero, thinks she CAN fix everything, every time. This is her "lie" that she believes. The Thematic Truth for Jenny would be something along the lines of:
“Though I know people rely on me often for many things, and I also have a desire to help those I love, I can’t continue to damage my own heart and risk my own life for others. That possibly, if I say “No”, which I find difficult to do, I can begin to respect myself more and set healthy boundaries. Because if I am constantly filling everyone else’s cups, how can I possibly fill my own?”
It's not about The Plot-it's about The Lie, The Journey, and The Truth.
Therefore, the Mentor character is the facilitator of that truth in many ways. They’re not there to merely teach our hero the skills they need to get through the plot. There’s so much more potential there. The Mentor pushes and challenges and demands the Protagonist to wake up to their lie. To see it in it’s totality and then see The Truth they’ve been blinded to the entire story. That is a completed positive character arc. It’s when they SEE The Truth as it is, for what it is, and how that changes them profoundly from within. Furthermore, perpetuating a positive change from within. I recommend reading K.M. Weiland’s series on Theme here.