To start my off the series on clichés, I’m going to expose one of my favorite hackneyed characters: the mentor.
Mentors serve important roles in fiction. They play to part of an example, somebody who’s been there. The main character needs guidance. They want things explained to them. They want to ask questions of somebody who knows what it’s about. There’s nothing wrong with having a character like this.
The problem lies with portrayal. Something to always remember: no character is a role. Every character is a person. The difference between a person and a role is essential. When a character is simply a role, everything falls into place just a little too easily. Here are characteristics of a mentor role:
· A mentor is older than those they are teaching
· A mentor knows just what it’s like to be in the main character’s position
· They’ve been there—and come away wiser. They’ve somehow managed to learn all the important lessons
· They always know just how to verbalize those lessons in pithy little sayings (clichés.)
· They are officially done making mistakes themselves (you know, we’ve all got to get over that sometime.)
· They say “Ah,” a lot more than us normal people do
Yeah. You know these people. It’s quite convenient to throw these characters in, just so somebody can be there to be the source of all those profound one-liners you’ve been thinking up to drive your novel’s message home. The problem is, that’s all they are.
In my opinion, every character should have something to gain from being in the story. They learn, they change, they develop. Mentors don’t. They’re already all finished and complete at their first entrance. No real character is ever finished.
You’re mentor character is an individual. Don’t deny them their rights as an individual. Develop a character profile for your mentor character that lends itself to progress—a story of their own. Remember they have a life. In their life, they are the protagonist. Who’s going to answer their questions?
Here’s a small list of quick twists that you might use to flesh-out your mentor character:
· They have a troubling secret
· They don’t actually live by all those pithy little sayings
· They sometimes lose their temper with the protagonist
· They sometimes can’t express what they truly mean
· They’re secretly in love with the antagonist
You need to remember to have fun with every one of your characters. Don’t worry that these little twists will make them less helpful to your protagonist. (Some might actually help. Think about it.) A character is always more likable if they are more real. You want your reader to connect with the mentor. They’ll listen to them better if they do.
And, one final thing: “Ah.” If you really have to make your character use this interjection…fine. I guess.