Might as well get it out of the way: if you're a mentor in a story, chances are you're going on a boatride over the river Styx at some point.
When a mentor dies it's often the signal that the main character, the one being mentored, is ready to fly solo, to come into his/her own and even surpass the mentor, thus fulfilling the mentor's character arc as well.
But- first off, it doesn't have to be that way. Sometimes mentors live, and they just walk away from their mentee's life because they have fulfilled their purpose. Sometimes they have their own goals to achieve and their path takes them away from that of their mentee anyway- with maybe the hope, or the chance, that they meet again in the future as equals, or allies, or even rivals.
Second off, that is the end of the line for them. Their work is done, and they walk out of the picture one way or the other.
What about the work itself?
I'd written articles before about mentors and the huge variety that their personalities can have, but that aside, there remains one common denominator: they need to consciously and actively help the main character develop and progress in their hero's journey in some manner.
What does that entail?
There is of course, teaching. Mentors always impart knowledge and experience that they have amassed, so their student/mentee won't need to go through the same experiences in order to get the same lessons.
The mentor is the giant on whose shoulders the main character is, eventually, going to stand. And the story has to be able to demonstrate that.
No matter what their personality (from cryptic to narcissistic to cynical to pious to serene to explosive), their behavior has to exhume experience, confidence, and self-awareness when it comes to the things they are mentoring the main character on.
They might be a complete brick when it comes to romance, but they have to be immediately shown to be experts when it comes to de-escalating a volatile situation, for example. (Their shortcomings might tie in to the mentor's own character arc, if they got one, and not just comedic hijinks)
A mentor that is written properly when it comes to mentoring does not preach as a rule. They might lecture their mentee if the mentee messed up, but most of the mentoring should happen by example. The main character has to witness the mentor handling a situation in an expert way, rather than be told how to do things all the time.
Teaching aside, the mentor is also emotional support. Even if that is not evident (like with ‘tough love’ mentors), even if they are very reluctant to even acknowledge the role of mentor, the mentor must always help the main character feel stronger, better, more determined. They will not kick them when they're down, but they will also not enable them when they're begging for things that will harm them. They will reach out to pull the main character out of a rut even if the main character actively fights them for his/her bid to stay in said rut.
A mentor that makes the main character feel constantly belittled, trashed, or otherwise trampled on is not a mentor (they may be a false mentor that gets punted by the real one further down the story).
Great examples of mentors and mentoring arcs are Iroh to Zuko, from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Mr. Miyagi to Daniel from Karate Kid, Hiko to Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin, Bishop Myriel to Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, Abbe Faria to Edmond Dantes from Count of Monte Christo, Marmee March to Jo March in Little Women, and many more.
There is also a misconception that there can only be one mentor for one main character in a story. That is not true. A main character can have several mentors, either in succession or in tandem, and each one can impart different elements and morsels of wisdom rather than have one single all-knowing mentor do everything.
Are there mentors in your story? If so, how are they handling their mentoring?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Oct. 17, 2020
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