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Why is a mentor important?

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Old 06-22-2010, 01:49 PM
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Default Why is a mentor important?


I was just thinking that a lot of successful stories have "mentor-like" characters. Star Wars has Yoda, Harry Potter has Dumbledore, etc. What do they add to the story exactly? Are they a sort of walking, talking info dump that can dispense their knowledge and add in details/backstory, whatever?

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Old 06-22-2010, 01:53 PM
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Did you not just answer your own question...?

Originally Posted by That_Writer_Boy View Post
Star Wars has Yoda, Harry Potter has Dumbledore, etc. What do they add to the story exactly?

Are they a sort of walking, talking info dump that can dispense their knowledge and add in details/backstory, whatever?
In relation to the characters you're talking about anyway.
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Old 06-22-2010, 01:54 PM
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Oh, right. That was just a guess lol. Hmm... a good idea for my next novel.
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Old 06-22-2010, 01:59 PM
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Well amongst other uses I guess, but seemed to hit the nail on the head pretty well. Only the author kows why they really created them.
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Old 06-22-2010, 05:10 PM
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There is actually a general framework behind most "epic" narratives, if you are really interested in this, I suggest you read pick up the book "The Hero with a Thousands Faces" by Joseph Campbell.

It's an historical comparative analysis that explores mythologies around the world, and it's a really interesting read.
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Old 06-22-2010, 07:37 PM
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Another such archetypal wingman for heroes is the little comic sidekick or mascot. I refer to this character as "Cheetah" after the old Tarzan movies.
This is what the robots in Star Wars do--and one each of the dumbass style mascot and the smart, plot-breaking kind Iike Clyde in the old Eastwood movies)
"Short Round" in the second Indiana Jones film, some fish or bird or whatever in practically every Disney flick.

These are important characters. They very often break the plot open, reveal characterization. It's extremely common for them to be the focus of the last scene, with everybody laughing at their final antics for denoument. (The monkey in Ronald Reagan's "BedTime for Bonzo" etc)
Sometimes human--Barney Fife, the manservant in the Three/Four Musketeers, the theif in Conan
Very often animal of machine, as mentioned and... the dog in The Thin Man series, "Eddie" on Frazier.
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Old 06-22-2010, 07:39 PM
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The Old Master is rarely just an info-dump. That doesn't fit very well with either of the old greybeards you mention, or Gandalf, or Mr Miyagi in Karate Kid.

They are generally a beacon towards wholeness and acheivment of greater manhood. And very often major plot-breakers.
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Old 06-22-2010, 07:56 PM
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Young adults need mentors. Wizened ones to help guide them. Folks like Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and their ilk. Over achievers.
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Old 06-22-2010, 07:58 PM
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Gaines, what are you doing messing up Lin's good deed for the day?
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Old 06-22-2010, 08:10 PM
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Just being helpful.
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Old 06-22-2010, 09:08 PM
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Younger guys need the guiding influence of a steady hand on their buttocks.
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Old 06-23-2010, 12:45 AM
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I am biting my tongue... I am biting my tongue... I am biting my tongue... I am biting my tongue...

I try so hard to avoid the innuendo, but it stalks me I tell you, it stalks me!

I have to go now.

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Old 06-23-2010, 01:03 AM
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Originally Posted by That_Writer_Boy View Post
I was just thinking that a lot of successful stories have "mentor-like" characters. Star Wars has Yoda, Harry Potter has Dumbledore, etc. What do they add to the story exactly? Are they a sort of walking, talking info dump that can dispense their knowledge and add in details/backstory, whatever?
The mentor has the ability to affect the protagonist. For example, lets say your main character is experiencing the world, what they do would be reflected in their mentor. Now lets say the Mentor is lets say DARTH REVAN!!!! (MWAHAHAA) / (Now I don't follow canon), so lets say Darth Revan or the Exile if that's better, is influenced heavily by the dark side XD (that's so me).

Your protoganist will be influenced by your mentor (and those surrounding the protagonist will be influenced by the protagonist and sometimes even the mentor will be influenced by you). That's what a mentor is someone who guides you and influences maybe having their own personal changes themselves inspired by you or recent events--though not necessary. If your mentors teachings conflict with your beliefs your protagonist may become conflicted. Most people choose the 'simple' mentor who is on the side of good like Dumbledore and Yoda, but the best mentors are mentors like Kreia who make you question both good actions and bad actions.

Now, I don't know anything about Star Wars or Yoda, but I do know a lot about the games Knights of the Old Republic I and II, and those games really sum it up.

I also think your protags. view point counts. For example, Darth Revan found many mentors to listen to, his favourite being Kreia. Now if your MC thinks in terms of people are something to learn from, and views many people as their 'mentor' then that's it.

That's how I view it. Mentor's who influence your character based on their own complicated alignments, most stories fluffify it and make it simple, but a true Mentor (archetype) goes beyond simple good and evil and truly allows the main character to grow, experience, and question themselves.
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Old 06-23-2010, 04:38 AM
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Alongside to Lin's sidekick mention; also seen in such stories as Sherlock Holmes with the use of Watson; Poirot, with the use of Hastings/Jones/Ariadne/etc; Marple, with the use of some helper/police officer, etc.
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Old 06-23-2010, 06:27 AM
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Good point, Ravenius. Everybody thinks of good old Mentor Obi Wan in Star Wars, but the much more proactive spititual leader was the Evil Emperor, who coached Mr. Cutie into slaughtering children.
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Old 06-23-2010, 06:25 PM
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This is interesting. I've been slowly thinking of the main characters, how they need to be in order to get to the end of my novel. I've been fleshing them all out in my mind (I'll soon get the written part done) and have slowly began thinking of the secondary characters. I had initially decided not to have that Mentor figure type inside my novel, letting my characters find out what they need to by themselves, but this has had me re-thinking things.
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Old 06-23-2010, 06:30 PM
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It's a mistake to think you need to tailor to fit these sorts of concerns, Sparks.
If something seems like a really great idea and opens up your story, go for it. If you just think, "Oh the Hero's Journey says I needs shapeshifters so maybe I'll turn the cat inside out." you're screwing up.
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Old 06-23-2010, 06:34 PM
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I understand where you're going with this. Perhaps I'm the one who wrote that wrong. I'm not fleshing out characters exactly so that they fit the novel perfectly; I meant fleshing them out the way I want them to be fleshed out in order to go in the right direction. I'm not even sure about most of the details of the story yet, I'm sure there will be a chance that a character isn't exactly as I planned him in my rough draft.
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Old 06-23-2010, 06:51 PM
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Wouldn't be surprised. :-)
Not to insult you or anything, just a little warning because you see people try to cookbook plotting...young screenwriters are hooked on it.

It's a reason I discourage doing dossiers or characters, also: there is a flexibiliy and mutual massaging of characters and plot as things comes together and it's better to leave it loose longer than to try to anal it up too soon.

I continue to suggest to anybody who'll listen that you are searching for the narrative voice for your story during the early stages, the "way you story wants to tell itself"--who the narrator is, POV, speech style, the works.

And I'll trot out my Ken Kesey story again; Kesey said it has having a very hard time getting "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to work out. (You look at it and it's McMurphy's story, but if you stick with him, how do you do the essential scenes after he's been lobotomized, etc).
Suddenly the character of The Cheif-the mute Indian who stands and watches and tells--came to him and, as he put it, from that point the thing just told itself.

So listen to your self, listen to your story, juggle everything and see what you end up with in your hands when the curtain goes up.
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Old 06-23-2010, 07:24 PM
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Nobody's mentioned the word "foil" yet. I get to be the first

First off, excellent recommendation by Danny on Hero With a Thousand Faces--excellent, excellent, excellent.

Next off, mentor's are particularly major character foils, and as character foils, their most important job is to help the main character develop. Luke begins at point A: Untraveled farmboy Jedi-wannabe. Obi-wan matures him, brings his character into formerly unknown skills, changes his whole personality from farmboy to freedom fighter. Yoda continues the progression, bringing Luke's character from freedom fighter to knight, at which point we encounter point B: Powerful Jedi knight.

Mentors are almost always used to coax out hidden facets of someone's personality. They're there to uncover things for the reader and bring both the character and the viewer into fuller realisation of who this person really is.

You may have noticed how mentors often die, also. This is kind of like a graduation ceremony. The hero can stand on his own two feet. The reader now knows who and what the character is. The mentor will often drive the hero to his limits, so now we also know what the character is capable of. Our perception of him has been broadened. A good mentor will hopefully have accomplished this before he dies tragically
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Old 06-23-2010, 08:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Lin View Post
And I'll trot out my Ken Kesey story again; Kesey said it has having a very hard time getting "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" to work out. (You look at it and it's McMurphy's story, but if you stick with him, how do you do the essential scenes after he's been lobotomized, etc).
Suddenly the character of The Cheif-the mute Indian who stands and watches and tells--came to him and, as he put it, from that point the thing just told itself.
Nothing like a little LSD to solve your point-of-view problems!
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Old 06-24-2010, 04:38 AM
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It's a reason I discourage doing dossiers or characters, also: there is a flexibiliy and mutual massaging of characters and plot as things comes together and it's better to leave it loose longer than to try to anal it up too soon.
This is definitely interesting to hear. I've been doing a lot of reading around for tips as to how to start the writing process, and most people who have written blogs and how-to's seem to think otherwise. To be honest, I agree with you. The only reason I really was doing the plotting and fleshing out was because I didn't want to stray from my idea. Maybe I can give "Just write what comes to you" a try. See where that takes me.
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Old 06-24-2010, 04:55 AM
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I can wholeheartedly agree with the poster who suggested you look at comparative mythology- creative writing is full of "archetypes"...

Recently pondering this question myself, constructing a triology, I analysed the "archetypes", and find that, truthfully, I'e only been utilizing a few;

"the wise elder",
"the troubled knave",
"the destructive goddess"
"the flawed hero"

Should I be concerned by this? What do other people think? Am I secretly a "one trick pony"? Should I mix it up, or leave well alone? I've already decided to leave well alone, but... am still interested in other people's thoughts...
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Old 06-24-2010, 04:55 AM
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MOST of the "how tos" on those blogs and such are crap. Written by people who write how to blogs, not things that sell.
There's a whole culture of crap intenet writing advice that feeds on itself. Don't get me started.

A lot of the "how to write" things are procrastination. You could easily spend six months interviewing your characters about their underwear and favorite soap opera star or whatever and not get anything done at all. Frankly, I think that's the purpose of it.

Everybody has their own way of going about structuring. Just ask if people use outlines or not. (Not HERE fr crisakes, it's probably been done a dozen times) You never know what will work out for you until you give it a shot.

But regarding characters: they kind of need to be living people in your head. As in the real world, there are "mains" in your life who you know intimately. There are others you know somewhat. There are people you only know a few things about, but maybe they are kind of cool little things you tell other people about: hey there's this guy in a bar I go to now and then who starts reciting the Bill of Rights when he gets drunk. And maybe there's some guy in your novel who does that. Maybe that's all he ever does.

I can see how maybe if you need a character and don't have a line on them you might need to built them up from scratch, but I don't see that listing all those extraneous details helps much.
As far as I can tell, your creative engine builds them up using bits and pieces of people you've met or things you imagine.

Anyway... learning to write a novel isn't about squaring away a bunch of rules and terms like learning to be a windjammer crewman or something. It's more like learning to get along with women or learning to sell: you start doing and learn as you go;

Which is what it sounds like you're doing, so good luck to you.
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Old 06-24-2010, 06:09 AM
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Thanks Lin, you've helped me a whole lot. =)

Honestly, I think maybe the reason I lost interest in my works in the past years was because of this: Too much planning. I feel like an idiot only now figuring it out, but I guess it's better late than never. I'll give it a shot, see where it takes me.
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Old 06-24-2010, 06:11 AM
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It's all good. Sometimes we end up taking time off (even years) from a story or writing in general because the little geek inside that makes us writes wants us to grow up or learn something or get some experience that will make things work better.
The main thing is, if you want to write...have at it, sport.
Good luck
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Old 06-24-2010, 09:06 AM
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Great question, I've never thought of it that way. I guess a mentor of the story is an easy way to convey ideas to the reader without it being the narrator. I have yet to incorporate that into a story idea, but it might be something I play with in the future.
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Old 06-24-2010, 10:00 AM
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A common function of the sidekick, as well. Note that Sherlock Holmes stories are told by Watson, for instance.
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