A Wise old man. A fairy godmother. A Professor with all the answers. Mentor characters help your key character on their journey. To do so, they need to have a few tricks up their sleeve.
1. The Answers for the Journey
What’s a wise old mentor without the answers? Your mentor character can’t help if they know nothing. That would be a very uneventful chapter. “I’m here for the answers.” With a shrug, the mentor replies, “Sorry, kid. I don’t have them.”
Give your mentor enough of the answers to aid your characters on their journey. You also need a reason that the mentor has those answers. They weren’t born with that information, were they? Give your characters validation that the mentor is worth their time.
2. A Bond with the Key Character
Something needs to bond the mentor to our key character. Why would they waste their time to help a stranger on a lengthy journey? There has a be a powerful reason. Your readers will be suspicious if you don’t provide some connection.
Even if the mentor meets the key character in a random scenario, something needs to bond them. Maybe the mentor has gone on the journey before, or they share a long-lost family member.
3. A ‘Quirk’ or Unique Trait
Your mentor character should differ from every other character. They need a ‘quirk’ that makes them stand out. Yoda speaks in a specific way. Professor Charles Xavier has telepathic powers. Mr. Miyagi uses everyday chores to teach karate. That makes each of those mentors stand out. What makes yours stand out?
Give them a ‘quirk’ so unique that readers use it as an inspiration for their own mentor characters. Whether you add a unique speech pattern or a fake leg, it makes your story different.
4. The Ability to Challenge the Key Character
What crazy adventure happens in your comfort zone? The mentor needs to push the key character out of their comfort zone. Get the journey moving along. It’s common for the mentor to hand the key character a journey, with a word of advice.
That could be a great path for you to follow. You could also have the mentor accompany the key character on the journey, giving them tasks to do along the way. Any way you can get your mentor to push your characters is good. That will get readers excited.
Your mentor should have an element of mystery. If they were upfront about everything right away, what do we need them for later? The mentor should only give away what your characters need to know at the moment. Save everything else for later.
A mysterious mentor is a magnificent way to work in some creative subplots. Give them a challenging backstory. What if the mentor isn’t who they say they are? Each element adds another layer of excitement to the story.