A Mentor Character Can Work Wonders for Your Story

“The role of mentor is a powerful one, and can help you steer your protagonist in new directions without having to lay much ground work.” —Elizabeth Sims (Writer’s Digest May/June 2015)


image by ErikaWittlieb
image by ErikaWittlieb

A mentor is a special secondary character whose basic purposes are the same as other secondary characters:

  • exists to support a main character
  • fleshes out a main character’s identity
  • helps move the story along
  • gives a main character someone to talk to so internal reflection is limited
image by Unsplash
image by Unsplash

However, the mentor, who’s wiser than a main character at certain moments or in particular areas, has some added jobs. He/she can:

  • assist a main character traverse obstacles in his journey
  • help a main character change when nothing else works
  • be a main character’s fount of inspiration
  • help with a main character’s fears
  • give a main character specific advice
  • equip the main character physically
  • teach the main character skills

Example: A mentor who satisfied the above jobs is Larry in Dry as Rain by Gina Holmes.

Larry is Eric’s best friend. They work as car salesmen. Larry is a straight arrow. Eric is a mess. Eric stays with Larry because of his affair in an unusual circumstance.

Larry speaks truth to Eric, even though Eric doesn’t want to hear it and harasses Larry.

image by geralt
image by geralt

Larry boldly tells Eric he’s doing wrong, could lose his job, and could make things worse for his marriage. Larry says at one point: “You’re talking to someone who’s been cheated on. The damage you’re getting ready to do can’t be undone.”

Eric doesn’t want to hear the truth and pushes back. He says to Larry, “You’re my friend, not my mother.”

Larry doesn’t give up. He understands how uptight Eric is. He drags Eric to a batting cage. After batting balls to exhaustion, Eric admits he feels better. Larry knew he would because he did this during his wife’s affair.

Larry continues to be a thorn to Eric’s conscience. In one instance, he asks Eric if he’d like to talk about his problem. Eric replies with a cruel statement about Larry. Larry says, “How about lunch?”

image by neshom
image by neshom

On the way to lunch, Larry reveals something about Eric he’s weathered silently for a while. He gives examples from their friendship. Eric glimpses possibilities of why everything goes wrong. He cracks his emotional door and opens up a little to Larry.

Soon, Eric asks for Larry’s advice and admits he’s screwed up, but when Larry talks of faith, Eric becomes defensive.

Slowly, Eric comes around to asking Larry for real help. And Larry now asks permission before he gives Eric advice. Eric allows it but still balks before he realizes Larry’s right. This leads to a heart-to-heart discussion.

This all takes place intermittently in the first half of the book as Eric deals with his unusual situation. The mentoring and resistance reappear, especially closer to the end.

Holmes’s use of Larry helps the reader see into Eric’s heart and growth. Larry’s appearances keep the story and Eric’s journey moving. In each scene in which Larry appears, Holmes has specific plot and character purposes for his presence.

I’m uncertain Eric could reach the other side of what he’s going through without Larry.

A mentor character may be what your story needs. Click to tweet.

Can you name some great mentors in novels?

5 Techniques to Add Suspense to Your Story in Any Genre

“Every novel needs a narrative engine, a reason for people to keep reading to the end, whatever the subject, style, genre or approach.” —Lee Child


Something was missing from my romance. Through prayer and research, I realized I hadn’t created enough suspense in my story.

Although many others exist, these suspense-adding techniques ignited me with new excitement in my story. Consider where in your story you might add one.

image by ambroochizafer
image by ambroochizafer

1. Have Character 1 lead Character 2 someplace. Character 2 doesn’t know where they’re going or the reason or purpose. The destination can be sinister, but not necessarily.

Make sure what waits Character 2 is a worthy payoff for the reader. Something the reader and character don’t expect. Also, add plausible obstacles that delay them from reaching the destination. This ups the anticipation, as the reader waits for the pay off.

Example: The hero leads the heroine to a magazine editor’s office. She thinks she’ll get her first article assignment. The elevator is full, so they take the stairs. Once inside, her sister, whom she thought was dead, rushes to embrace her.

2. Have Character 1 tell Character 2 his plans. It could be a threat, a scheduled truth-revealing meeting, or a plan to confront someone. The reader will have delicious anticipation or angst knowing the event is ahead.

image by Unsplash
image by Unsplash

Example: The hero tells the heroine he’ll be at Marcelle’s Café at 3 p.m. He’ll reveal why he left her at the altar.

3. Have a potential disaster set up in an earlier scene. Make sure it’s memorable and the consequences important enough to make the reader worry it’ll happen. And, of course, it does. 


Example: The heroine throws the positive pregnancy test in the trashcan. Garbage day is tomorrow and her husband, who doesn’t want children, won’t return until the day after. The reader could worry that the husband will come home early, the heroine will forget to take the trash out, or another person in the household will wander in and see the pregnancy test.

4. Have the reader expect an event to happen, but it doesn’t occur. Then have the same expectation, but make it the character who now expects it to happen. Again, it doesn’t materialize. On a third time, let the feared event occur, but worse than the reader or character expected. 

Example: The babysitting heroine checks that the stairway child guard is secure and leaves the hero’s toddler to put the clothes in the dryer. She returns and the tot is playing with his toys. Then the heroine runs to retrieve her ringing cell, and hears a noise. She races to the child to find him happily banging a toy hammer on the floor. When the kitchen timer beeps, she leaves to remove a pie from the oven. When she returns, the child’s clothes lie on the floor, but he’s gone.

5. Have the character face a potentially unpleasant situation alone.

image by jp26jp
image by jp26jp

Example: The heroine housesits her aunt’s cottage. She needs time alone to decide whether she can trust the hero with her heart. She sees ominous headlights approach the cottage. It’s the hero’s stalking ex-girlfriend come to confront the heroine.

Ways to add suspense and get excited about your story. Click to tweet.

How have you added suspense to ordinary situations?