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?

Your Story Must Have Character Growth Moments – Some Examples

“Remember, the essence of storytelling demands that we place our main characters on a path. A quest with something at stake, with something to do, to achieve, to learn, and to change.” —Larry Brooks

by Rickbrk
by Rickbrk

Novels must show change in their main characters. Growth moments in the character arc should be fed along the way as a story progresses.

The transformation might be like a flower bud opening.

lotus-219704_1280I pulled 5 different types of inspirational books off my shelves and randomly opened to pages about a fifth of the way from the end of the stories. In Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, modified by Christopher Vogler, this would be in Act 3, in the Resurrection part of The Return.

The experience was uncanny. I immediately spotted a growth moment in each book on the pages facing me.


Examples of Growth Moments


1.  River Rising by Athol Dickson – Fiction/Historical (Winner of the Christy Award)

“Hale realized he might not have failed in everything after all.

His bizarre kidnapping and bondage had obscured the quest that began with a manila paper folder, soft and mildewed from New Orleans humidity, its faded pages bearing the terse, clerically phrased story of a boy of three or thereabouts, brought north from down beyond the end of everything, to be raised with other orphans in a peeling twelve-room mansion.”

2.  A Slow Burn by Mary E. DeMuth – Fiction/Christian/General

“’I’ve made a terrible mess of things.’

‘We all do. Lord knows I did. But that’s where Jesus comes in. And if we let him, he takes us, turning us from orphans to adopted, loved children, taking our regrets and sadness and giving us unexplained joy. Kind of like the joy I feel right now.’”

3.  Terri by Sharon Srock – Christian/Women’s Fiction

“The noise of busy power tools, pounding hammers, and loud music pumping from three boom boxes did not drown out the annoying little voice whispering in his right ear these days. That little voice kept reminding him that this wasn’t where he needed to be. That this wasn’t the path to his future. This could be a stepping stone, nothing more.”

by geralt
by geralt

4.  Made to Last by Melissa Tagg – Fiction/Contemporary Romance

“Because Matthew brought her to life in a way no one had since Robbie. He listened. He talked. He saw. Exactly what she still wasn’t sure. But it was enough to know he was looking. Not at a homebuilder. Not at a television star. At her.”

5.  Calculated Risk by Zoe M. McCarthy – Fiction/Christian/Contemporary Romance

“Cisney’s heart pulsed like it had when she was a child and feared she’d made Daddy mad. Yes, she was learning at almost thirty to spread her own wings, but she’d lived in Daddy’s nest for a long time. Why did that verse have to be the one giving Mom hope? It rang so personal to their father-daughter relationship. She cringed as she pictured him grousing that God had no business telling him how to raise his children.”

Examples of growth moments that should exist in your story. Click to tweet.

What is a growth moment you’ve included in your story?