EXERCISE Trope Challenge: The Mentor

Discussion in 'DEVELOPING CHARACTERS & CULTURES' started by Jorick, May 2, 2015.

  1. Tropes are the foundation of effective character creation and storytelling. The greatest stories and characters are the ones that embrace the tropes and then throw them into an interesting world with minor tweaks. This challenge is intended to help you learn to work with tropes effectively rather than just blindly using them or mindlessly resisting them in the name of originality or uniqueness.

    Over many years of use in a variety of stories a simple concept tends to pick up a lot of baggage that then becomes closely associated with the core idea, and that's how tropes are born. The thing that a lot of people seem to misunderstand about tropes is that just because something has been used in a certain way for a long time does not mean it must be used in that way. The key to effectively making use of tropes is to identify what is truly important and necessary about it, then altering or removing extra pieces as you see fit. For this challenge, the trope in question will be a character archetype: The Mentor.

    The core aspect of the Mentor archetype is that these characters give wise or useful advice and guidance to others. There are many other ideas that are associated with mentors, and they're best displayed by looking at mentor type characters from popular works of fiction: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda from Star Wars, Professor X from X-Men, Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender. What do all of these characters have in common aside from their mentor role? They're old, they're male, they're smart, they're knowledgeable about a lot of things, they're usually unquestionably good guys, they're usually mysterious and secretive, they act as parental figures for those they mentor, they appear weak or frail, they're extremely skilled when forced to fight, and they're willing to sacrifice themselves to save those they mentor.

    There are two parts to the trope challenge, though you're free to do only one if you feel like it, I'm not in charge of you. First, create a mentor character that fits all or most of the stereotypical traits of the Mentor archetype. After you're done with that, either alter the created character or create an entirely new mentor that avoids most of those traits while still filling the role of a mentor. For an extra challenge, see if you can make your stereotypical mentor feel like a very different character than those iconic examples listed above despite having so much in common with them. Use whatever kind of setting and method you feel like to build the character(s). You should all know what things go into making a character, so I won't patronize you by including a character sheet skeleton or special questions to answer.

    Good luck, and have fun playing with the trope.

    Oh, and here's a fun fact for anyone interested in the historical side of tropes. The term 'mentor' comes from the Homeric Greek classic the Odyssey in which a character named Mentor shared knowledge with and gave wise counsel to Odysseus' son, though the term first came into popular use in the modern context many years later after a French author wrote a tale about the educational travels taken by the son whilst accompanied by Mentor. However, the concept of a wise guide for the hero can be found in even the oldest known written record of storytelling: the Epic of Gilgamesh, thought to originate from as far back as 2100 BC. In the second half of this tale the titular character Gilgamesh goes seeking the secrets of eternal life and meets a couple mentors whose advice ends up granting him no physical immortality, but their wisdom helps his fame live on after his death so he gets part of his wish in the end. Don't feel too bad if you have trouble coming up with an original mentor character: the concept has been in circulation for literally thousands of years, so the phrase "everything has been done before" is highly applicable here.
    #1 Jorick, May 2, 2015
    Last edited: May 2, 2015