Tuesday, June 7, 2022

How to Use Mentors in the Stories You Write

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Of the four characters generally found in story—protagonist, sidekick, antagonist, and mentor—the role of a mentor gets its name from Homer’s classic tale, The Odyssey, when the mentor actually has the name, Mentor. Disguised as the goddess of wisdom, Athena, Mentor instructs Telemachus to seek knowledge and stand against his enemies. Mentors have pretty much been dishing the same advice ever since. But it's important to know how to use mentors in the stories you write. 

“Use the force, Luke.” 
Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars

"If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it." 
Irving Blitzer to Derice Bannock in Cool Runnings

“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way.” 
Mary Poppins to Jane and Michael Banks

The role of a mentor in story is to share knowledge and wisdom with the less experienced main character. According to author J.K. Rowling, Albus Dumbledore “has always had to be the one who knew, and who had the burden of knowing. And he would rather not know.” As a mentor to the main character Harry Potter, “Dumbledore is a very wise man who knows that Harry is going to have to learn a few hard lessons to prepare him for what may be coming in his life.”

Well-loved mentors include
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker
  • Albus Dumbledore to the young scholar, Harry Potter
  • Alfred Pennyworth to Batman
  • M in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series
  • Mary Poppins to young Jane and Michael Banks
  • Mr. Miyagi to the Karate Kid, Daniel LaRusso
  • Haymitch Abernathy to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
  • John Keating to his students in Dead Poet’s Society
  • Grandmother Tala to Moana
  • Tony Stark’s Ironman to Spiderman’s Peter Parker

Not all mentors are human
  • Mufasa to Simba in The Lion King
  • Mushu the Dragon to Mulan
  • Jedi Master Yoda is another mentor to Luke Skywalker
  • Jiminy Cricket to the puppet-turned-boy, Pinocchio
  • Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther to Mowgli in Jungle Book

Not all mentors are willing teachers. In these stories, the athlete wannabe grows in skills while the mentor experiences a transformative character arc. 
  • In the film, Cool Runnings, the Jamaican bobsled team invest a lot of time and effort convincing former Olympian bobsledder, Irving Blitzer to train them for the Olympics. Perhaps one of Irv’s most insightful messages to team leader Derice Bannock was, “Getting what you want and being happy are two different things.”
  • Eddie the Eagle persistently works at his sport until Olympian jumper Bronson Peary agrees to be his coach. 
  • Secretariat’s trainer, Lucian Laurin reluctantly agrees to prepare the horse to race. 

In his Save the Cat series on writing, author Blake Snyder notes that the protagonist’s dark night of the soul is frequently caused by the death of the main character’s mentor. Without their mentor, the protagonist must carry on only to find they can do the right thing and be victorious without their mentor after all. 

And while most mentors remain gone, there are exceptions. Obi-Wan becomes part of the force and occasionally gives the right reminders at the pertinent time. 

In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is overcome by the Balrog and falls for a long time before being burned by the Balrog’s fire. Though darkness took Gandalf, and he passed away, as a divine spirit clothed in mortal form, the wizard returned to life some 20 days later. “Darkness took me,” he described to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in The Two Towers, “and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.” The experience changed the wizard from gray to white. 

In C.S. Lewis’ classic tale, The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan is an iconic mentor to the about the Pevensie Children. The great, wise, and noble lion represents Christ, a reminder that for each of us, God provided a wise mentor in the Holy Spirit. 

When adding a mentor to your story, consider these questions
  • What must your main character do that he or she feels is impossible to accomplish?
  • How can the mentor guide without rescuing?
  • How will the mentor know the student is ready?
  • Will the mentor leave the story partway through or be there to celebrate the main character’s success?
  • Is the mentor a willing or reluctant teacher?
  • How will mentoring impact the mentor?

As you craft your characters, remember that mentors serve as mirrors for the protagonist’s potential, and as a magnet drawing the main character toward their destiny.


Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre Wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of thirty books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, Chasing Sunrise, and The Ten Best Decisions A Single Mom Can Make. Founder of SingleMomCircle.com, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/peggysuewells


  1. Good topic and good points. Thank you, PeggySue. I especially liked your mention of the Holy Spirit as our Mentor. I am so thankful for His guidance.

  2. Awesome information