Most screenwriting books tell you to focus on the hero, but if you only focus on the hero, you’ll risk creating a plodding, narrowly focused story filled with additional characters who feel more like cardboard cutouts than actual people. Ideally, you not only want the hero to change, but the hero’s actions will help the mentor redeem him or herself for something that happened in the past.
In “Star Wars,” Obi-wan has to redeem himself by confronting Darth Vader. In “Eddie the Eagle, ” Eddie’s ski coach has to confront his old coach who saw the mentor as his biggest disappointment. In “The Karate Kid” (both the original and the remake), the mentor has to redeem himself for the horrible experiences of the past. The mentor has a haunted past that can only be resolved through the actions of the hero.
This crucial point makes gives your mentor depth that creates an emotional attachment for the audience. After all, once you’re emotionally attached to a character, you’ll want to see him or her succeed, yet nobody will ever get emotionally attached to the mentor character unless the mentor has a problem from the past.
Think of every great movie and the mentor resolves a problem from the past through the hero’s actions:
- “Die Hard” — The black police officer accidentally shot a kid and is fearful of drawing his gun. Yet at the end he draws his gun to kill the last terrorist.
- “Terminator 2” — John Connor feels isolated from his mom and lacks a father. By the end, he’s closer to his mom and has the Terminator as a father figure.
- “Avatar” — The female scientist was unable to connect with the aliens. In the end, her actions have helped the hero gain the trust of the aliens that she never achieved.
In your story, think not just of your hero but of your mentor as well. Your mentor is nearly as important as your hero because without a mentor, your hero has no way of achieving his or her goal. Yet the mentor needs his or her own goals to achieve to resolve a problem from the past. With the hero’s help, the mentor does just that and that makes the overall story far stronger than just seeing the hero achieve a goal on his or her own.