Defining the Mentor

Three of the most important characters in any story are the hero, the villain, and the mentor. Fortunately, once you know one of these characters, you can easily create the other two. If you fail to base each character off the others, you’ll likely wind up with a disjointed story that doesn’t work right.

For example, the villain is the evil version ion the hero. That means the villain has more power than the hero and would be what the hero could become if he or she chose selfish goals. By making the villain a slightly more powerful but evil version of the hero, the final battle between the hero and villain is balanced but favoring the villain.

In “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” the hero is a martial arts expert but so is the villain. In “Die Hard,” the hero is a tough street cop but the villain is a smart criminal. In “The Karate Kid,” the hero is a kid learning karate but the villain already knows karate. If you know who your story’s hero is, then just find the evil version of that hero and that’s your villain.

What happens if you pick a villain not based on your hero? Then you risk creating an unbalanced story. In “Rocky,” the hero is a down and out boxer and the villain is the champion boxer. That’s balanced. Putting Rocky against Godzilla or Darth Vader and his Death Star would be an unbalanced story because the hero and villain aren’t even close to being mirror images of each other. Remember, your hero is battling your villain but he or she’s really battling the evil version of themselves. That’s what makes stories compelling, not by giving the hero an impossible task of beating up a massively powerful villain.

If you know the villain of your story, just find the good and weaker version of your villain and that’s your hero. The hero and villain are mirror images of each other because the hero needs to see the evil side of him or herself in order to overcome internal flaws.

In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the hero runs a small savings and loan while the villain runs a larger bank. Both are frustrated because the hero wants to leave the small town but the villain wants to run the entire town.

Once you know your hero and villain are mirror images, the next step is defining your mentor. Basically, your mentor is related to your villain. Think of your mentor as a villain in the past who’s sorry for making a┬ámistake. To redeem this past mistake, the mentor needs the hero to defeat the villain.

For example, in “Star Wars,” Obi-wan is just as powerful as Darth Vader with the Force (actually more powerful) but has made the mistake of actually creating Darth Vader. To defeat Darth Vader, Obi-wan needs Luke to escape the Death Star and later blow it up.

In “The Karate Kid,” the mentor is a karate expert just like the villain’s teacher. The difference is that the mentor feels bad for his past while the villain’s teacher does not. To defeat the villain’s teacher, the mentor needs the hero to defeat the villain.

When you realize that the hero and villain are mirror images of each other and that the villain and mentor are also mirror images of each other, you can more clearly define your own characters in your screenplay. Start with the hero or villain (or even the mentor) and then work out who the other two characters need to be based on the one character you know you want in your story.

Remember, the mentor helps the hero change into a better person and the hero helps redeem the mentor by defeating the villain. To defeat the villain, the hero has to change.

All three characters are linked to each other. Bad movies don’t make this link clear. Good movies have this link between the three characters. Your hero is never separate from your villain and your villain is never separate from the mentor. By always thinking about how the hero, villain, and mentor are linked together, you’ll likely create a more interesting story than just tossing random characters in these roles and hoping your story will turn out well.

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