Every hero needs a mentor to teach him or her how to change. Sometimes the mentor dies before the end of the story like Obi-wan in “Star Wars” or the butler in “Arthur.” Other times the mentor lives but changes his life for the better because of helping the hero such as the hairdresser in “Legally Blonde” or the black police officer in “Die Hard.” Whatever happens to the mentor, the mentor must also change in the end just like the hero.
The hero must change to have a story, but the mentor must change too. If the mentor doesn’t change, then the mentor risks coming across as a two-dimensional character who exists only to help the hero. When the mentor changes, the mentor feels like a real person and your story feels stronger as a result.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hairdresser helps the hero deal with the problem sod Harvard law school and in turn, the hero helps the hairdresser deal with finding love with the handsome UPS man. In “The Karate Kid,” the karate teacher helps the hero learn to fight and in turn, the hero helps the mentor overcome his tragic past. When the hero and mentor both help each other and change as a result, your story strikes a stronger emotional chord. When your mentor doesn’t change, then you really only have half a story.
Make sure your hero and mentor change as a direct result of their relationship. You hero can’t change without the help of the mentor, but your mentor can’t change without the actions of the hero. It’s a two-way street for both to change and for both to learn and grow. When both the hero and mentor change in similar ways, they make your story’s point easier to see.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane is initially afraid of flying and needs to overcome his fear. The black police officer accidentally shot a kid and needs to overcome his fear of drawing his gun again. At the end of the story, both the hero and mentor have overcome their past.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero is looking for love and her hairdresser mentor is also looking for love. In “Star Wars,” Luke is looking to for w as a man and Obi-wan is looking to grow through confronting Darth Vader. Think of your mentor as another side of your hero. Your villain is just like the hero too, and your mentor should be as well. When all major characters reflect your hero in one way or another, your story will feel more focused on the hero’s plight even when other characters are changing. That’s because the other characters are mirror images of the hero so when the mentor changes, it’s indirectly showing us how the hero will change too.
Your mentor can live or die at the end, but the mentor definitely must change.