The Unusual Mentor

A hero in any story can never succeed on his or her own. Instead, heroes always need a mentor who can help show the hero how to become a better person. At its heart, every story is about a mentor helping a hero become a better person.

“Star Wars” isn’t just a science fiction action movie, but an emotional story about Obi-wan helping Luke become more confident in himself. That’s why all those “Star Wars” prequels and sequels often fail because they focus less on emotional change and more on surface, visual action.

Once you realize every story is an emotional story, you need to choose an unusual mentor to help the hero change. In “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” the hero is a journalist angry at his father for leaving him as a child. This hero’s mentor is Mr. Rogers.

The key to a mentor is that it needs to be someone least likely (in the hero’s eye and the audience’s mind as well) to be someone who can help the hero change. Mr. Rogers seems like a mindless children’s show host who uses puppets to talk like a child. How can such a seemingly silly man help an investigative journalist change his life for the better?

In “Star Wars,” Luke’s mentor is Obi-wan, who everyone assumes is just a crazy old man who lives in the desert. In “The Karate Kid,” the hero’s mentor is an apartment handyman who seems kind of spacey and useless, yet he turns out to be knowledgable about karate.

So in your own screenplay, think of your hero, then think of an unlikely mentor who can help your hero. The more unlikely the mentor, the more visually interesting that mentor will be, and the more interesting your story will likely be as well.

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