Thursday, October 19, 2017

You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Mentor's Death

Mentors.  They die a lot.


Like, all the time.

It should probably be in their contract at this point.

In fact, this is such a common trope that everyone, not just crazy book nerds, is completely aware of it and probably just as tired of all the injustice inflicted on the poor teachers/father figures/etc.


1. It starts the hero on their journey.
Anyone with any life experience will tell you that once you hit a certain point in your life, you have to do things on your own.  You can't rely on your parents or guardians to do it for you.  You need to make decisions that affect the rest of your future, and it can be scary.  But because you're making your own choices, you have the ability to learn and grow from things that may not have affected you when you were younger.

The same is true with the protagonist of a story.  In order for them to grow as a person, they need a shove in the direction of independence.  Taking what they've learned from their mentor, they need something to force them out on their own and complete the quest they were given.  Because they're doing it all by themselves, they have one to fall back on when consequences knock on their door.  Friends and companions might certainly play a role in the story, but they won't be the same solid wall of support and advice that the main character may have had.

See, the thing is, if any of us were given the choice, I don't think we'd choose complete independence unless we were in a situation that seemed worse than even the hardest parts of adulting.  The same is true with the hero of a story.  Chances are, they don't actually want to do a difficult quest that will permanently alter them as a person, even if they like adventures.  So ripping the rug out from under their feet is usually the easiest way to go.

2. It's an easy way to manipulate emotions.
Everyone knows that writers love to make people cry.  It's because we feed off your tears I MEAN IT'S BECAUSE WE ARE WONDERFUL PEOPLE WHO REASSURE YOU THAT YOU IN FACT DO HAVE FEELINGS AND ARE NOT A VULCAN POTATO.  The mentor usually means a lot to the hero, even if they weren't the best person on the planet, and depending on the story, they were probably the closest thing the hero had to a parent.  

This means that when that person is gone, better yet if they die a tragic death, the hero is left to mourn them. When this is done well, there's nothing wrong it.  The problem arises when it's so over-used that there's really no emotions associated with it anymore.  Everyone knows the mentor is going to die, so there's no impact when it actually happens.

There's got to be other ways to do this, right?
I certainly hope so.  What if the mentor went along on the quest?  What if they survived?  This would change the story, but maybe it would be for the better.  Think about how switching up this trope would affect the plot.  I bet having an experienced warrior along would be useful.  They could always pull a Gandalf and have other things they have to do while your hero goes on their adventure.  I mean, if your protagonist is trying to save all that is good in the world, I'm sure it would be handy to have people in two different places.

If you don't want the mentor to go along on the quest, give them a valid reason that doesn't involve their death.  Maybe they have a disability, a war wound, arthritis, the list goes on.  There's a lot of things that can keep someone in their house.  The older they are the easier this gets.  Seriously, arthritis in your knees is a perfectly valid excuse to stay home.  I can imagine it would make a long quest difficult, never mind fighting, riding a horse, etc.  If they fought in a war or experienced anything traumatic, PTSD can dramatically and permanently alter their mental state.  Just make sure you do your research.  

Are there situations where it's okay to kill them?
Absolutely.  In the original Star Wars series, Yoda was REALLY REALLY OLD.  Like, REALLY OLD.  It was totally okay for him to die after training Luke.  It was obviously convenient timing, but still.

Don't kill your mentor character just because you can, there should be a valid reason for it.  And that valid reason should not be "the main character needs a reason to leave", because there have GOT to be other ways to pressure the hero into getting the heck out of their little village and off to a quest.  If you have a mentor with already obvious health issues, it might be alright to have them die of natural causes.  

In reality, this is a difficult trope to handle because on one hand, the mentor dying might be a good thing for your character, but on the other hand, it's so overused that it's just going to be another trope.  If there really is no other option then go ahead, but explore other ideas first.

On that note, what if a hero left of their own free will and of the prompting of their mentor, and started off with confidence instead of a completely broken life?  It would be an interesting character arc, since instead of starting off a mess, they would realize over time that life isn't as easy as they thought it would be, and they'd have to overcome their dreams being crushed as they go.

Good times.

So what about you guys?  Is there anything about the mentor's death that you think I missed?  What ideas do you have for working around this trope?  I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The rest of the series:
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Resurrected Character
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Strong Female Lead
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Universal Language
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Superior Race
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Chosen One
You Want to Go Home and Rethink Your Redemption Arc

Monday, October 16, 2017

Rewriting and Rough Drafts: They're Important!


Yeah, hey guys.  So I promise I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, I've just dropped off the face of inspiration because I've been doing a lot of writing for one class, and the other is Latin 101 ('nough said).

I also tried to make a strict blogging plot for the next few months and ended up trying to force myself to write about things I'm not actually interested in, which was a mistake and completely turned me off to blogging for a little while. That's entirely my fault.

So, with NaNoWriMo fast approaching, I thought I'd do a post about rewriting your stories, and why it's okay for rough drafts to be completely horrible and the worst thing you've written since the age of five.

Yep!  Planning, writing, rewriting, screaming into the void, it's all part of the process.  I personally have always disliked the thought of rewriting, or rather, been afraid of it, and I've just recently learned exactly how bad a rough draft is allowed to be.  So now I'm gonna talk about it, because that's the natural order of things, apparently.

Read on for random things I've learned about the writing process that should be old hat to all of us...but no.

The first rough draft is SUPPOSED to be bad.
In fact, I don't even call them rough drafts much anymore.  I refer to my first draft as a vomit draft.  Yep.  Lovely imagery there.  But seriously, its true.  I can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my stories, so it took a while for me to pick this up.  Your rough draft can be the worst thing on the planet, and when you're done writing it, it is perfectly acceptable to wish for its instant demise.

See, the thing with rough drafts is they aren't really sure what they want to be yet.  You've got the idea for your story, and maybe a plot, and maybe some character development, but when you begin to actually write, you might realize that it's not going the way you thought it might originally.  You might come up with a better idea halfway through the book, or you might realize that a certain character isn't at all what you first thought he was going to be.

So basically: Rough drafts can be the worst, the most nonsensical, incongruous crap ever written.  The only thing that matters at this stage is that you WRITE DOWN THE STORY.  Everything else is details. 

It's okay to deviate from your original plot.
I do it all the time!  Like I said earlier, plotting a story and actually writing it are two completely different creatures, and you might realize that your carefully made and meticulous outline won't work with your characters, or there's a HUGE GAPING PLOT HOLE you didn't plan for.  Or one of your characters decides that they're NOT ACTUALLY GOING TO SAVE THE WORLD, THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE A CRISIS AND LEAVE THEIR ROOMMATE TO DO IT.  ORION NEVER ASKED FOR THIS JAMES, PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER! 

*clears throat*

Let your story meander and change as you go.  Be flexible!  It's a first draft!  You might come across a gem of a plot point that you would never have discovered if you'd kept closely to your written outline.  Leave future drafts for polishing and making sense.  

That being said, keep that plot around.  DO! NOT! DELETE! THE! PLOT!  You will hate yourself later if you do, I promise.  Keep that notebook, or document, or file, or whatever you have it saved on, because it will absolutely come in handy in the future.  

Don't be afraid of things changing in your rewrite.
I'll be honest, this is difficult for me.  There are so many scenes in the story I'm working on now that I absolutely love, and I'm afraid that if I rewrite the story, they won't make it in.  But you know what? That's okay!  I'll still have my rough draft saved on my computer, it's not like it'll be gone forever, and I can always use it as a reference or add stuff in later.  And anyway, you'll probably end up writing lots of wonderful things in your second draft.  It might even be better (correction: it WILL be better), because this time around you'll be more familiar with your plot, characters, and where you really want the story to go, since you got all your word spews out in the first draft and now you have all that lovely material to work with!  Which isn't remotely overwhelming!

You'll have a better grasp on your plot and characters each time you write.
The more time you spend with your story, the more predictable your characters become to you, and the easier it becomes to write them.  Instead of one of them randomly deciding he doesn't want to save the world (yes, I'm still salty about my character's badly-timed emotional meltdown), you can give them the initiative you know they need to still want to do it (for James: the destruction of his guitar).

You'll also be more comfortable with your plot.  Instead of it waddling off to eat cupcakes, it might actually start listening to you!  You'll have a better understanding of where you want it to go, and because you know your characters so much better, you'll know if anything in the plot is out of character for them, and how to fix it (no kidding, it took me like FOUR YEARS to realize that the ending of one of my stories was completely unrealistic and my snobby noblewoman would never marry a peasant).  

This will result in a much more solid story, and as your characters gain depth and your plot becomes more believable and tied-together, your novel and writing will improve.  You'll be able to focus more on details you might not think about when you're still character wrangling (it's a legit sport, I just invented it), and for all your hard work, you'll have something at the end to be proud of!

So there you have it!  And while we're on the topic, what kind of experiences have you had with rewrites and rough drafts?  Have you ever had a story run away from you and do all kinds of unexpected things without your permission?  Tell me about your wacky writing adventures in the comments.