7 Tips to Writing Teachers in Fiction

Hiko Seijuro and Kenshin

We did students on Wednesday, so let’s look at teachers.  Getting right into it since there’s not much more of a set up.

  1. The teacher doesn’t have to be an alcoholic, druggie, hermit, or any other type of troubled character.  I know it’s fun to have a flawed mentor, who might not want to teach.  They did it against their will or because they see something within the hero.  It might even be a path to redemption.  Unfortunately, this also pigeonholes you into a handful of personalities.  Try to make a mentor that hasn’t been done before or isn’t broken on the inside.
  2. Teachers don’t have be extreme in their treatment of their students.  This happens a lot in fantasy and anime.  Either the hero is coddled in order to establish a parent/child relationship or they’re put through hellish conditions.  I guess this is mostly for combat or magic training.  Still, you can find a path in the middle where the teacher can still be tough and kind, but not come off as a caricature.
  3. A hero’s teacher doesn’t have to be connected to the villain or any other character for that matter.  They could just be someone who has the knowledge and skills needed to become stronger.  A teacher doesn’t even have to be legendary, which is typically used to show their importance.  If you can find a way for the student to meet the teacher and be accepted without plot contrivance then go for it.
  4. The teacher character can be any age or gender.  People gravitate towards the old man or will change it to old woman to be ‘different’.  Middle age is found rather often as well, but you don’t see many teachers in their 20’s and 30’s.  Why?  It’s because fictional mentors tend to be those with experience.  Does it have to be that way?  No because a person can do through a lot to get such experience even at a young age.  Think about how young a character would be to enter the military.  Imagine what they may see in 4 years of that life.  They may still be a good teacher even if they are in their 20’s.
  5. If you’re going to have multiple teachers, try to give each one a specialty.  All of them knowing everything makes it unclear as to why you didn’t just have one.  A great example of multiple teachers with specialties is from an anime called Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple.  Kenichi is trained by 6 combat masters, but each one uses a different style.  Their personalities and relationship with Kenichi differ like other teacher groups, but now they have individual purposes.
  6. Killing a teacher character shouldn’t be done haphazardly.  It will anger the student, especially if they haven’t finished their training.  Just be sure they can still function or learn what they are missing in this situation.  Most times, this is done to create the ‘I will avenge my master’ storyline.  You see it at the start of a story or in the middle to drive the hero further.  Not a bad idea, but it should be thought out.  You can’t, or shouldn’t, have the dead teacher continue their job unless it’s already established that ghosts are a thing.
  7. A common progression in a series is to work through increasingly powerful and knowledgeable teachers.  Throughout their journey, the student will encounter new mentors to increase their skills.  This is a good idea to help them grow without creating a supporting character who knows everything.  People may wonder why the perfect teacher doesn’t handle the problem instead of wasting time with a student.  On the other hand, you need to make sure each teacher leaves a mark before they are replaced by the next one.  At least one thing should be kept from each teacher to retain their sense of importance in the overall journey.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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9 Responses to 7 Tips to Writing Teachers in Fiction

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great tips. I’m glad you covered students and now teachers. When I read number 2, I thought of the movie Whiplash and J.K. Simmons’s character. Tip 1 made me think of Woody Harrelson’s character in the Hunger Games book/movie series. The defense against the dark arts teachers in Harry Potter were a great mix of good but mostly flawed instructors. And the Avatar: The Last Airbender series had great teachers! Tip 4 made me think of Toph.


    • Airbender came to mind with a few of these. Wasn’t sure about the Dark Arts teachers though. It got a little silly with that teacher always being a source of trouble. You’d think it was planned by Dumbledore after year two.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        Airbender was so good on the student/teacher dynamic. Star Wars used to be good with the Jedi and padawan relationship. No idea what’s going on now. I don’t have Disney +, so I haven’t seen the shows. I only saw the old Clone Wars and Rebels animated series, which I thoroughly enjoyed.


      • Star Wars seems to not know where to go with it. Then again, I don’t think they’ve established any stories that need the teacher/student thing.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I always think of teachers and mentors as older. There’s no reason they can’t be younger. In fact, having a teacher younger than the student might be an interesting twist. Good post, Charles.


  3. This is great stuff. I love mentor characters and these tips are helpful.


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