Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite—derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth—or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.
The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.
Mentor and Protégé
Description: This relationship consists of an experienced mentor who has achieved a measure of expertise in a given area and a protégé dedicated to learning from them and following in their footsteps. While a relationship can initially be established with this purpose in mind, the mentor/protégé dynamic typically grows out of an existing relationship (teacher/student, coach/athlete, boss/employee). The interactions between the two parties will differ based on many factors and may change over time.
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.
A mentor eagerly sharing the fruits of their knowledge with the protégé
A mentor taking a personal interest in their protégé
A mentor actively creating growth opportunities for the protégé—taking them to meetings and introducing them to other influencers, etc.
A mentor being open to learning from the protégé
A mentor jealously keeping the protégé to himself
A mentor who doesn’t want the protégé to move on (seeing him or her as a valuable resource rather than someone with potential) and doesn’t do what is needed to grow them
A mentor viewing the protégé as an underling to do their busy work
A brilliant mentor who isn’t necessarily good at teaching or dealing with people
A mento taking the protégé’s lack of interest or ability personally
A protégé recognizing what the mentor can provide and soaking up everything they can
A protégé seeing the relationship not just as one that benefits him but also looking for ways he can help the mentor
A protégé catching up with their mentor and growing past him or her
A protégé taking the opportunity seriously, being responsible and showing gratitude
An overconfident protégé not being open to feedback from the mentor
A protégé seeking constant instruction, feedback, and affirmation from the mentor
A reluctant protégé only putting in partial effort
An eager protégé being distracted by personal problems and not giving the relationship their all
An unwilling protégé being pushed into the relationship (by parents, a court order, etc.), resulting in apathy or resentment
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The mentor wanting something different for the protégé than the protégé wants
Either party wanting more time, energy, or personal attention than the other is willing or able to give
The mentor wanting to teach a protégé who is in the relationship for subversive reasons (to gain information for someone else, to set the mentor up for failure, to humiliate them, etc.)
A protégé wanting to learn from a mentor who wants to control and subdue
The protégé wanting to be taught and mentored while the mentor wants a lackey
Both parties wanting to be “top dog” in the relationship
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Controlling and Stubborn, Cooperative and Cocky, Trusting and Disloyal, Fussy and Disorganized, Decisive and Pensive, Ambitious and Lazy, Generous and Ungrateful, Independent and Needy
Negative Outcomes of Friction
The relationship ending prematurely
Poor communication leading to frustration and wasted time
A mentor feeling unappreciated or betrayed
The protégé not learning anything meaningful from the relationship
The protégé internalizing criticism and doubting they could achieve the same level of knowledge or success as the mentor
The mentor talking badly about the protégé to colleagues, blackballing him or her
Either party being reluctant to enter into the same kind of relationship again
The protégé becoming jaded, assuming other mentor figures are like this one
The mentor getting a reputation for being difficult or uncooperative
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A challenging problem that needs solving
A personal problem for either party that the other can help with in some way
The parties learning that they share a passion
A outside threat to the mentor that could result in the relationship ending prematurely (a personal problem stealing time, their position at the job or university being threatened, etc.)
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
The protégé vastly expanding their knowledge
Either party overcoming a bias or stereotype regarding the other person
The mentor realizing that they have more to learn
Either party filling a personal void for the other—as a parental figure, for instance
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, A Quest for Knowledge, Inflexibility, Journeys, Knowledge, Mystery, Passage of Time, Perseverance, Stagnation
Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.