July 27 – August 2: “What is foremost in your mind as you create your mentor characters?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW members Lynette Eason, Joanna Davidson Politano, Colin Campbell, Elizabeth Goddard, TG Wolff and Frank Zafiro as we discuss mentors as characters. Mentors can be some of the most intriguing characters in fiction as they are often deeply layered and, at times, seem counterintuitive. What is foremost in your mind as you create your mentor characters? Check out this great group of authors and their latest novels below, and scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss it!


Frank Zafiro was a police officer in Spokane, Washington, from 1993 to 2013. He retired as a captain. He is the author of numerous crime novels, including the River City novels and the Stefan Kopriva series. He lives in Redmond, Oregon, with his wife Kristi, dogs Richie and Wiley, and a very self-assured cat named Pasta. He is an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist.


Elizabeth Goddard is the bestselling author of more than 40 books, including Never Let Go, Always Look Twice, and the Carol Award–winning The Camera Never Lies. Her Mountain Cove series books have been finalists in the Daphne du Maurier Awards and the Carol Awards. Goddard is a seventh-generation Texan.


TG Wolff writes thrillers and mysteries that play within the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong. Cause and effect drive the stories, drawing from 20+ years’ experience in civil engineering, where “cause” is more often a symptom of a bigger, more challenging problem. Diverse characters mirror the complexities of real life and real people, balanced with a healthy dose of entertainment. T G Wolff holds a master’s degree in civil engineering and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.


Lynette Eason writes for Revell and Harlequin. Her books have appeared on the CBA, ECPA, and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller lists. In 2016, Lynette placed in the top ten in the James Patterson co-writers contest. She has won numerous awards including the Killer Nashville’s Reader’s Choice Award, the Christian Retailing’s Best Award and more. In 2018, Lynette’s novel, Her Stolen Past was made into a Lifetime Movie Network. Lynette is a member of ACFW, RWA, MWA, ITW, FHL and KOD.


Ex-army, retired cop, and former scenes of crime officer, Colin Campbell served with the West Yorkshire police for 30 years. He is the author of the UK crime novels Blue Knight, White Cross and Northern Ex, and the US thrillers featuring rogue Yorkshire cop Jim Grant.



Joanna Davidson Politano writes historical novels of mystery and romance, including her debut Lady Jayne Disappears. She loves tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives and is eager to hear anyone’s story. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan



  1. The first thing that springs to mind is; Father Figure. Apologies to mothers everywhere. Since my main characters are male it makes sense that the mentor is often a replacement for an absent father or someone who repairs what the father has broken. Bad childhood, broken home, abusive family life. As with most characters the protagonist doesn’t come fully formed, he becomes the man he is supposed to be during the course of the story and during the course of his life. The mentor helps set him on the right path, teaches important skills, and puts right what the absent father messed up. That’s the main character’s motivation sorted out but what about the mentor himself?

    For the mentor, the main character is often a replacement for the son he never had or a chance to make up for the son he abandoned. He will teach skills relating to the job in hand or life skills for everything else. The unfortunate thing about mentors, especially in crime fiction, thrillers and action stories, is they often don’t make it to the end. The mentor’s demise can be the catalyst for further action or the cause for reflection. In some cases he can even be revealed as the villain that the protagonist didn’t see coming. Things can get really complicated after that, the mentor telling his charge, “I taught you everything you know but not everything I know.” That’s when the main character comes out of the shadow of his mentor and teaches the old dog some new tricks. The son sticking it to the father who messed his life up. No doubt about it, there’s a lot of crazy shit goes into creating a mentor.

  2. Mentor characters
    Mentor characters can quickly become cliché, conveying the lessons the author wishes to impart. To avoid this, I try to give my mentors a unique personality and sometimes even make their wisdom unexpected. For example, in my latest novel The Love Note, the woman who turned out to be the mentor was seen by the entire house as eccentric and a little feeble of mind. She was losing her memory due to advancing age and had some unusual habits and passions, but she became a source of unexpected profundity to the few characters who chose to actually listen to her. Simple statements she made, sometimes even odd ones, carried deep truths. Her uniqueness made her my absolute favorite character to write—her obsession with collecting words (so she wouldn’t forget them), the off-kilter but quite wise way she viewed the world, her uncanny ability to know all the household secrets made for an amazingly fun character.

    Sometimes what she says doesn’t even make sense at first glance, but it’s deep symbolism or almost a code or hint at truth, and that makes it stick. If the hero has to ruminate a little to figure it out, and have an “aha” moment, it resonates more deeply.

    If my mentor woman simply been older and wise, dropping her little gems of truth throughout the book, she might have seemed more like a plot device than a character, and that can ruin a good story! All the wisdom seems heavy handed and readers are turned off. Instead, whenever I include a mentor character, I try to make them as real as possible—humans with unique abilities and a few foibles for color, and sometimes they even give wise-sounding advice that turns out to be slightly off the mark. No one’s perfect, after all. As long as what they say is fundamentally true to their character and moral code, they can be one of the most memorable and realistic characters in the book. I give them warmth and flesh and humanity rather than perfection and predictability. But, I do aim for that with every character!

  3. I actually don’t put a lot of thought into them ahead of time. They arise and develop in response to my main characters. As issues come up, the voice-of-wisdom character is there to instill insight and direction in subtle ways or in leading by example. As this character rises to meet the needs of my main characters, he or she develops organically into a deeply layered character as well. I love writing—it’s almost like reading in that I’m discovering the story and going deeper with the characters to learn about them as I write.

  4. Mentor characters have a special role in mysteries and thrillers, providing the wall for the lead character to bounce off in a way that propels the story forward. The characters have to have experience that compliments and informs the lead character. It’s more than just being a few years ahead of the lead character. A challenge I give myself with all my characters is to make them solid and multi-dimensional enough to be the stars of their own story. The mentor needs to be strong enough to offset the lead character, as though the lead and the mentor are on a teeter-totter and both have their feet dangling in the air. If the lead character is too strong, the mentor is life-size cardboard cut-out of your favorite philosopher- nice to look at but pretty useless. If the mentor character is too strong, the lead becomes a kid driving his daddy’s car- clueless unless being told where to go. The characters, then, have to be constructed with a synergy that makes the lead and the story better for having a mentor.

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