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Does your sidekick add value to the story? Are they necessary? If the answer to either question is no, you need to fix it.
A sidekick is a secondary character type – usually the second most important character in the novel. The term sidekick often undervalues their importance. Don’t let it fool you, the sidekick is not there for comedic relief, as a placeholder, or any other temporary reason. Your sidekick is a vital part of the story. They’re not just there as an accessory to the protagonist. Don’t treat them like they are. The sidekick needs to be involved in the story but they also cannot distract from it.
The sidekick shouldn’t outshine the protagonist. Your protagonist is the star. That doesn’t mean that the protagonist has to be better than the sidekick at everything, but they must be the focal point.
Qualities of a Sensational Sidekick
There are four qualities that a sidekick needs to have.
#1: Be trusted by the protagonist
If your main character doesn’t trust your sidekick, are they really a sidekick? Probably not.
Your protagonist trusts the sidekick because they’re on the same side. They want the same thing. They’re best friends. They’re trustworthy.
#2: Be loyal to the protagonist (but not to a fault)
The sidekick must be loyal to the protagonist – but not without question. The sidekick is on the good team and will break with the protagonist if they think they’re doing something bad.
The sidekick’s loyalty has been earned by the protagonist (although this may not be shown in the story). It’s possible to lose that loyalty (this might never happen though).
#3: Further the plot
The sidekick is an active participant in the story. They will definitely be involved in actions that further the plot.
The sidekick will likely have their own subplot that (in some way) furthers the main plot.
#4: Accompany the protagonist
The sidekick is going to be there, in the story, with the protagonist. They’re not really a sidekick if they’re 1,000 miles away doing their own thing.
Keep the sidekick in the story, with the protagonist as often as realistically possible.
Roles for a Sidekick
A sidekick can do a lot for your story. Here are some common roles your sidekick can take. Your sidekick doesn’t have to be limited to just one of these roles, they can have a few. However, to remain authentic they will not be able to be all of them.
#1: Contrast the Protagonist
A sidekick can be a contrast to the protagonists’ personality or beliefs.
#2: Similar to the Protagonist
A sidekick can have a personality that’s similar to the protagonist. They don’t have to provide contrast. We often choose our friends because they’re similar to us. And a sidekick is going to be a friend.
The sidekick can be a helpful assistant to the protagonist.
#4: Moral Support
The sidekick can provide the protagonist with encouragement or moral support during the events of the story.
#5: Added Tension
While the sidekick is on the same “side” as the protagonist, that doesn’t mean they can’t add tension. At any point, the sidekick and the protagonist could have disagreements and arguments. These little things can add tension in a non-life-threatening manner.
#6: Call Out the Protagonist
The sidekick is in an excellent position to call out the protagonist when they’re behaving badly/stupidly.
The sidekick can provide additional details about the story and the protagonist. Those details come from a view separate from the main character.
Sidekick Examples from Bestselling & Award-Winning Fiction
Let’s check out the sidekicks from various award-winning and bestselling novels.
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, published in 2010, is a contemporary novel by Sara Gruen. The movie was released in 2011.
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS spent 8 weeks at #1 on the NYT Bestseller List. It has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.
#1 – Trusted
Jacob falls in love with Marlena almost instantly. Her beauty, kindness, and compassion draw him in.
Marlena doesn’t necessarily do anything to earn Jacob’s trust but she clearly has feelings for him as well.
#2 – Loyal
Marlena’s loyalties are torn between Jacob and August (her husband). She loves her husband but he can be abusive. Jacob is kind to her – and (perhaps more importantly) the animals.
#3 – Plot
Marlena is key to the plot. She’s involved in many of the major plot points – plus she has her own plotlines with August & the animals.
#4 – There
Once Marlena stops avoiding Jacob, they spend a great deal of time together.
- Added Tension: This is the main role Marlena plays. She’s married so her interactions with Jacob are dangerous.
- Contrast August: Marlene also plays the role of contrast to August’s indifference & cruelty towards the animals.
THE WINDUP GIRL
THE WINDUP GIRL, published in 2009, is a science fiction novel by Paolo Bacigalupi.
THE WINDUP GIRL won the 2010 Hugo Award.
#1 – Trusted
The protagonist is Anderson Lake. He trusts Emiko not because she behaves in any kind of trustworthy manner but because Lake sees her as vulnerable.
#2 – Loyal
Emiko is not truly loyal to Lake. She likes him and wants to trust him however, she’s been screwed over in the past and is going to make sure that she takes care of herself.
#3 – Plot
The novel is named after her. She’s the windup girl. And yet she’s not crucial to the plot. The story could play out just as well without her.
#4 – There
Emiko does spend time with Lake but not a lot.
- Tension: Emiko adds tension to the novel. Lake risks a lot due to his obsession with her. She’s not a real person in the novel and her presence is usually accompanied by increased tension or new conflicts.
- Perspective: Emiko provides a different perspective of the novel. Almost all the other characters in the novel hold some form of privilege (even if bad things have happened to them) – that is not the case with Emiko. She demonstrates a different level of the story world.
Writing Prompts & Exercises for the Sidekick
Practice! Practice! Practice! It’s really the only way you’re going to get better. Check out these exercises and prompts so you can master the sidekick.
Exercise: Analyze More Novels
Every genre will be a little different. Choose some of your favorite novels and some novels in the genre you want to write in (if they’re different). Analyze the sidekick of each novel.
- Who is the sidekick? How do you know?
- Are they trusted by the protagonist? Why or why not?
- Are they loyal to the protagonist? How do you know?
- How much time do they spend with the protagonist?
- How do they further the plot?
- What roles do they take (contrast, similar, assistance, support, tension, call out protagonist, offer perspective, others)?
Exercise: Adapt LITTLE RED
LITTLE RED-CAP is a short story. It doesn’t have a sidekick, so you’re going to add one.
Your task: Write (or extend) a scene of at least 400 words with a newly developed sidekick.
The circus appears in town. Only children can see it.
Your Task: Write a scene of at least 400 words featuring a sidekick.
Keep a Notebook!
I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go (it’s the best advantage of having a purse). I use it to jot down ideas whenever they strike. I also use it to do quick practice exercises (like the prompt above) when I’m waiting for things. Check out these fun (and inexpensive) notebooks.
Best Friends Forever
The sidekick is an important role. They’re trusted by and loyal to the protagonist.
Follow this guide and make sure that your sidekick is fully developed and plays a crucial role in your novel!
When you’re ready for the next character, check out How to Write a Love Interest.
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