Thursday, November 19, 2020

5 Dos and Don’ts of a Good Sidekick

By Bethany Henry

Part of The How They Do It Series

JH: A great sidekick can add a lot to a novel. Bethany Henry shares tips on how to craft a sidekick that enhances your story without stealing the show.

Bethany Henry writes fantasy novels and blogs about writing and wellness at When not writing, she can often be found on the frisbee field, drinking tea, or reading picture books with her two little girls. Sign up for her email list for weekly posts on writing craft- along with fun extras like quotes and freebies.

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Take it away Bethany...

Of course we all love and need heroes. But sidekicks can be just as important.

After all, Batman has Robin. Sherlock has Dr. Watson. And where would Frodo be without his Sam?
“Frodo: You've left out one of the chief characters--Samwise the Brave. I want to hear more about Sam. Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam.”
--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Every hero needs their sidekick. Despite not being the center of the story, sidekicks have a vital role that cannot be filled by the hero.

For instance, sidekicks can do things the hero can’t.

A sidekick has the freedom to disappear from the story for more than a few chapters as needed, be extremely incompetent or unlikable, or provide a different perspective to contrast with the hero. Sidekicks can be funny and lighten the mood when the hero is down.

Because sidekicks don’t need to carry the weight of a story’s plot, it gives them more flexibility.

Sidekicks can add a huge amount of depth and power to a story. As we create and evaluate our own sidekicks, here are some quick dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

5 Sidekick Dos:

Do Add Conflict

Not only can a sidekick add conflict to a story’s plot, but they should specifically clash with the hero at times. Friends and coworkers don’t always agree in real life, so why should they in our story? Having our sidekick disagree or fight with our hero is a powerful way to up the tension and dynamics.

Do Contrast The Hero

In many ways, our sidekicks function as a way to showcase our hero. They give the hero someone to talk to and someone to work with.

The sidekick is also a valuable chance to show various sides of the hero we wouldn’t otherwise see or recognize. What routines or history does the hero have that the sidekick can emphasize? Is the hero polite? Have that contrasted by a rude sidekick. Does the hero need to work on his sword-work? The sidekick could be more skilled.

In this way, our sidekicks can help us see our hero more fully.

Do Help The Hero

The hero can’t be able to solve every problem themselves, otherwise our story would be pretty boring!

Having a sidekick available to teach the hero something is a great opportunity for the hero to grow. The sidekick can also be available to rescue the hero as needed or help them carry out their plans.

As a related bonus, the sidekick can also potentially fail to properly help the hero… which adds all sorts of interesting complications and dynamics to the story.

(Here’s more on 5 Reasons Our Characters Need to Fail)

Do Be Funny

The comedic relief sidekick is a well loved role. Just think of Merry and Pippen in Lord of the Rings or Fred and George Weasley in Harry Potter.

Sometimes it is much easier for a sidekick to be funny than a hero, because the sidekick doesn’t need to work toward winning the day at the end of the story.

While we don’t want to force it, there are many ways to use a sidekick to lighten the mood, whether it’s obvious and over-the-top humor, a sly and dry wit, or even just a cheery disposition in a bleak moment.

Do Be A Full Character

Even if they aren’t the hero of the story, each character should be well developed.

Sidekicks should have their own dreams, motives, character arcs, personalities, and flaws. Sidekicks are people too, you know! Having strong secondary characters will make the entire story stronger.

(Here’s more on Character Motivation: 2 Questions For Each Character)

5 Sidekick Don’ts:

Don’t Be Too Agreeable

Having a sidekick who always agrees with the hero can be a problem if they are just a flat, boring character with no real personality or further purpose in the story.

(Here’s more on 5 Tips for Developing Supporting Characters)

Don’t Be Superfluous

Sometimes there can be too many side characters without specific roles to fill, which can be confusing for the reader and detract from the story. We want all our characters to have a reason for being in the story. Sometimes multiple characters can be combined into one role--it’s better to have one well-fleshed out sidekick than two or three forgettable characters.

(Here’s more on Wait a Second! Creating Secondary Characters)

Don’t Be A Stereotype

It’s easy to fall back on stereotypes, especially when creating our secondary characters, but we don’t want to get caught in that trap. Instead we need to do the research and take the time to create characters with personalities of their own.

(Here’s more on Fix Your Reader’s Pet Peeves: Stereotypes and Characters)

Don’t Be Inconsistent

Sidekicks can’t just magically change from scene to scene to fill any need you want throughout the story--they are a specific character and should be consistent to that personality and skill set. If you need them to fulfill a certain role for the plot, then that needs to be worked into their character.

Don’t Be The Hero

Sometimes a sidekick accidentally becomes the hero of the story--they’re more interesting and/or they are the one to beat the bad guys to win the day at the end of the book.

Unfortunately, the sidekick’s role is not to steal the spotlight!

If we find this to be true in our own story, we need to decide whether to: A) Revamp our hero to make them the true center of the story or B) Rework our story to make the sidekick into the hero instead.

At the end of the day, when we give sidekicks the attention they deserve they can add depth to our stories and play an important role despite their non-protagonist status. Plus they can be a lot of fun!

What about you? Who are your favorite fictional sidekicks and what makes them awesome? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

1 comment:

  1. I'd debate several points with you. But the main thing wrong with this is the idea that your side kick should STAY a side-kick. While true of Robon in Batman, this is a trope.

    QUOTE: the hero of Lord of the Rings is Samwise Gamgee.

    Sidekick? He's the one who CARRIES FRODO to the volcano where the ring can be thrown in.

    If he stayed a sidekick, MORDOR (AND SAURON) WIN.