Does Your Story's Sidekick Serve a Purpose?
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The best friend. The sassy co-worker. The fellow thief on the crew.
Our stories’ sidekicks can come in all shapes and sizes, but the one thing that unifies them is their potential to aid our protagonists through the toughest times in their personal journeys — and maybe create a little secondary tension along the way!
With such strong purposes to serve, one would think that crafting sidekicks would be a cinch, but it’s not often that a truly sensational right-hand character finds their way onto the pages of a book. So, how can you ensure that your protagonist's sidekick adds real and memorable value to your story? Let’s break down my top tips today, writer!
Should your story include a sidekick?
A sidekick is a secondary character whose primary role is to aid the protagonist as they work to achieve a goal, overcome an antagonist, or undergo necessary internal development. (Or perhaps all three!)
Though fairly ubiquitous in fiction, a sidekick isn't often essential to a story's success. If your own protagonist doesn’t need the aid or encouragement of a peer, or if including a sidekick wouldn’t be true to the narrative of your story, don't feel pressured to add such a character in your book.
If, however, you know your protagonist could benefit from a little help in their journey, you’re in luck. Sidekicks are very versatile characters, often appearing as friends, partners, roommates, co-workers, or fellow students — or even as mere acquaintances. But no matter which specific role your sidekick serves, how can you ensure they pull their weight?
Are you making this simple sidekick mistake?
The biggest mistake a writer can make when crafting their story’s sidekick is to treat them as a throwaway character, good for a single purpose and useless thereafter. As with any secondary character in your book, sidekicks should be treated as the protagonists of their own stories, crafted with as much care and attention as any lead.
As we discussed in our article on crafting memorable mentors, sidekicks’ lives should never revolve solely around the protagonist and their needs. Treating them as mere comedic relief or the protagonist’s sole sounding board is a surefire way to make them more than a little forgettable.
Instead, take the time to develop your story's sidekick fully. The most memorable of sidekicks both encourage the protagonist and serve secondary purposes that make them irreplaceable to the story’s plot. What exactly can those purposes be?
Six Ways Your Story’s Sidekick Can Pull Their Weight
Everything — and every character — in your novel must serve a purpose. As you work to craft a sensational sidekick for your story, consider how they might fulfill one or more of the key purposes below:
#1: They can serve as a foil.
Many authors craft sidekicks whose personalities or mindsets greatly contrast the protagonist in an effort to amplify the protagonist’s qualities. For example, Han Solo serves as a foil to Luke Skywalker’s easy optimism and belief in the Force with his cynical nature and trust in his street smarts alone.
Depending on the qualities you wish to highlight, a sidekick can foil the protagonist in a positive or negative manner.
#2: They can aid the cause.
Whether by aiding the protagonist directly or by working alongside them to fulfill a greater purpose, a sidekick can lend their unique skills and insights to a story’s core cause. For example, Samwise Gamgee aided Frodo in his journey to deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom, thus helping the Fellowship save the entirety of Middle Earth from the dark lord Sauron.
#3: They can provide encouragement.
Your protagonist will undergo many trials and tribulations throughout the course of their story. A sidekick can encourage the protagonist to take specific actions or remind them of their motivations when all else seems lost.
#4: They can create secondary tension.
Sidekicks provide a vast amount of opportunity to further complicate your protagonist’s journey by providing secondary tension. This may be in the form of a disagreement between the two characters or through a more physical event, such as the troll that attacks Hermione Granger in the bathroom in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
#5: They can confront the hero.
Protagonists don’t always make the best choices, both for themselves and for others. When the hero screws up, your story's sidekick can be the one to confront them, urging them to reconsider their actions. Consider, for example, the many times Dr. Watson encourages Sherlock to be more compassionate when dealing with others during his cases.
#6: They can deepen the story-world.
Sidekicks can help round out a writer’s real-life setting or fictional story-world in many ways.
In conversation, sidekicks can reveal key expositional details or discuss past events, while through their own circumstances and experiences, they can present a whole new side to the story’s themes and its world's realities.
You see this in the Hunger Games series when Finnick Odair reveals how the Capitol continues to abuse the competitors who survive the Games, telling Katniss of his own enslavement.
Developing a sidekick who serves several of these six key purposes can be a great way to ensure their character packs a punch, though this list certainly doesn’t encompass all the ways your sidekick can lend value to your story.
One of my favorite activities is to read novels critically, considering how each sidekick serves the protagonist and the story as a whole. This often reveals many new and exciting ways my own sidekicks can liven up my story. My most recent discovery? An antagonist who masquerades as a sidekick to earn the protagonist's trust, then comes to love and aid them all the same!
If you're struggling to craft a well-developed sidekick of your own, I'd encourage you to give this exercise and today's tips a try. A little study and a whole lot of intention can go a long way toward ensuring you write some fantastic fictional sidekicks your readers won’t soon forget!