Monday, September 28, 2009
Friends, Buddies, And Sidekicks
Elizabeth Bennett had Jane.
Maverick had Goose.
Shrek had Donkey.
Every hero or heroine deserves a loyal sidekick–a friend to help navigate choppy waters, provide comic relief, and be a sounding board. (Pretty much what the Seekers do daily!) In romance novels we writers understandably zero in on the love relationship, but friendships can add depth to our characters and our stories. Just like in real life.
I started thinking about friendship in romance novels over the summer. My husband–we’ll call him BACKYARD WARRIOR–was taming the jungle outside. In brutal heat and humidity, he chopped down dead trees, dug up ancient fence posts, and made the deck safe for bare feet. I wanted to help, but there were power tools and sweat involved–two things I admit I find most unappealing.
I was determined, however, to contribute something to the project. I don’t mean to brag, but I wield a pretty mean paint brush, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more skilled at sandwich runs. My favorite job this summer, though, required me to leave the air-conditioned house and brave the sauna outside--with my trusty spray bottle. Just a few squirts to the Warrior’s brow gave him strength. Strength to resist the allure of the big screen TV, to pick up the chain saw, and jump into the fray once more. I dubbed myself SPRIZTER GIRL, and each time I went outside armed with my potent cooling mist, I envisioned a red cape billowing behind me and heard the Indiana Jones theme song playing in my head.
By Labor Day, the mission was accomplished. My husband emerged from the backyard victorious, and when the neighbors came over to exclaim over his handiwork, he clearly deserved the glory. He even had a few new scars to show off. But as I gazed at the potted geraniums (that had not yet been devoured by deer) and admired the pricker-bush-free lawn, I knew my spray bottle and I had had a little something to do with it.
That’s true of the sidekicks in our romances too. They may not be in the spotlight, but they play an important role nonetheless. What can buddies do for your story?
Inject some Humor into a Dark Plot
In her book “How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author,” Janet Evanovich says supporting characters should be interesting and help move the story along. She also recommends making them unforgettable in some way. This could be an unusual physical trait or mannerism, like an eye twitch, or it could be the way they speak. Maybe their favorite expression is “Holy guacamole, Batman!” They may not get much time on the page, but the reader should instantly recognize them.
Be a Conscience
In “The Hero’s 2 Journeys,” Michael Hauge describes the job of the hero’s “reflection,” or sidekick, as being a conscience. Someone who can motivate the hero and occasionally say to him, “Hey, you’re not acting like yourself.” Since the friend knows the hero, she can also provide the reader with insight into any flaws or hang-ups. For example, the hero might be a brooding, sullen type, but the sidekick knows it’s only because his father disowned him. The friend knows the good guy lurking underneath and finds a way to bring him to the surface.
Another job Hauge assigns to the reflection is that of mentor or coach, someone who’s cheering for the hero and helping him achieve his visible goal. Remember how Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel to fend off the bullies? Wax on, wax off. Classic.
Be a Hero-in-the-Making
Stephen King warns against labeling our characters as “the bad guy” or “the best friend.” In “On Writing,” he reminds us that “in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us, baby.” That’s how we should think of the supporting characters we create. They may not be the stars of this story, but if we remember they could be headlining in our next book, we’ll be less likely to make them flat and unforgettable.
Of course, there’s a bit of a balancing act to perform here, as we would never want the sidekick to steal the limelight.
Once in a great while, you come across a sidekick so cool, so compelling, you know she’s destined for heroine status. Never fear–her time will come. And when she finally arrives, don’t be surprised to see her wearing a red cape . . . and clenching a spray bottle in her fist.
Thanks so much to the Seekers & friends for having me here and for showing what friendship is all about!
Here’s what I’d like to know–
• How do friendships enhance your stories?
• What are some of your favorite friendships from books or movies?
• If you were a sidekick, what would your official name be? (Bet it’s better than Spritzer Girl!)
Everyone who comments today will have an opportunity to win these cute notecards:
Anne Barton has at least three separate, and equally troubled, identities. By day, she's an elementary school teacher/modern-day governess. By night, she's the not-so-tortured writer of Regency-set romance. And, of course, when duty calls she's . . . SPRITZER GIRL.