Thursday, January 24, 2013
What do Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Lucy and Ethel, Batman and Robin, and Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern (remember them?) have in common?
Obviously, these pairs consist of the main character in a story or TV program and their close friend/sidekick.
Wikipedia defines a sidekick as “a close companion who is generally regarded as subordinate to the one he accompanies.” In real life most of us have or have had a best friend, but unlike in novels we don’t think one of us is subordinate to the other. If we’re really lucky we’ll have a ‘best friend forever.” In fiction our heroes usually have a sidekick too and they function in important ways in the story.
Often the protagonist conveys her thoughts and feelings through dialogue. Without a sidekick to listen to the hero and act as a sounding board, the reader has to get this information through the hero’s internal monologues and thoughts. Boring – or it can be if it goes on too long. A little bit goes a long way. These chunky paragraphs are the parts readers often skip so they can get to the good stuff like the action and the romance.
Sometimes less important characters and villains have sidekicks to help them out with their dastardly deeds. Then they’re called henchmen or lackeys. These types are commonly found in romantic suspense, thrillers, and romantic mysteries.
A sidekick can enhance a story. I’ll use Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, one of the most famous pairs.
Narration. As the narrator Dr. Watson tells the story of Holmes’ exploits and most importantly, shields the thoughts of the detective. The reader can’t see what goes on in Sherlock’s clever little mind. Watson is the reporter giving us the information that the author wants us to know.
Admiration. Dr. Watson praises Sherlock for his cleverness, something Holmes couldn’t do himself without seeming arrogant and boastful. As readers we get an impression of the protagonist through the opinions of other characters. If a character is universally hated by those he knows then the reader is influenced by that. Watson is a reliable narrator so we take his word about the detective.
Normalcy. It’s so much easier for readers to relate to Dr. Watson than to the super-smart and super-odd Holmes.
Humanizing. While Holmes isn’t always nice, he is kind to Watson and that makes him seem more human and likeable. The sidekick can highlight the hero’s best qualities and show mutual loyalty. A character like Sherlock Holmes is so hard for many of us to relate to, he needs to be humanized!
Different Point of View. The sidekick narrator gives a different interpretation to the story events. He often acts as a sounding board to the detective and might add new opinions and ideas for the hero to consider. Differing opinions certainly could add a lot of conflict and interest to the plot.
Developing Your Sidekicks
A close friend of the hero needs specific traits to make her unique. In this respect she’ll be just like any other character. She’ll need her own bio with personal qualities that make her stand out among the cast.
Things to consider as you’ve creating your sidekick:
How does he sidekick complement the hero?
The friend should bring something to the story that the hero lacks. Different backgrounds, different abilities, temperaments, talents etc. He shouldn’t be a clone of the hero.
How does the sidekick compliment the hero?
Does the sidekick admire, respect, or dislike the protagonist? If she hates the hero then why does she hang around? For money, power, blackmail?
Can the sidekick help the hero to grow?
How will the friend help the hero to change and grow?
What perspective does the sidekick offer to the story?
The friend might see events very differently from the hero, and this will add depth to the story.
A sidekick is usually the same gender as the hero. So romantic entanglement usually won’t happen. That would only complicate the story. Of course I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions.
A novel written in first person doesn’t need a sidekick. Some stories have multiple close companions. It’s your book so write it the way you think is best!
Who are your favorite sidekicks – fictional friends who are as memorable as the hero?
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