Ciao, SEers! Today I thought we’d talk about a character who isn’t used often enough and is discussed even less.
I’m referring to the sidekick.
Sure, we all write in friends and family. No one writes a single-character story. But I mean a true sidekick. Not a buddy, like in Lethal Weapon or Tango and Cash. Not a romantic partner like in When Harry Met Sally or The Proposal. I mean a sidekick. Like Watson to Holmes or Robin to Batman or Sam to Frodo.
Not sure of the difference? Let me explain.
First, let’s get a proper definition. A sidekick is an ally of the hero who has a beta role in the story.
That’s it. It’s that simple. He can’t outshine the hero, though he might be smart or funny in his own right. Look at Watson. He occasionally gets a brilliant observation or a wicked joke at Sherlock’s expense. But he’d never be considered the alpha character. He’s definitely the beta character. He will assist in figuring things out, but he’ll never be the one who actually solves the crime.
So, what roles do sidekicks serve in a story?
- Sounding boards
One of the best tools a sidekick provides is the chance for discussion. As much as I love internalization, you have to use it sparingly or it loses its effectiveness. Dialogue, on the other hand—especially sharp dialogue—is always a great way to impart information. Sidekicks provide heroes with a way for heroes to work through their thought-process without long strings of internal monologues.
Sidekicks are often the “every-man” to the hero’s “super-human” persona. Holmes has his off-the-charts intellect (or at least an unusual gift of observation or deduction). Batman is a gifted detective and combatant. Frodo is more able to resist the pull of the ring than most. Their sidekicks are just “regular” people like you and me. We might not relate to the heroes, though we’d like to, but we can relate to the sidekicks. And that makes us more able to to on their journeys with them because we identify with the sidekick.
As much as the heroes might not be relatable, they also might be off-putting. People with great abilities often struggle to relate to “average” people. Because they have a bond with their sidekick, readers will soften toward them and see them more favorably. (Kind of a “pet the dog” effect.)
If a hero boasts about himself, he’s grandiose and obnoxious. If his sidekick brags to others about his prowess, however, that’s admiration and an acknowledgment of his abilities. It’s probably not accurate to say such accolades are from an impartial source, as any informed opinion is by definition no longer unbiased. But it’s not coming from the hero himself, so he won’t come off as conceited; just experienced.
Telling the story from the sidekick’s point of view gives us some distance from the hero’s thought process. Once again, considering Sherlock or Batman, they are supposed to be several steps ahead of us. They should be able to scan a scene and know a lot more than we do. If we were inside their heads, we’d probably know who did it, how, and why right away. That takes away the mystery and the joy of trying to solve it on page two. But if we tell the story from the sidekick’s perspective, we have more time to assemble the clues, figure out the motives, and piece the puzzle together.
Personally, I haven’t yet written a story with a proper sidekick, but I’d really like to. I’m a huge fan of the dynamic between Holmes and Watson and think it would be so much fun to play with something like that.
Have you written a sidekick? Would you like to? Do you have a favorite literary hero/sidekick pairing? Let’s talk about it.