Everyone knows Robin from Batman, or Samwise Gamgee from LotR. How about Han Solo from Star Wars, or Luigi from Super Mario Brothers? These beloved sidekicks are treasured by many for the legacy they leave, what they help the hero create. That isn’t to say sidekicks lacks their own hero’s journey. Many sidekicks develop character arcs—and even series unto themselves.
Developing a Sidekick
“Behind every hero, there is always a wisecracking, obnoxious Nincompoop!“— Samos on Daxter
During the hero’s journey, the protagonist encounters companions to join the quest. Sidekicks are different. A sidekick fulfills a role of greater significance than a companion. They often have their own powers, story arcs, POV scenes, and inner tribulations. A sidekick helps lift the hero up and adds to the story sometimes serving as a foil to shore up the hero’s lack.
Interestingly, sidekicks are often of the same gender as the protagonist. If of the opposite gender, sexual tension typically arises in the form of a romance subplot. A sidekick often knows the protagonist better than most characters and can offer new ways to relate to the hero.
Sidekicks come in many forms. Some are competent, others are not. They help drive the plot and the protagonist’s arc. When heroes fall down, sidekicks are there to pick them up. Unlike the hero, a sidekick can afford to die, although at great expense—and usually towards the end of the story. Sidekick deaths should be carefully planned, for it will create a void in the hero’s journey.
The role of the sidekick in literary fiction is sometimes hard to describe. They may be the friend or mentor of the hero; they may be the narrator & nominal main character of the story whilst the hero gets the credit and is more interesting (King’s “The Body for example) Some of them always save the hero’s bacon (Jeeves & Wooster) & others are just plain loyal. —CQSteve on List Challenges
The Many Roles of Sidekicks
- Comic Relief—to contrast a hero’s temper, lack of morals, or as a foil to better emphasize the protagonist’s qualities.
- Perspective—providing a different look at the hero. The sidekick may have a unique relationship with the hero, some trait that helps the sidekick stand out. They can also add useful POV scenes that reflect on the hero.
- Conflict—creating soft tension that provokes thought in the hero or the reader; opportunities for character growth.
- Plot Inertia—moving the story along should the hero ever stagnate.
- Subplots—adding to the worldbuilding or depth of the plot.
Case Study: Ashia Worldscale
In my novel, Blade of Dragons, Ashia Worldscale fits the role of sidekick. She offers plenty of comic relief to offset Pepper Slyhart’s brooding episodes. Ashia also aids Pepper whenever the Dragonsoul, a draconic curse, seeks to control her. As a relative, Ashia had played a big role in Pepper’s childhood arrangements, saving Pepper and her father from the enemy.
Ashia and Pepper get along as sisters, with the latter having few if any friends. Ashia is peppy, upbeat, and always willing to pick Pepper up, should she ever fall into a malaise. Ashia also has her own subplot with the antagonist, threatening to assassinate her entire family and unmake her nation’s legacy. Quite a tall order.
Unlike Ashia, who is energetic and bouncy, Tarie Beyworth is a gentle, soft-spoken foil, who is more romantically engaged with Pepper. His plot is tied into to the main villain, as seen in later books. When I wrote the three characters, I had Pepper as the heroine, with Tarie and Ashia as supporting characters. It’s no coincidence that the three grew up together, in a sense. With Ashia’s long Dragonite lifespan, however, she served more the role as nanny early on—with Pepper’s mother having vanished, and Tarie an orphan.
It makes me reflect on the numerous aims behind Ashia’s character, how she started out purely for comedy relief in draft one, then expanded onto additional roles. I’m no expert, but having multi-faceted characters, particularly sidekicks, is always a plus, and I find it delighting in stories.
What are your thoughts on sidekicks? Have you any favorites? What do you feel goes well with a sidekick’s persona? Leave your answers in the comments below. Cheers!
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Aspectä rey’lief, fair reader.
—Ed R. White