How to Write a Sidekick

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?

  1. 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.
  2. Relatability
    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.
  3. Humanizing
    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.)
  4. Praise
    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.
  5. Narration
    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.

Staci Troilo Bio

70 thoughts on “How to Write a Sidekick

  1. Pingback: Developing Your Villain | Story Empire

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  3. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – This Week on Story Empire | The Write Stuff

  4. Hi Staci, another excellent post. I love all the Story Empire posts because I have often included in my own writing the aspect that is being discussed, but it is usually with out conscious and deliberate thought. These posts help me focus on these specific tools and give more thought to how and why I am using them. My own writing is not ‘learned’ as I never studied creative writing. I write in accordance with the many books I’ve read so these writing hints and lessons are very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice post, Staci! I started a short story some time ago told from the sidekick’s point of view. It grew past the “short” stage, then real life took over and it fell by the wayside. You’ve given me food for thought and some great insight to revisit it. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Apollo's Raven and commented:

    The following is a reblog by Staci Troilo on how to use sidekicks in a story. I learned that a sidekick is an ally of the hero who has a beta role in the story. He can’t outshine the hero, though he might be smart or funny in his own right. Check out Staci’s helpful hints on how to use a sidekick in a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmm. It might be fun to start with a sidekick who changes roles as the story evolves. How about a story where the sidekick’s status grows to the point where the protagonist begins to feel jealous?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That would be fun to write. It would also call into question how “alpha” the alpha truly is if his or her dominance and confidence could be shaken. That would make for a lot of interesting character dynamics.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve never written a sidekick, only buddies. I do love the Holmes / Watson relationship. Another one that springs to mind is Robin Hood and Little John.
    I think it’s probably far harder to write a good sidekick character than a buddy character. You’ve got me thinking, Staci!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Terrific subject, Staci. Like Craig, I’ve had characters drift into sidekick territory but not stay there for long. A true sidekick character, like Watson to Holmes, would be fun to write. Most of mine are more mentor/mentee relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a great post, Staci. While I haven’t written any stories with sidekicks, the closest thing that comes to mind for me is Craig’s Lizzie and The Hat series. While The Hat is a character, he is truly Lizzie’s sidekick, at least in my mind. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Their symbiotic relationship made them feel more like partners to me, but I can certainly see what you’re saying. The more I talk about this, the more I want to try to write one. It got me thinking about Nick from The Great Gatsby, who wasn’t a sidekick but was a narrator who wasn’t the main character, which is something the sidekick character often does. Now I want to play with all different kinds of storytelling devices.

      Thanks, Jan.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. These are good things to think about. The story I am working on has a strong secondary character, but I’m not sure he’s a sidekick. I like the list, and I like the idea of telling the story from the sidekick’s point of view. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I haven’t written a sidekick, but I like the idea of writing one. Interestingly, I started reading a book yesterday in which a character may turn out to be a sidekick. I’m not far enough along in the book to know yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: How to Write a Sidekick | Legends of Windemere

  14. What a great post, Staci, and it came at a perfect time. I’ve just started to trudge through the first draft of my WIP and was wondering about the sidekick. He’s a great complement to the hero, and your explanation helps me see him in an even fuller light. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Great post, Staci:) Like you, I love Sherlock and Watson, but haven’t haven’t had a real side kick in my stories. They do add that dimension and bring out the conversation. I usually always enjoy a story with one too.

    Liked by 5 people

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