NCWA blog welcomes author James Callan!
I, and thousands of others, have written on the need to carefully sculpt the protagonist for your novel. You need to know that person very well, intimately, not just the physical aspects, but every aspect. What does the protagonist like to eat? What does the protagonist like in friends? What events in his or her early life lingers today? What is her passion? What are his fears? And on and on. Entire books have been written on this subject.
Today, I want to concentrate on the sidekick for the protagonist. First, does there have to be a sidekick? The answer is no. Certainly The Life of Pi did well without one. But most of the time, a sidekick is a good addition to your cast.
Let’s start by defining what I mean by a sidekick. A sidekick is a secondary character frequently with a main character, and that interacts (generally in a positive way) with that main character. We “attach” the sidekick to a main character, usually the protagonist but sometimes the antagonist. Also note that the definition does not require that the sidekick is a person. Author Mary Chase gave Elwood P. Dowd, her protagonist in Harvey, an imaginary, six-foot tall rabbit that only Dowd can see. But Chase does such a good job that by the end of the play, even though you can’t see the rabbit (Harvey), you believe he is there. And Harvey is an important character.
More often than not, the sidekick is a friend of the protagonist. But let’s get to the crux of the matter. The sidekick is more of a help to you, the author, than to the protagonist. The sidekick can handle many chores that would be difficult for you without such a character.
The sidekick can supply the comic relief if the story is getting too intense. The sidekick can ask questions of the protagonist which can either fill in gaps, or provide an easy way for you to include certain facts without resorting to an information dump. Of course the sidekick can bring two additional hands to the solution, or perhaps different ideas, or a distraction. He can even make the problem worse. While that may be bad for the protagonist, it certainly helps you, the author, by adding additional plot elements.
In fashioning a sidekick, do not make him a mirror image of the protagonist. It is best to make this character a striking contrast to the protagonist. This allows you greater latitude in the story and the solution. And it allows for minor conflicts throughout, always a good thing. These disagreements can either lead to a solution or make things more difficult, whichever you need. Perhaps have a major conflict and the sidekick disappears for awhile, giving you more grist, adding more suspense.
So, view the sidekick as an assistant to you, your friend, making your job easier, but also—most important– turning out a better book.
After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mysteries.
James R. Callan’s latest mystery/suspense is A Ton of Gold. His heroine has a strong sidekick.
Click here to visit Callan’s website and blog.