When I hear the word sidekick, the image of Batman’s Robin conjures. Who could forget the guy wearing the green pantyhose? The word is forever linked with the lesser one of the power duo.
The Urban Dictionary defines a sidekick:
“A friend/associate of a more popular, charismatic person. The sidekick gains most of his/her acclaim from merely being connected so closely to the more powerful acquaintance.”
It’s easy to write a sidekick who follows the heroine like a shadow. Sometimes the shadow is long, and sometimes it travels ahead of her, but shadows rarely mean anything except symbolism.
And then an interesting secondary character flows out of your pen like lightning. This person keeps you awake at night and leads the story into unknown depths as a bright flame.
The safest route to prevent the sidekick from stealing the spotlight, is to make her/him inferior to the heroine/hero but where’s the drama in that?
Someone to save the day
If you’re like me, you write a villain who radiates raw power. He keeps kicking the hero’s ass, and you need someone to help defeat him. My recommendation is to make the villain stronger than the MC because this way you build pressure and suspense! You drive the plot forward with bloody desperation.
The sidekick can come to the MC’s aid at the darkest hour: when the villain is about to strike a spear into the hero’s heart.
The sidekick is abler than the hero under unusual circumstances:
- The hero is wounded and unable to defend himself
- The hero is under a spell or doesn’t sense the approaching death
- The secondary character is the only one around and must rise to save the day
- The villain’s BFF changes sides and become one of the good guys to keep the hero safe. He has the element of surprise on his side.
- The sidekick betrays the hero and reveals that he has been working for the evil one the whole time. You can feel the salt stinging on that wound for a long time. This twist forces you to prolong the final battle- which is a good thing. Keep postponing the reader’s satisfaction.
And so on. I’m sure you have seen movies which utilize a lesser character to bring the plot into a grand finale via roundabouts.
The sidekick can be a person who contrasts the hero, like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Dr. Watson. Watson is a man of medicine with practical wits, and a war hero, who reflects the intellectual superiority of Sherlock Holmes. Where Holmes is in danger, Watson comes to the rescue. Where Holmes is at loss, Watson is confident because he is different.
Sometimes the secondary character, which you intended as a vessel for plot advancement, steals the readers’ attention. That’s what happened to Liva Löwe in my book The unholy Warrior. She’s the one my beta readers found most attractive because they can relate to her.
The key to the reader’s heart is arousing empathy. Keep your sidekicks relatable!
Sometimes the heroine can appear too strong and hardheaded, which is fine for the MC. But the presence of a gentler person who finds her courage when all else crumbles can have an earth-shaking effect on the reader.
Is Julia a sidekick of Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984? Yes and no. A love interest can be a sidekick. Winston and Julia rebel together.
Boy-boy and girl-girl pairs are abundant in literature and movies. If the heroine and the sidekick represent different sexes, you can write a sub-plot of budding love. One-sided affection raises the stakes a notch by introducing another level of conflicting interests. A disgruntled lover is a fertile ground for the enemy to grow resentment towards the hero.
But I see Julia as the last nail on Winston’s coffin. From the introduction of Julia, Orwell predicts the main character’s doom. To make the aide betray the hero is a great idea: the knife twists deep inside the gaping wound. In fact, Winston and Julia betray each other at the face of an invincible enemy: the system.
The representatives of the enemy can become sidekicks for the hero. Just one kiss from the deadly 007 and poof! A battle-hardened communist assassin becomes the Playboy bunny because sex makes her see the system of Motherland as evil.
Okay, I over-simplify.
I’m not complaining because Ian Fleming’s James Bond is excellent entertainment. The secondary character can exist as a borderline case through the entire Bond movie.
We know where Major Amasova’s loyalties lie when we see the ending of The Spy Who Loved Me.