“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
—Sylvia Plath

How to Kick Your Story Up a Notch With a Sidekick

Often in stories, the protagonist has a support system (unless your novel takes place on a deserted island and the protagonist is the lone survivor of a terrible plane crash, in which case a volleyball named Wilson will just have to do). These characters can take the form of friends, family, coworkers, roommates, or any other number of relationships, but often they fulfill the role of the sidekick.

Aqualad Sidekick

Photo by JD Hancock

Sidekicks are considered subordinate to the protagonist, whether it’s in a professional context, or just in terms of their relationship to the main storyline. Some of the most famous literary sidekicks include Doctor Watson, Sancho Panza, and Samwise Gamgee. While each of these characters is important to the protagonist, and is a personality in their own right, they are primarily written to push their respective hero along in his adventure.

Sidekicks are often of the same gender as the protagonist, and when there is a gender disparity, it’s not uncommon for there to be sexual tension between the two, either from the past or in motion during the course of the plot.

A sidekick is often useful when a protagonist is difficult to get to know from an audience perspective. Since the sidekick is often implied to know the hero better than anyone else in the story, there is often an emotional connection between the reader and the sidekick, and that connection combined with the friendship with the hero informs the audience’s opinion of the hero.

If nothing else, a sidekick is a fun addition to a story because it adds the potential for character interaction and development of the protagonist. And if the relationship is developed enough, as in the case of Huckleberry Finn, maybe your sidekick will eclipse your protagonist in popularity (and high school English lit classes).

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes and write a scene between a protagonist and a sidekick. Use the relationship to define an element of your protagonist’s personality or character that might not be immediately evident to a reader.

Post your practice in the comments and make sure to take some time to read the work of your fellow writers. Happy practicing!

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

  • LEKokko

    You bring up a very interesting point, the sidekick doesn’t even have to be human to work in a story, as you show about Wilson the volleyball.

  • Betty was back. I saw myself donning on the flower print apron and pulling my hair back in a neat bun.I started ransacking the cabinets for gluten free flours, egg substitute, corn starch and all the things it would take to make the perfect gluten free homemade bread.

    But Downer Sue was pushing to get through, too.

    “Why bother?” She berated me, “you’re only going to go back
    to your crappy eating habits.”

    Betty was having none of it. I twirled around the kitchen,
    imagining myself in heels with a wine glass in hand and homemade bread in the
    other.

    “Scratch that,” Sue reminded me. “Betty would never drink wine, not on a detox.”

    Screw you, Sue.

    No matter, Betty doesn’t need wine. I will be high on life and good clean food. My skin will glow with all the nutrients of the fruits and veggies I will fix up. My children will be vibrant and healthy. And I will exercise. I will have the firmest booty in town and my husband will not be able to keep his hands off me.

    “Good luck with that.” It was Sue again.

    I sat down at the kitchen table and looked out the window feeling deflated.

    The chocolate chip cookies left over from yesterday’s Sunday dinner were on the table.

    “Just finish up the junk in the house and start fresh tomorrow.” Sue cajoled me.

    “That’s what you will say tomorrow, and the day after and the day after. Just throw it out and be done with it ”. It was Betty this time.

    Sighing, I sunk my head in my hands.

    Solomon looked up from his spot on the tiled floor. He came over and pushed his head under my arm and rested it on my lap wagging his tail. Kissiing the side of brown muzzle I looked into his gentle brown eyes.

    I picked up the remaining cookies, unwrapped them slowly from the saran warp and smelled the sweetness of room temperature chocolate. I studied them for a minute. Solomon perked his head up. In the next instant I swiftly shoved the cookies in his direction. He needed no further invitation swallowng them down in one gulp.

    It was over.

    • Jeannette

      Is your sidekick a split personality of the main character? If so, I love the idea. It’s a little confusing as written, though. I cannot tell for sure if they are the different people or two personalities of the same woman.

    • Jay Warner

      I saw three characters: the narrator, Betty, and Sue. It was definitely an internal conflict going on. I’d never thought of a split personality as a sidekick.

    • Patrick Marchand

      Ever since I’ve read the long halloween I have been in love with split personalities under any form.

  • john

    I really never thought of it a sidekick,that’s a good deal.

  • I love the idea of a close character informing the reader about the protagonist like if they were their best friends. I’ve read a lot of stories that does this because the “sidekick” may know the main character better than that character knows himself. Interesting..

  • My favorite comedy, What About Bob, with Bill Murray, had a sidekick goldfish named Gil, who he talked to, and hung in a jar around his neck.

    • Jay Warner

      you are so right, Gil was the perfect sidekick!

  • Victoria

    Am I the only dork who put her practice in the comments? Lol

  • Paul Owen

    Here’s my practice for today. Please note this story is entirely fabricated. Guess I was just in an anti-bully mood today.

    ———————————————————

    We were going to stop Eric’s reign of terror. My buddy Mike and me had cowered like kittens for too long. We’d talked about it last night and made a plan; today we were looking for an opportunity.

    Eric was the class bully, and seemed to take delight in humiliating whoever he thought was the most vulnerable person that day. And he did it while threatening the rest of us into paralysis. One day he might swipe a personal note and read it out loud. Another day he might grab a personal hygiene item and graphically describe its use to the class. Eric managed to never get caught by doing all his evil when the teacher left the room errands. As far as the teachers knew, he was the nicest kid in school.

    But he wasn’t getting away with it today. We got our chance when Mrs. Brooks stepped out for a minute. The instant the door closed, Eric was out of his seat heading for Dawn, his intended victim. She saw him coming and started to cry before he even got there. I looked over at Mike and nodded. He nodded back and we got to work.

    I slipped out of my seat and walked up behind Eric. Grabbing his belt, I hauled him around to face Mike, who was just arriving with the surprise. We had collected a cloth bag of chalk dust before class, and Mike dumped it on Eric’s head. Then the two of us took chalkboard erasers (also collected before class) and pounded the chalk all over his face and hair. It made an impressive cloud. As a final touch I took a red clown’s nose we found at the party supply store and jammed it on Eric’s nose.

    By this time the class was howling with laughter. A couple of kids actually fell off their chairs, clutching their sides. We’d expected that much. What we didn’t expect was when Eric burst into tears and ran from the room sobbing. We were also surprised at just how angry Mrs. Brooks was when she returned, having seen Eric running down the hall.

    And that’s how Mike and I found ourselves outside the principal’s office, pondering our fate.

    • Jay Warner

      Your piece gave me a good laugh. How well we have all suffered the humiliation of school pranks.

      • Paul Owen

        Thanks, Jay. Glad you liked it

  • Jay Warner

    Embedded in the palm of his hand was a splinter of enormous size. He didn’t know where it came from, but a couple of scenarios came to mind. It could have been sticking out of that log fence he jumped a few days ago trying to retrieve a cartwheeling memo that flung itself out of his car when he stopped by the side
    of the road to take a leak. The wind kicked up at just the wrong moment and the memo with instructions how to get to the restaurant had catapulted itself across the field and clung for one dear moment to the fence before fluttering and leaping over. He had hastily zipped his pants and slammed the car door in case any other items from within should plot their escape as well, and sped clumsily across the clumps of grass and dry dirt in his dress shoes, only to find the paper half way across to the line of trees once he got over the fence. He could have gotten the
    splinter then.

    Or he could have gotten it swinging the bat at practice last evening when in the twilight hours he stood on the field with a dozen boys milling about in their royal blue and white uniforms waiting for the game to begin. He was the assistant coach and had to take one last practice swing before the sixth-graders took to the field. For a moment he was twelve again, not thirty- three, and not the father of a twelve-year-old about to make his mark in the Little League.

    “Time to go,” he said, rubbing his palm.

    “Look,” Marina murmered, taking his upturned hand in her own delicate one. “It’s aligned perfectly with your lifeline. That long, dark speck of wood under your skin, pricking and irritating.. Doesn’t it remind you of when we took that picnic out by the lake? The splinter you got? One of many!” She giggled. “You were crazy back then.” Her big gray eyes looked inquiringly into his palm. And suddenly he remembered where the splinter had come from.

  • Patrick Marchand

    Ambro looked at the man in front of him, tall, brown hair and bronzed skin, a typical man in every way, except that he was a robot. That fact was easily deduced from the open panel in his stomach, which laid bare the intricate inner workings of this mechanical marvel. The technologist who was working on the robot closed the panel, pressed a few buttons and applied some sort of paint, which to Ambro’s eye, seemed to be exactly skin colored, except that it faintly glowed for a few seconds when the technologist performed the last Simo sacrament on the lifeless husk before retiring himself with a cursory bow.

    Ambro closely inspected the body of the robot, trying to find traces of the panel which had just been closed, but he saw nothing but the fine grain of its bronze like skin, which, to his surprise, actually a few short hairs on, he then lifted his gaze toward the face, wondering if it had any noticeable facial hair and then he froze, its eyes were opened.

    « Greetings Detective » it said,

    He couldn’t speak for his surprise was too great, how much time had its eyes been opened? Finally he managed to croak a few words

    « He.. Hello mr….? » he asked

    « My identification is Tan-66, but you may call me Tanis if that calms your apprehensions detective. » the robot said, with its impossibly warm voice.

    « Hum, yes, Tanis then. The clerk said you would bring me up to date on all the details. »

    « Yes Detective, for that is my function, I am a new model, aimed at cooperation with humans, I was iterated from the mind of the great Galus, high dreamer of Simo and based upon our most holy book, the Arcanum Industriam, my task is to respond to all your questions and to help as best I can with your case. »

    Ambro, with a frown, said « Respond all my questions? I have a feeling that “all” is actually curtailed to anything that will not hinder the aura of secrecy the temple so likes. »

    The Robot hesitated, then said « While I do have independent thought, as such as it is not limited by anything except my hardware capabilities and software intricacy potential, my freedom of speech has been somewhat limited by an order to only share such information that is of the utmost importance to the case. »

    « Well at least you’re honest about it » said Ambro « Now you don’t suppose I could see what this case actually is about? »He swore he could have seen the shadow of amusement in the eyes of the android when it said « Of course detective, your time is precious and we must not waste it. »

  • I always remember the story my writing tutor,k Kate de Goldi, told us once, about the book she’d published, “Clubs”. She’d started out with two characters, however the sidekick, Lolly Leopold, kept hijacking every scene and insisted on taking centre stage. Kate fought against it for a time but eventually gave in, and made Lolly the protagonist. From then on, the story unfolded naturally!

  • George McNeese

    Drew and Dottie sat out on the patio at Chick-Fil-A. Drew bit into his sandwich and laid it down. He opened packets of ketchup and mayonnaise and mixed them together with a waffle fry. Dottie stared while he ate, not stopping to breathe.

    “Look at you, Drew.”

    “What?”

    Dottle gawked at him. “Look at what you’re doing.”

    Drew finished his bite. “What? I’m eating lunch.”

    “No. You’re pining over Daisy.”

    Drew drank some lemonade. “I am not pining over Daisy. She’s moved on. I’m moving on. End of story.”

    “I’ve known you since eighth grade,” Dottie said. “And I’ve known Daisy longer. She’s the only one we both know who mixes ketchup and mayonnaise.”

    Drew looked at his condiment puddle. “I’ve always eaten fries like this,” said Drew.

    “Have not,” Dottie replied. She pushed her black-rimmed frames to the bridge of her nose.

    “My mom eats fries like this,” said Drew.

    “Bleh. Disgusting.”

    Drew put down his half-eaten fry. “You have a problem with my mom now?”

    Dottie was puzzled. “I just think ketchup and mayonnaise should be kept separate. That’s all.”

    “Sorry,” said Drew. “And you’re right. I don’t like this concoction, either. I think I put in too much mayonnaise.”

    Dottie smirked.

  • keebaboo

    um…. this helped me a lot not thx for now i’m a level higher

  • keebaboo

    lol