How to Create A Functional Sidekick: Novel Writing Tips

Creating a Functional Sidekick

Creating a Functional SidekickIt’s always good for our main character to have friends. They often provide support and humor in trying situations. Plus, going on an adventure or even just navigating a “normal” life can be long and lonely if we leave our characters without anyone. But it’s really not enough for the sidekick to simply be a sidekick. To craft an effective novel, these sidekicks should serve a purpose in the overall story. 

With that in mind, today we’re going to look at why it’s important to have a functional side kick and six possible functions your sidekick can have!

Why having a functional sidekick is important

A character who doesn’t serve your story is dead weight. It doesn’t matter how funny or supportive a character is. If they don’t offer anything else, then they are holding your book back. Last week, I talked about how every scene needs to earn its place in your novel. Characters have the same principal. It’s not enough for a sidekick to simply serve your character. They need to serve your story.

If your sidekick doesn’t serve your story, they run the risk of falling into one of these categories:

They become a distraction

You’ll likely write your sidekick into a whole host of scenes; after all, sidekicks are supposed to be one of your primary characters. But if your sidekick has no real purpose, that means they’ll be in all of these scenes with nothing to do. If this continues throughout your book, your reader may even start to wonder why this character even exists. This takes the reader out of your story and turns your character into a distraction.

They become annoying

When a character is consistently in scenes with no purpose, they become the character who is always in the other characters’ way. When people are running around trying to save the world, no one has time for the funny guy who has nothing more to offer than a joke. This character may be enjoyable at first, but they’ll quickly become annoying if that’s all they have to contribute. (With that said, it’s okay if your sidekick is funny, sarcastic, and laughs in the face of death, just make sure they have something to offer in addition to this.)

They become forgotten 

This will especially be a problem if you’ve got a killer plot. If you’ve written a tight story that keeps readers engaged and turning pages, they’re likely to retain the information that’s connected and helpful to the story. If your sidekick doesn’t contribute, they could very well be forgotten about until they say something, which isn’t what you want from a primary character.

Six ways a side character can serve your story

Here are a few possible functions for your sidekick! Keep in mind, your sidekick should ideally serve a purpose no other character is currently serving.

1) They can be the brains

If your main character isn’t all that book smart, it might be a good idea to have someone around who is. These sidekicks can always be trusted to provide vital information at exactly the right moment. And if there’s a piece of information your story needs but this sidekick wouldn’t know, it’s usually not too much of a stretch to suggest that they would know where to look to find the info. For example, Hermione from Harry Potter plays a vital role throughout the series in distributing information to Harry as needed. And later in the series, when someone needs to have some kind of medical skills, it was perfectly believable that she would be able to take on this role because of how much she reads and retains.

Your character’s brains can also be specific to your story. Maybe you need a tech genius like Felicity from Arrow, or maybe you have more use for a scientist. The brains sidekick doesn’t have to be all-knowing; the can simply be very intelligent in a field that your main character needs a strong understanding of.

2) They can be the protector

If your main character is in danger, you may have use for a protector of some kind. One way you see this type of sidekick is in the more traditional role of a physical protector (aka the muscle). This character may be some kind of soldier or skilled fighter brought in to keep your main character safe or to help them face the obstacles expected to come their way. One example of this type of protector is Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. He’s a skilled swordsman committed to protecting Frodo as he takes the Ring to Mordor.

Or your protector may be more of a stalwart guardian who is skilled at keeping your main character safe in a slightly less physical way. Keeping in the world of Lord of the Rings, a good example of this kind of protector is Sam. Being a hobbit, Sam is not that big, so he’s not the kind of protector you expect to win in a fight, but he’s smart, observant, and more than willing to do whatever it takes to keep Frodo safe (and he’ll fight if he has to).

3) They can be the money

You may find your characters will be in situations where they will need an excess of funds. Maybe they’re running some underground operation, or maybe they just require for a lot of expensive items. Whatever the reason, if your characters need money on a semi-regular basis, it might make the most sense for a sidekick to step into this role.

One example is Connor Mason from Timeless. On this show, the main characters have to travel back in time to save history at a moment’s notice. Connor Mason, the millionaire inventor of the time machine, is able to provide a large supply of period clothing and a handful of other expensive but essential tools to help the main characters succeed.

4) They can be the power

In this case, there are two types of power. First, if you’re writing a fantasy or supernatural story, you might need a character who can pack a magical punch. This character may be the only character in your group with magical power, or they might just be the most powerful. A good example is Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who becomes a powerful witch to help fight the supernatural.

Other times, you may need a character in a powerful position. If you think your characters are going to be in situations where they may regularly need some strings pulled, then you might want to think about adding a powerful sidekick. One example is NSA agent Denise Christopher from Timeless, who uses her powerful position to cover for the main characters when situations go awry and get them any information and support they may need.

5) They can have influence

Sometimes, you may not want a sidekick who has real power. That might make things too easy for your characters. However, it might be helpful to have a sidekick who has an influence on a certain group, person, or situation. This will help your characters get closer to what they want or need without having everything handed to them. One example is Cam from Bones. She’s the head of the science lab that the main characters work out of, so that comes with a fair amount of influence, but she doesn’t oversee anything outside of this one lab, so her power is limited.

6) They can be the voice of reason

Sometimes, you need a character who is insightful to move your story forward. This sidekick is probably one of the more subtle types, but it totally counts. If you have an impulsive main character, it helps if there’s a sidekick who can see the big picture, slow your main character down and push them in the right direction. One good example is Felix from Orphan Black. This show is about clones with varying temperaments who are constantly under attack. Felix is a bit of a clone whisperer. He can assess the situation, see what needs to happen, and chose the right tactic to get the clone in front of him to what she needs to do.

I hope this helps you make some killer (and helpful!) sidekicks!

Now it’s your turn: How do you make your sidekicks functional? What functions did I miss? Tell me about it in the comments!

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