We all know them, the funny sidekick to our favorite characters. Since TV shows are more universal than specific books, and easier to use for my examples, I’ll stick with TV sidekicks for this post. But the premise is the same with literary sidekicks ;). Many times sidekicks get more attention than the main character (on TV- Jim Parsons (actor who plays Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory) has been nominated/won many awards, whereas the “main” character hasn’t). Most of the quoted one-liners from fans come from his character. The sidekicks for both Lost Girl (Kenzie) and Grimm (Monroe) regularly steal the show in my book.
So, if these sidekicks are so cool, and so popular, why can’t they be the main character?
Because their strength lies in playing off the straight man/woman- the main character. Sheldon is hysterical, (Big Bang Theory) but his character would be too much and cross into just annoying if the show had him as the centerpiece (Big Bang Theory is an ensemble show, but all of the characters revolve around their connection to Leonard).
Since the sidekick is often comic relief, putting them as the main focus often weakens them since the scriptwriter is taking away one of their strengths to make them more serious for a heavier role. The same can happen if a novelist decides that they want to give more weight to a comic relief character- doesn't always work.
The sidekick character gives the main character depth, by allowing the reader (or watcher) to see different sides of the character without the author telling us or pounding us over the head with it. Through the sidekick we often get a reprieve from the drama of the main plot, a chance to relax before the next "big bad" comes our way. Also,a lot of true character development comes about from seeing how the character relates to different people and different situations. A sidekick allows you to show aspects of your character that you want the reader to know, but other characters are unaware of.
One rule of caution about a great sidekick, if your sidekick is TOO good, too interesting, too much fun to write, you may have actually created two main characters. I’d look at them carefully and see who is really the story teller? Who is the main character for whom the rest of the world (in the reader’s eyes) revolves around? Hate to say it, but in some cases you may be telling the wrong person’s story.
What about you? Do you consciously have sidekicks in your books (I do. The one time I tried not to, it drove me insane- but that’s another post ;)). Who are some of your favorite sidekicks?