|James R. Callan|
In most novels, it is a good idea for the protagonist to have a sidekick. Generally, this will be a friend of the protagonist. It is certainly possible that it is a stranger who enters the plot, and either attaches himself to the protagonist, or is somehow brought into close contact with the hero and ends up helping him or her.
If you are not convinced of the importance of the sidekick, imagine the Lone Ranger without Tonto, or Batman without Robin, or The Green Hornet without Kato.
The sidekick is a very helpful friend for you, the author.
The key to a good sidekick is to have him be a contrast to the protagonist. Why? If they are friends, wouldn’t they be a lot alike? If you make the sidekick a carbon copy of the leading person, all you really gain is another pair of hands. Make the sidekick a contrast, a different personality, and you have added a new dimension to the story.
By being different, the sidekick can highlight those characteristics of the protagonist that you want to emphasize. This secondary player can offer a separate perspective on the problems and perhaps additional paths to a solution.
I said the sidekick was a friend of the author. Suppose your protagonist is very serious. The sidekick can offer some comic relief. What if you get your principal character in a spot and don’t know how to get her out? The sidekick can provide the answer. Many problems you face as the author can be solved by use of the sidekick. Here’s an example. Abe is so honest and law abiding, he won’t even drive over the speed limit. He and Ethan stand in front of a house they need to search. The door is locked and Abe won’t break in. “Would you go in if the door was open?” asks Ethan. “Yeah. But it isn’t.” Ethan disappears and two minutes later the front door opens. “Come right in,” says a smiling Ethan. He has broken into a back door. You can’t let Abe move out of the character you’ve developed, but Ethan can help.
In A Ton of Gold, my leading person is a near-Ph.D. research scientist. Her friend, Brandi, barely made it out of high school. But Brandi is street smart, and when they find themselves in the seedier side of society, it is Brandi who knows how to deal with it.
The protagonist and the sidekick can have the same goal, but the sidekick can have a different motive, thus adding another layer to your story. And the sidekick could be the driving force for a subplot.
So think of the sidekick as your friend. Craft your sidekick carefully and whatever problem arises, there’s a good chance the sidekick can solve it, allowing the protagonist to keep her focus on the main goal of the book. When you create the sidekick, think “Contrast.” Your book will benefit.
About James Callan:
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, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.
A Ton of Gold, (Oak Tree Press, 2013)
On Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions: http://amzn.to/UQrqsZ