Story Elements: The Sidekick

Speaking as someone who has spent the better part of his life as the sidekick, I think they don’t get enough credit. Now I’m not complaining about having been a sidekick. Quite the contrary, it was great fun. There’s a lot you can get away with going unnoticed in someone else’s shadow.

In stories though the sidekick is more than just the guy seeing what he can do while everyone else is watching the star of the show. In literary terms, he or she serves as the foil. Not aluminum foil. Not the fencing sword thing. And no, the purpose is not to ruin anything.

A foil serves as a counterpoint to the main point. Your hero seems more heroic in the face of the sidekick’s doubt. The ingenuity of the hero shines compared to the concrete thinking of the sidekick. A heady romance of sweeping emotions overwhelms the practical concerns of the onlooking sidekick.

Think Watson to Holmes. Think Sancho Panza to Don Quixote. Think D’Artagnon to the rest of the Musketeers. Think Robin to Batman, but only if you can do so without giggling at the homoerotic undertones.

At the very least, think about those ancillary characters as more than just convenient plot points. The more fleshed-out and real you can make them, the more depth you can add to your protagonist either in contrast or in compliment to the attributes you give your sidekick. It’s just another layer of depth available to the careful author.

10 comments Posted 2010-03-22 Author: THX 0477


  • Robert Quick

    Minor edit on the first line of the second paragraph.
    As far as the content goes- absolutely. Add in the Lone Ranger and Tanto, the Green Hornet and Kato, or Agent 99 to Maxwell Smart and you got a wide range of sidekicks that act in very different ways and can be used for a variety of purposes. Very astute observations THX 0477.
    Side note: Did you use the wikipedia page as a reference? If not, then the universe just got that much stranger.

  • Raymond Finn

    True of long-ish stories, or multi-parts on Ficly.
    But for someone who wants to write self-contained tales under the 1024 character limit, there’s not much room for sidekicks to be fleshed out.

  • ElshaHawk (LoA)

    ha, Raymond Finn, that sounds like a challenge! Did we do a sidekick challenge?

  • THX 0477

    Thanks for the editing help, Robert. Since you asked, no, Wikipedia was not consulted in the writing of this post—just personal experience and fuzzy memory.

    Welcome, Raymond. You make a good point, but I generally view ficly not as an entity unto itself but a laboratory for writing in general. Though you may not be able to work out a whole hero/sidekick dynamic in one ficly, perhaps you can explore some aspects of either character that you can apply to a larger writing project.

  • Kevin Lawver

    It makes me wonder if there are any good examples in literature of truly equal co-protagonists. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? Anyone?

  • blusparrow (LoA)

    hahah ros and guil, nice kev. i know hamlet all too well. and yes elsha is right, that sounds like a challenge. nice post thx

  • someday_93

    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern got their own play later on too…

  • John Perkins

    @Kevin, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

  • Wednesday [PJ] ((LoA))

    There aren’t going to be a whole lot of equal co-protagonists, although could I mention Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? They’re both equally insane. Also a book I read called The Glass books of the Dream Eaters where there were three pretty equally laid protagonists.
    I have this weird mentality of always loving the sidekick and holding the hero in a weird disdain. Even as a child there was something about Freddie from Scooby Doo that made me not like him. It’s probably the same thing I have about Harry Potter. Why does he get all the glory.
    I als have a tendancy to stray off topic then not edit my ramblings.

    Good point!

  • Luke Nicolaou

    Very true indeed! This is great advice for long stories, or stories that you develop offsite, but Ficly leaves little room for that in the character limit.