I had the good fortune of participating in RMFW’s Colorado Gold writing conference this weekend. While I attended several productive workshops, I found a few to be especially informative, including one about sidekicks in fiction. With the permission of presenters Mario Acevedo and Warren Hammond, I’m writing this post so you can also benefit from what I learned.
I confess; I didn’t plan to attend this workshop. I had a gap in my schedule and wandered over, thinking sidekicks only applied to Batman. I figured if that was the case, I’d listen for a few minutes and then wander somewhere else. Instead, I absorbed every word, because the presenters not only turned my concept of sidekicks on its head, they effectively showed how an author can use them to enhance the depth of the hero (or MC, if “hero” doesn’t sit right in your mind). If you’re like me, you’ll discover where the sidekicks you didn’t even know you had fit in your story.
There are several “types” of sidekicks, including:
1.The Foil (example: Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock)
The Foil enhances the MC through contrast. He is in almost constant conflict with the MC, challenging him and generally making life difficult (though not just for the sake of making life difficult). Through these “safe” conflicts, we can see the MC develop and predict how he’ll react when faced with a real conflict.
2. The Mentor (example: Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi)
This is the classic teacher/student paradigm. The MC can’t develop to his full potential without the teacher.
3. The Indispensable Loyalist (example: Frodo and Sam)
Similar to The Mentor, the MC can’t succeed without The Loyalist, but in this case neither is “ranked” above the other. The Loyalist is the MC’s partner and comes to his rescue when needed.
4. The Resource (I forgot to write down the example, but maybe we can think of one. Write it in the comments if you do.)
This sidekick fills gaps in the MC’s skill set (like Stella was to Charlie in The Italian Job, perhaps). Also, he’s the one who always “knows a guy” who can help get a job done.
5. The Understudy (example: Batman and Robin)
There’s Robin! The Understudy is basically the opposite of The Mentor. He has to learn all the things and provides a way for the MC to relay important information. Hopefully he isn’t too annoying.
There are other ways a sidekick can develop the MC or the greater story both outside and within these types. They can:
- Provide romantic tension
- Test familial or professional bonds
- Accentuate issues of class or station
- Provide comic relief
The sidekick can also be in a close partnership with the MC to the point that they take turns being the MC, so to speak (example: Mulder and Scully). In addition, it’s a good idea to consider sidekicks for the antagonist. When this point came up in the class, I immediately thought of Magneto and Mystique.
At the end of the class, I realized I have two types of sidekicks represented in my two WIPs – The Foil and The Resource. This is useful information because now I can consider their motives in this light – what would The Foil say to the MC in that scene? Or what would The Resource do in that situation?
What kinds of sidekicks do you have in your fiction? Share in the comments!