Writers and authors spend so much time perfecting their main protagonist that it can be incredibly easy to neglect their side character's development. In contrast, some writers have no idea where to begin when it comes to their sidekicks. Their main character is the one who will ultimately save the day and become the hero, so how can you ensure that your side characters are memorable without overpowering your protagonist?
Well, a good sidekick should be just as important and loveable as the main character of your story. They shouldn't fade into the background, or worse, only exist to befriend the protagonist. They should be their own character who brings their own personality and skills to the story.
Think of Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series, for example. She accompanied Harry throughout his tragic quest, but she never hid in his shadow or made the reader question her relevance. Hermione brought her intelligence and determination to the trio, and without that, Harry and Ron would never have survived.
Moreover, what about Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings? Despite his initial fear of stepping out of The Shire, Sam became Frodo's saving grace by the end of their journey to Mordor. Sam displays great acts of bravery, courage and patience, which enabled Frodo to achieve his goal and save Middle Earth from evil.
So, what can YOU do to create a memorable sidekick like the ones we all know and love? Here are four things to think about to get started.
When you create your protagonist's sidekick, it's essential that you think about what their purpose is and what they bring to the story. Readers may question the relevance of your side characters if they're only there to befriend your main character and simply tag along, so it's important to develop them just as much, if not more, than your primal hero.
For example, you may or may not have seen Merlin, the BBC drama that aired back in 2006.
Well, if you haven't, it's quite self-explanatory and absolutely incredible if you're into fantasy and Arthurian legend. The show follows the life of Merlin as a young lad and Arthur's rise to power from prince to king. Although the show is named after the famous warlock, Merlin is very much Arthur's sidekick due to his role as Arthur's servant. However, his lower-class duty doesn't down-grade his purpose at all. In fact, Merlin's purpose and destiny was very clear from the beginning - to protect Arthur who will unite Albion and lift the ban of magic his father has cast over the kingdom. Due to Merlin's weighty responsibility and detailed character development, his purpose will always be remembered, even years after the show's climax in 2008.
On top of Merlin's purpose and destiny, Clara Oswald had a similar role in the seventh series of Doctor Who. At the beginning of the season, we have already seen Clara before, but the audience, and the Doctor for that matter, have no idea who this impossible girl is and why she keeps appearing as different people. Nonetheless, after travelling with the Doctor and helping him to save the day on different planets, we discover that Clara's purpose is to save the Doctor, which is similar to Merlin's destiny. The Great Intelligence jumps into the Doctor's timestream to wreak havoc and pain on his life, but Clara can't just sit back and do nothing, so she jumps in after him to keep the Doctor safe.
Although your sidekick may not have a duty to protect or save your main character, it's important that you make their role clear from the beginning, or at least make sure your readers know their purpose by the end, depending on your story. If your side character doesn't have a clear responsibility and doesn't offer anything to your novel, your readers are less likely to get invested, so make sure you give them their own purpose.
2. UNIQUE SKILLS AND ABILITIES
After you have thought about your sidekick's purpose, it's time to think about the abilities they possess that your protagonist doesn't have. Giving your side character unique skills gives them that extra relevance to the story and adds to their purpose, which we discussed in the previous paragraph.
For example, in Victor Frankenstein, the 2015 adaptation of Mary Shelley's gothic tale, starring
James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, Frankenstein rescues Igor (Radcliffe's character) from the circus due to the medical knowledge he demonstrates at the beginning of the film. Again, although Frankenstein has always been the tragic hero we all know, Igor, who isn't in Shelley's novel, has an impeccable knowledge of the anatomy, which Frankenstein doesn't possess. As a result, the pair are able to create the famous monster.
In addition to Victor Frankenstein, Oceans 8 also includes side characters who have unique skills and abilities. For example, the team would never have successfully stolen the diamond necklace from the Met Gala if they hadn't recruited Nine Ball, a woman who could hack into the highest security networks. Consequently, Nine Ball proves her use and the audience clearly knows her purpose in the story.
Your sidekick may not be a doctor or a hacker, but it's vital that you think about what unique skills they DO have. What skills can they offer that your protagonist cannot? How can your sidekick prove their use to help save the day?
Making your sidekick distinctive should be an important part of their creation and development, but remember to keep it subtle. You may wonder what I mean by this point, so let me explain.
Do you have a friend or relative who stands out for a particular reason? I know I do. Here is a short list of characteristics and quirks that make some of my friends distinctive:
Friend 1: Wacky, bright wardrobe, never swears, loves Halloween, allergic to cats, fears dogs and germs.
Friend 2: Always on her phone, loves unicorns, will have a Chinese takeaway at every opportunity, adores scented candles and is always buying from The Body Shop.
Friend 3: Geeky bookworm, has a passion for art and painting, loves Doctor Who and cats, shy but eccentric.
As you can see from the list above, each friend I have outlined have different quirks, so for someone like you who has no idea who these people are, your brain probably created its own image of them based on my descriptions. Consequently, if they were characters in a fictional novel, readers would most likely label them as the wacky, outgoing one, the girl next door, and the quiet but intelligent bookworm.
Although labels aren't always welcomed in the real world due to how different people choose to identify, labels can be a great way to make your side characters stand out from the rest.
For example, consider Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series and Sera from Dragon Age:
Inquisition. Luna is often known as a sweet, eccentric student who has a crazy wardrobe and deeply cares about animals, both real and imaginative. But on the other hand, players of Dragon Age: Inquisition usually associate Sera with her jester-like style, her brash personality and her slightly childish sense of humour.
You may or may not be familiar with these characters, but these quirks and characteristics popped into my head immediately, which highly suggests that the writers of these characters took the time to make them as believable and memorable as possible.
When you're creating your own side characters, think about the real people you know and write down the things that instantly enter your head. Don't ponder - literally write things down as they come to you. You can do this with as many people as you wish, but I recommend starting with three so you can clearly see the differences between them without getting overwhelmed.
Once you have done this exercise, you can apply some of the characteristics to your fictional characters, which really helps to add more depth and detail to their personality.
As your protagonist drives the main plot, it makes sense that your side character enhances the subplot of your novel.
For instance, if you're writing a historical novel that involves two kings at war, there could be a spy within one of the castles who is leaking information to the enemy. As a result, the subplot could involve your side characters attempting to catch the traitor while your protagonist (the king) takes control of the battle.
Or if you're writing a crime novel, your detective's partner could be being blackmailed by the criminals your protagonist is trying to catch. As a result, your subplot will focus on what is happening behind your detective's back.
These are just two ideas that popped into my head, and I must admit, I LOVE the sound of them both! If you have a manuscript that fits these descriptions, I would be so excited to edit them for you, so don't be afraid to get in touch!
As I was saying, by using your side characters to create a gripping subplot that enhances the main story, readers are even MORE likely to remember them. For example, I will always remember Grover's mission to find Pan in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, and I will never forget Amy and Rory's relationship in Doctor Who!
Ah! You made it! Thank you so much for reading until the end, I really appreciate your support and I hope you have more of an idea of how to create a memorable sidekick your readers will adore.
Give them a purpose
Give them unique skills and abilities
Make them distinctive
Use them to create an exciting subplot
If you keep these four points in mind, you'll create a side characters readers will never forget!
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm the book editor and proofreader at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent literary consultancy in the UK. I help passionate writers and authors to get their novels ready for literary agents or self-publishing.
In weekly blog posts, online courses and daily Instagram posts, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!
Let me ask you something...
Do you seriously want to pursue your passion of writing and publishing books people actually want to read?
Are you currently planning, writing, or editing your manuscript?
Are you ready to become a successful author?