Thursday, February 1, 2018

Developing Sidekicks

~ Our theme for February is Partnerships, and today we (ahem) kick off with a look at the fictional partnerships between main characters and their sidekicks. ~

In addition to a unique main character, many stories feature unforgettable sidekicks, such as:

Sherlock Holmes's friend and biographer Dr. Watson who provides the practicality to Holmes's genius.

Batman and his protégé Robin exemplified experience versus the rashness of youth.

Captain Kirk and Spock represent the perfect balance between freewheeling emotion and cautious logic.

Here are a few tips for creating a memorable partner.

1. Avoid cardboard cutout props. Make your sidekick fully three dimensional. Give him goals and stakes as well as opinions.

2. Give him autonomy. Don't create a tin soldier sitting on a shelf, activated only when needed. Make sure he has momentum of his own. Give him a history that motivates and a present with complications.

3. Change it up. The sidekick doesn't have to be professional partner. They can be best friends, a romantic couple, brother and sister, mother and daughter, father and son, or AI versus human.

4. Don't create "yes men." Being his own person, your sidekick should have different viewpoints, education, experience, and tactics. His agenda might not always align with your protagonist's.

5. Balance the yin and yang. They don't have to be complete opposites to represent different sides of a thematic argument. The most common motifs are youth versus experience, caution versus carelessness, thinker versus doer, intuition versus facts, and analysis versus winging it. Give them complimentary strengths, but avoid differences so extreme they can't believably work together.

6. Keep the reins tight. So often our secondary characters become more interesting and attempt to take over the story. Don't let them. If your sidekick is more interesting than your protagonist, you have a serious problem.

Developing your sidekick can be just as much fun as designing your protagonist. Make them memorable.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. What a fabulous post, Diana! Filling the roles of both complement and foil, the sidekick can bring depths and complexities to a story, ones that otherwise might not be explored. This is a definite keeper.

  2. I've found quirky sidekicks can take over a story before the author (and the main character) realize what's happening. Even the bad guys in a mystery can steal the show.

    Excellent post, Diana!

    1. That's certainly true! I have a sidekick in one of my books who truly developed a life of his own - insisted on going his own way at the end of book one, so I now have the dilemma of two storylines going forward and no idea how they might interlink. I have to laugh or I might tear my hair out!

    2. Sometimes you have to change who your protagonist is!

  3. I had four protagonists in the Mythikas series. But each one took on the main role during their leg of the journey. The rest become co-stars until it is their turn to lead.


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