Fiction and film are filled with famous and/or beloved sidekicks. Batman’s Robin, Han Solo’s Chewbacca, Travis McGee’s Meyer, Stephanie Plum’s Lula, Dr. Frankenstein’s Igor, The Green Hornet’s Kato, Blackadder’s Baldrick . . . we could go on and on.
This story role fulfills the function of helper. That means a sidekick character should possess skills or abilities that can assist the protagonist in some way. Comedies play off this expectation sometimes by making the sidekick inept and anything but helpful, as in the 1944 Howard Hawks-directed film, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, where Humphrey Bogart’s sidekick is a gin-soaked simpleton (played brilliantly by Walter Brennan). All Eddie can offer Harry Morgan is his absolute loyalty. And Harry’s fondness and concern for Eddie display a softer side of his tough-guy character.
Others allow the sidekick to shine brighter than the protagonist, as in P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie-and-Jeeves stories. It is the butler Jeeves who is the problem solver, and for every scheme and mishap that Bertie Wooster gets into, Jeeves figures out how Bertie can save the day.
Sidekicks can generate reader sympathy for the protagonist through their desire to help. They can create additional tension or shock in a story when something befalls them. Readers then start to worry more about the plot’s outcome because if disaster can happen to the sidekick, then it just might strike the protagonist, too.
Also, don’t forget that villains can have sidekicks as well. Chances are they won’t be as well developed as a protagonist’s sidekick, but don’t count on it.
Of all the story roles available in my writer’s toolbox, the sidekick is my favorite.