Books on writing often have long chapters on how to develop and present protagonists and antagonists. They should. After all, the struggle between the hero/heroine and the villain is the basis of our stories. But any good story needs more than that. It needs other people, people who are going to support our Hero/heroine, who are going to help find clues, listen as he/she works out the kinks in the plot, and help catch the crook. They ride to the rescue when our hero is in trouble or at least bring in the cavalry, and they give our hero/heroine the support or advice he or she needs to bring the story to a satisfactory close.
I’ve often thought that sidekicks were the underpaid and overworked members of a book’s cast of characters. They’re called supporting actors in the movies, and they get Oscars. In books, they are the members of the cast that get the least attention, certainly the least credit, but we need them. “Supporting” means just that, and supporting is what they do. They back up the hero, the heroine, and the story.
Where would Sherlock Holmes have been without Dr.Watson? Lord Peter would never have gotten over his war nerves without Bunter. The Lone Ranger wouldn’t have been as adept at catching all those bad guys without Tonto. I’ve long suspected it was Tonto who kept him supplied with silver bullets. It’s Lula who keeps Stephanie Plum supplied with donuts but Stephanie might not catch another bail bond skip without Lula. Of course, she probably wouldn’t get into as much trouble without her either. Well, she probably would, but without Lula it wouldn’t be as much fun.
Because I believe so firmly in the worth of the support staff, the sidekicks, I made sure Ellen McKenzie had one, her aunt, Mary McGill. In And Murder For Dessert, it’s Aunt Mary who saves Ellen from getting stabbed to death with some pretty fancy work with a frying pan. In the latest Ellen McKenzie book, Murder Half Baked, its Aunt Mary once more who, with quirky humor and practical wisdom, helps put Ellen on the path to finding a murderer. But she does more than that. She props Ellen up when she is sagging under the weight of the many problems I’ve thrown at her, and she backs her up when Ellen puts herself in danger. We all need someone like Mary McGill in our lives.
So, writers, let those supporting characters loose. Let them wander through your books at will. They’ll make the story more interesting and your protagonist as well. And, readers. Nominations are open. Who is your favorite Sidekick? And why? Fictional or not, your choice. Let’s hear from you.
And Murder For Dessert
Murder Half Baked
Both available in soft cover at an indie bookstore near you.