Are sidekick characters necessary?

Merry and Pippin fumbling across Middle Earth. Donkey jabbering his way out of trouble with Shrek. Sidekicks abound in fiction. With their success has come an unwritten expectation that great fantasy (and fiction in general) requires sidekicks. Modern culture prizes comedians above serious thinkers, adding to the problem.

sidekick characters

While we can relate to the reasons a sidekick can sometimes empower a story, there are also drawbacks we must recognize. Sidekicks provide an easy release of tension in emotionally uncomfortable or charged situations. Their primary function is (often) to provide comic relief in situations that the protagonists are sweating over.

What is the drawback to this? We need to be fully absorbed in the story’s moments, especially with their most uncomfortable moments of tension. We need to sweat with the protagonist, not have some other character insert a distracting jab that attempts to lighten the mood. Surely there is a time and place for that, but often the humor is better left out.

Story is a powerful conductor of thoughts, ideas that motivate, and convictions that make the reader want to change or improve themselves. Humor distracts, makes light of, and de-emphasizes truths that build good character. I have spoken before about not modeling ourselves after the villain… but it is also imperative that we not look to comedians and sidekicks as our role models. Humor is a gift to be used sparingly. Deep thought and consideration of how humble and small we are beneath God should be our focus. Meditation and reflection are more beneficial to our souls than the funniest jokes.

Sidekick characters have trouble taking things seriously. They see humor in every moment. They get so caught up in jesting that they are either slow to mature or miss the opportunity to mature altogether. There is great wisdom in keeping silence. There is vast spiritual reward in learning to think, live, and act in sobriety.  “Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the Devil walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” (quote from 1 Peter 5:8 The Bible).

It is easier to be foolish than it is to be sober. It is easy to jest especially when it has become the cultural norm. When I look back at some of the great fiction I loved I realize they did not use sidekick characters. Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, etc.

I do believe sidekick characters serve necessary purposes in some stories, but I do think they are overused. The focus of story most often should be a sober consideration so that we can benefit from the tale we read. The trick when writing in sidekick characters is to not think of them as sidekicks. Let the story guide the character’s evolution so that you (the writer) begin to know their personality. As your understanding of the character deepens you may find opportunity to throw in a little humor, but the beauty of humor is in its spontaneity. Therefore let the sidekick characters be spontaneous and do not drown their story segments in predictable foolishness.

Humor is a gift from God, if used wisely. But used frequently it creates endless foolishness and leads to spiritual decay.

Q: How do you view sidekicks in fiction?

 


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Most obvious thing about me is how much I love reading and writing. This is truly my passion and has been for almost as long as I can remember. I know that sounds cliche, but it is true. Growing up in a conservative Christian home I learned to value God, intelligence, and life. I am always learning. I am a husband and a father of three young children. I love my family and my life. God is good and I attribute my success to His provision.

Great fantasy stories are a lot of fun. I write the stories that I want to read and am fortunate enough to have several published novels under my belt as well as more in the pipeline.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Are sidekick characters necessary?

  1. When I make sidekicks and think about them I think about Sam Gamgee , someone who’s optimistic but still knows when to keep quiet . Ombre is another example of what I’m talking about . I don’t need to explain his characteristics since you know his personality (maybe because your wrote him)

    • True. Ombre is one of the few sidekicks in my books. You will notice that I demonstrate in the stories that his foolishness causes him to be taken less seriously sometimes. Sobriety is a fruit of spiritual maturity. One could argue that had Ombre been more mature he would have gained Caritha’s heart more quickly.

  2. Thanks, Mr. Appleton! This was really helpful!
    My main struggle seems to be creating interesting side characters, as I only seem to be creating “normal”/”boring” characters. I’m trying to develop them, but I’m having some difficulty doing so. Do you have any tips?

    • That’s a hard one. You need to let the characters flow instead of forcing them into existence. For example, think of a situation and scene in your story that feels ‘flat.’ Then meditate for a while on what would ‘spice up’ that scene. A vengeful character, humorous one, unexpected one? List the traits down that you want to incorporate then use the scene to reveal the new character just a bit, as an introduction. It doesn’t matter if you keep that character visible in the rest of the story, what matters is that your readers will feel that a new dimension was added to the world you created and later (if you so choose) you can revisit that character and build on them.

  3. Scott, so happy to see you’re well and actively writing! Great blog topics, too. I’ve got your books on the limited space on my bookshelf; they made the cut. 😉

    Give my love to the fam!