Craft Corner: Strong Sidekicks

Welcome to the Class of 2k21 Craft Corner! These posts will be dedicated to sharing writing tips and tricks we’ve picked up on our journeys to publication. Each month features a new theme with insights from members of the Class of 2k21; this month, we’re sharing tips on writing strong sidekicks.

Whether you are a long-time creative with too many ideas to wrangle or a beginner with no idea where to start, we hope you’ll find something you can apply to your writing journey. Let’s get started!

Payal Doshi: Sidekicks or secondary characters are vital elements of a story. In REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR, the protagonist Rea has three friends who help her in her quest to save her missing brother. When writing them, I didn’t want their only purpose to be to aid Rea. In fact, side characters can be great tools. By having them disagree or bringing to light loopholes in the Rea’s plan, they added tension to the story. They became the voice of reason when Rea acted impulsively or gave up hope – this helped show empathy and sympathy for the characters. Even though they aren’t as important as the main character, I always think of a small backstory for my side characters – where they grew up, what’s their family situation like, are they introverted or extroverted, what are their personality traits, what is their motive in being a part of the protagonist’s plans. This way, you don’t run the risk of having your side characters seem two-dimensional.

Jessica Vitalis: Sidekicks are a fantastic tool to help your readers get to know your main character; we can learn a tremendous amount not only by how your main character treats the people around them, but by how they are treated in return. Showing us these interactions helps cut down on the dreaded “telling” that pulls a reader out of a story. For example, in THE WOLF’S CURSE, my main character, Gauge, is running for his life. When a girl by the name of Roux offers him refuge, their initial interaction is brusque; we learn without being told that Gauge is fearful and lacks trust, and that Roux is practical and no-nonsense. Without these sorts of give and take relationships (and their accompanying dialogue), it can be awfully hard for a single character to carry an entire story. This can be particularly problematic for survival stories; ALONE author Megan E. Freeman addressed this challenge by giving her main character a furry sidekick. Whether human or animal, sidekicks serve an important role in filling out any story world.

Andrea Wang: Building upon what Payal and Jessica said, sidekicks can also be used to explain or explore topics in a more organic way. I’ve read books where sidekicks serve as literary foils, learning about scientific facts and details from the more-educated protagonist. In THE MANY MEANINGS OF MEILAN, Meilan experiences microaggressions not just from the antagonists at school, but also from her sidekick, her new friend Logan. He calls her “exotic,” sparking a conversation where they discuss why that’s problematic, in a way that feels more natural than a didactic narrative paragraph or monologue. Just make sure that a foil has contrasting attributes than the protagonist, to avoid the problem most police procedural TV shows have -- that of one detective explaining something to their partner that the partner would likely already know.

Thanks for joining us! Craft Corner will be back in November with tips for improving your voice. See you then!