On Monday, Pamela Oberg got us kicked off for April and our theme of sidekicks with this post. It got me thinking. Sidekicks are throughout fiction. Holmes and Watson. Poirot and Hastings (why can I only think of classics right now?). Anyway, these are stories we can’t imagine without the faithful sidekick.
And it got me thinking about my own fiction. The sidekick is an “archetype” in fiction. Do I use it? In the Niagara Falls mysteries, starring Niagara Falls homicide detective Jackson Davis, absolutely. There’s his former partner, Max Simon. But I don’t think she’s a sidekick (Neither does she. In fact, don’t call her a sidekick – it’ll make her pretty unhappy with you). She’s a mentor, the one who guides Jackson to fulfillment of his mission. His sidekick is, I think, his current partner, Rodney Kirke. Rodney is there, he helps, but he’s definitely a supporting character.
The Laurel Highlands Mysteries are a bit trickier. See, I’ve always thought of my Pennsylvania State Police trooper Jim Duncan as the protagonist. He is the one who primarily drives the story and solves the crime. But…
Then there’s Sally Castle, a county public defender. At first, I wanted to cast her as the sidekick. Except she’s driving her own story. And while it might often be a sub-plot, it’s definitely a story. She’s Jim’s love interest for sure (if he’d get over himself and let her, sheesh). But she has a POV in the stories. She’s a big part of the action. So really, she’s another protagonist. A co-protagonist.
And is that kosher? Can you have that? Well, no. One character has to be primary, right? Because that would cast Jim in the roles of love interest (and Sally has no issues on her end of this relationship) and sidekick. Can he do that – be both?
See why this is confusing?
And of course there are two true sidekicks. Trooper Tabitha McAllister (who trained with Jim) and county deputy coroner Tom Burns. They are most definitely supporting cast. Important in that I can’t imagine driving the story to conclusion without them (and Burns provides humor at key points). They have their own story, although it’s not nearly as big and important as Jim’s and Sally’s. But they aren’t stars. And while they mostly interact with Jim, Tabitha helps Sally from time to time. So they are sidekicks for both.
Which brings me back to my original dilemma. Can you have two protagonists? Can a character be a hero and a sidekick–and a love interest? Just how many hats can a character wear?
Writers, do you ever get into this situation and what do you think? Readers, do you ever consider characters in multiple roles and does it bother you? Or does it give the story additional depth?