Shades of Color

As Mary mentioned in an earlier post, the sidekick is an archetype. Within the archetype, there exist many sub-categories of sidekicks.  Depending on the protagonist, the writer may choose one or more types in order to better balance the protagonist.

The foil offers an opposite to our protagonist, a character that has those strengths that the main character may not. This kind of sidekick brings balance to our story. For instance, Sherlock Holmes was a fascinating character. Yet, without Dr. Watson, would readers have been as enamored? Dr. Watson provided a view of Holmes that the reader would not otherwise have, a humanizing view. Dr. Watson as sidekick provided readers with his view of Holmes, which was a much more human, vulnerable Holmes.

The resource, like the foil, has strengths the protagonist does not, but isn’t quite the opposite. Eve Dallas’ Peabody fills the resource role for Eve by being at times more vulnerable, but also strong in the face of others’ emotions or understanding of family dynamics, for example. However, she shares many of the same character traits with Eve–such as a clear focus on justice, a defined moral line, and an empathy for victims–which keep her from being a true foil. Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series is another example of a great resource type of sidekick.

The mentor provides important guidance and advice to our protagonist. One of my favorite examples is Henry in Sue Grafton’s alphabet murder series. Henry is not a private investigator, but he does offer Kinsey a fatherly advisor, dispensing sage words at key points in the stories. Perhaps more important, Henry is someone upon whom Kinsey can depend to simply be there for her, to listen and encourage. Of course, the mentor isn’t always a sidekick, and perhaps I’m stretching here.

The protege sidekick is the character who is being trained or educated by our protagonist.  The protege has a lot to learn, makes mistakes, and is likely to offer a more lighthearted or less-serious view of any given situation. My brain is refusing to give me a good example right now, but they’re out there!

This isn’t a comprehensive list, of course. As I write this, I’m realizing that although the sidekicks can be categorized in different ways, the roles are very closely related; more shades of a color than different colors altogether. Peabody is more than a protege sidekick to Eve Dallas, she’s too serious and focused. But, when she first appears, she is close to a protege. The mentor can be a resource, but I think of the mentor as being somewhat less involved in the action of the story, and more on the sidelines. Fascinating! What do you think?



Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

11 thoughts on “Shades of Color”

  1. It is fascinating. I think you’re right – the “sidekick” archetype is an umbrella and there are many types. And the characters evolve. For example, in the first book, I had a sidekick who is definitely a protege. But in the second book, while she’s still sort of a protege she also becomes a resource. Really great way of looking at these characters!


  2. Wonderful post. I’ve never thought about sidekicks in this way, but I can see the subtle shading now that you point it out and how it enriches the relationships. Good blog.


  3. Fascinating, indeed! I love how you’ve broken them down. I wonder if the protege could be any of the sidekicks who show that they aren’t as brilliant as the detective? They can’t help but learn, being around The Great One!


  4. Love this, Pamela! What a cool way to think about sidekicks. And I like what you said about sidekicks being shades of colors, probably depending on what the story needs, i.e., the resource role may come in handy to convey information. Thanks for the thoughtful post!


  5. Very interesting, Pamela! In Frankie Y. Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies, Detective Hannah McCabe has a new partner who feels like a protégé; he’s experienced in other ways but new to her department. 🙂


  6. This post was kind of an accident. I was going to do a poll and ask everyone to choose their favorite sidekick from a list of well-known ones, but then I realized it would be difficult without choosing a genre or time-period. So, then I tried to think about what else I could ask, and I thought about favorite kinds of sidekicks. . .and here we are! Of course, I can’t honestly say I put a lot of thought into what kind of sidekick I’m going to write; instead, I write what the story needs. This is definitely one of those Literary Criticism kind of things–“What did the author mean when s/he choose to make the drapes blue? Perhaps it was angst or loss, and the depth of the blue represents. . .something.” (Or maybe the author just likes blue!) 🙂


  7. What an interesting description of sidekicks. I like to read books with sidekicks that are as complex as the “main character.” To me, these are more real and believable. I absolutely HATE to read when the characters are one-sided, brainless, and compliant. It they don’t think (even bad thoughts) they just aren’t worth my time. I have lots to read, so I am very picky.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s