I had the conversation where interest was shown in a series mainly due to the sidekicks. That got me to thinking about how sidekicks can help enhance a series (and/or ruin it). In fact, I think the strongest tool a writer has is the sidekick. The first reason is because a sidekick has the potential to add some comic relief to the situations. They are the ones who innocently trip our protagonist up. They are the sarcastic characters. They are the jokesters. They are not strong enough to be the lead, but their weakness is what makes them loveable. We want to see them protected by our main character. The second reason is because the sidekicks can be switched around. What I have noticed in a longer series is the need to keep things fresh. The story has to keep changing and each book needs to feel new. But, like a relationship that endures, after a while the “spark” is gone. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the main character anymore. I just know too much about them. They are not “new.” Some series switch what characters play the “sidekick” in each novel. Typically the switch depends on the plot and which character would be around in the given situation. This also opens the opportunity to provide a new character even if a series is five or more books in. The character can arise in the new situations and then stay.
I think sidekicks play a bigger role in novels than readers realize. For instance, I sat back and thought about which novels/movies are made successful by the sidekick, which ones would flop if the sidekicks were removed? Here is my list, but I would be interested to know if you have any.
1. Despicable Me: I’m sorry, but the minions make this movie. In fact, I don’t think I would even like the movies (which I absolutely love) if they were gone. Gru is okay and his plot line is interesting, but the minions are what keep my attention as Gru goes about his business. They are funny. They are innocent. And, most of all, they show me that there must be a redeemable quality about Gru (especially in the first movie), which keeps me interested in his plot.
2. Dresden Files: this is a series that switches the sidekicks, so I thought I’d just list the series. He has fairies and vampire relatives and a talking skull. All of which provide comic relief and all of which keep the series new. In fact, when I was getting bored, he introduced a medical examiner who enjoys Polka and I was right back into the series.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: I guess you could argue that Jack Sparrow is a main character, but I see the first movie as a discussion about Ms. Swan’s kidnapping. He plays less of a lead role, in my opinion. And, if that character was not done well, the movie would not be the same.