Updated: Sep 8, 2022
Superheroes have their wards. Hobbits have their friends. Detectives have their doctors. I haven't called any characters by name, but I'm willing to bet that you were able to name both the hero and their sidekick in my examples. In so many literary classics, no matter the genre, a sidekick appears. But what's so appealing about this character? They may not get the glory, they might not get the love interest, they might not even be alive at the end of the story... but sidekicks can play an integral role in any narrative.
Historically, the main character of a story is the "protagonist", while the character they conflict with through the narrative is the "antagonist". But often, the protagonist is accompanied by a constant companion who is known as the "deuteragonist"--the sidekick, in layman's terms. This is from the Greek word meaning "second Actor" so they are the second most important character in the narrative, after the protagonist.
And, interestingly enough, it was in ancient Greece that the sidekick was first utilized within plays, serving as a way to further differentiate the central character/narrator from the Greek Chorus.
But what does this mean in terms of literature? The sidekick archetype can be used in a variety of ways, and while the character is usually relegated to a support role for the protagonist, they can be made into a richly complex character. Often the sidekick is a friend to the main character (whether the MC is hero or villain), and can act as a foil to the MC's personality.
Usually their defining characteristic is an unwavering faithfulness to the MC, which can be played for laughs, interpreted as romantic overtures, or highlighted as a trait that the hero takes for granted. The sidekick might be revealed as the "brains" of the operation, and follows the MC around in order to clean up their messes. The sidekick may even initially be thought of as a burden, as is the case between a certain green-skinned ogre and a wisecracking donkey…
But no matter how you choose to utilize the sidekick archetype, you have multiple avenues to choose from, all of which can affect the arc of your characterizations, action, and plot. Wield them wisely.
Optional discussion question: what are your favorite literary examples of Sidekicks? Why do you think they work within the story?
About the author: E.E. Suchowolec lives in Michigan with her husband and three small children. In those rare moments where she is not writing, she can be found taking pictures of her family, going on adventures around the state, knitting, or reading with a hot cup of coffee in hand. She has recently embarked on a quest to read some of the greatest literature known to man.