Guest post today by Mark Terry! His newest book, The Valley of Shadows, comes out on June 7 and is available for pre-order at Amazon, in hardcover, for Kindle, and for Nook. You can check out his website here or visit his awesome blog!
Or do we? I’m a big fan of PI novels, and many modern PI novels involve a sidekick: Spenser had Hawk (or Susan); Elvis Cole has Joe Pike; Travis McGee had Meyer. Hey, Batman had Robin!
And chick-lit and romance novels often have the female lead with her best buddy girlfriend.
As writers we tend to want some sort of foil for our main characters to bounce off. Why?
I’m not sure it’s completely necessary, but for the most part our main characters don’t exist in a vacuum, they have to interact with people. Having a sidekick of some sort allows the writer to compare their behavior to someone. In PI fiction this tends to allow the private eye to be the moral center, for there to be things they won’t do, while working with a sociopath sidekick. Makes the PI look better, I guess.
With my Derek Stillwater novels I’ve tried to stay away from a sidekick, or at least a regular sidekick. Derek’s a troubleshooter with Homeland Security and his job is to show up after terrorism events of one type or another and try to prevent the next one. In each book to-date, I’ve teamed him up with someone. In the first one, THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK, it was loosely with a male FBI agent, but for the most part, Derek worked alone. In THE SERPENT’S KISS, he was teamed up with a female FBI agent and they worked very closely. In THE FALLEN, for the most part, Derek was teamed up with a civilian who got caught up in events. In my upcoming book featuring Derek, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS, I actually play with this concept a bit.
First, he agrees to work with an FBI agent who has no field experience and her specialty area is financial intelligence. But that’s short-lived and he teams up with an old acquaintance (at gunpoint, for the most part) who used to be with the CIA but is now a gunrunner. Then he teams up with a former lover, a terrorism expert with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. This is a very reluctant teaming, because they do not get along well at all. Too much history.
One problem I have with sidekicks is they generally get along too well with your main character. All fiction is built on conflict and sidekicks don’t generally create conflict, although I’m a fan of most sidekicks in PI fiction. But forcing someone to work with or deal with someone who causes friction is a terrific way of building conflict into the characterization of your books. Take, for instance, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. Bosch doesn’t have sidekicks, although sometimes he has partners – but Harry brings conflict with him wherever he goes. Have baggage, will travel.
What do you think? Does your main character need a sidekick? Or conflict?