As one of the most important character archetypes, the sidekick is your main character’s reliable friend, the comic relief, the Robin to your Batman, an oh-so-valuable part of the main character’s journey. However, all too often, this important character’s development takes a back seat to your protagonist, leaving them unmemorable… and possibly even boring.

Here’s how to take your story’s sidekick to the next level with a secondary character that your readers are sure to love.

What is the sidekick archetype?

The sidekick archetype is a secondary character that acts as a protagonist’s good friend, confidante, and source of advice. The sidekick’s role in a story is to support their other half along their journey. Sidekicks are often associated with heroes, but it’s not uncommon for antagonists to have their own sidekicks, too.

Sidekick archetypes can act as a best friend, faithful companion, or other important person in the life of your hero.

A sidekick archetype typically displays a few key characteristics, including:

  • Some kind of reliance on the hero/antagonist, whether that reliance be physical, mental, emotional, monetary, etc.

  • Extreme loyalty to the hero/antagonist, to the point of putting themselves in harm’s way at any moment in order to protect them in a fight.

As sidekicks are one of the most popular character archetypes used throughout a range of media, everyone can name some examples to some degree.

Unfortunately, because everyone knows the sidekick, some writers fall into the trap of assuming that sidekicks are simple to write. They don’t give their sidekicks ample attention and planning, and so the sidekick becomes a ho-hum minor character that doesn’t provide a whole lot to the narrative beyond just taking up space on the page.

However, a well-written sidekick does so much more than just tag along behind your hero. Here’s how to take this archetype and use it as a base on which to create a fascinating, memorable, well-rounded secondary character.

What makes a good sidekick?

A well-written sidekick will do a few things for your story:

1. They’ll highlight something about the hero or villain

Use your sidekick to bring greater attention to an element of your hero or villain in some way.

Maybe the sidekick character’s major flaw or lack of ability mirrors a hidden or repressed trait in the protagonist.

Maybe the sidekick character behaves in such a way that prompts a response from the protagonist or antagonist—revealing a bad guy’s soft side or highlighting a hero’s flaws.

Often, a sidekick that effectively highlights one of the main character’s traits is known as a foil character. A foil character is any character in your story that stands in stark contrast with another, thereby drawing attention to their opposing personalities. Maybe the sidekick loves to have fun, always telling jokes, while the protagonist believes they’re better off always following the rules, being stoic and capable.

Whether you’re writing an evil sidekick or your heroes’ good friends, there are a few qualities your sidekick character needs.

2. They’ll move the conflict along

Every person in your story must be necessary for the plot. Otherwise, they’re just taking up valuable page space.

Perhaps your sidekick drastically messes up some task that the hero or villain requests they complete, kicking off a string of events that changes the trajectory of the story. Perhaps your sidekick provides valuable information, insight, or advice to your main character, prompting them to act in a certain way. Their presence in the story should, in some way, give the plot some forward momentum.

3. They’ll stand out

The best sidekicks are unique. They have an identity beyond just playing the sidekick. They have a life, background, goals, hopes, and dreams beyond just serving the main hero.

Really think about your sidekick archetype’s background and objectives, and allow those factors to affect how they behave.

Consider Robin from the Batman comics. Robin stands out visually as his bright red costume contrasts with Batman’s dark one, and Gotham’s dark setting. He also stands out in his behavior as a younger, more energetic accent to Batman’s more brooding personality.

Sidekick examples in literature and film

Let’s look at some popular sidekicks and the protagonists (or villains) that they cheer on to victory.

John Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories

John Watson is one of the most well-known sidekick examples in literature and can also be considered a foil. Watson is an average, nice guy everyman archetype. His perspective on the world and interpersonal abilities make Sherlock’s quick deductive skills and simultaneous inability to connect with other people stand out all the more.

Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove

Kronk is one of Disney’s most beloved sidekicks for a few good reasons. He highlights villain Yzma’s negative character traits, as he’s a soft, friendly individual who contrasts her selfish, power-hungry ways. He also remains memorable to audiences because he has a well-developed personality, with lots of things he’s interested in, beyond just being at Yzma’s beck and call. In the end, he makes friends with the protagonist and finds his own happy ending.

Remember to explore your sidekicks as human beings, not just accessories for your protagonist.

Hermione and Ron in the Harry Potter series

Both Hermione and Ron are sidekicks to the books’ protagonist, but both are interesting and well-developed, well-rounded secondary characters that boast their own character arcs and development through the movie and book series.

Additionally, Hermione and Ron could be considered foil characters to one another, as they highly contrast against one another. Hermione is studious and careful, while Ron is more relaxed and spontaneous. One also comes from the wizard in world, while one comes from the world we know. Both, however, are undyingly loyal to Harry.

Samwise in The Lord of the Rings series

Samwise, or Sam, in The Lord of the Rings universe shows just how much stories can rely on a sidekick and their unwavering loyalty, friendship, and faith in the hero. After all, if you’ve read the books or seen the movies, you know that Frodo would have never actually achieved his goal of destroying the Ring without Sam; Sam has to literally carry him up Mount Doom, loyal to the end and always ready to come to Frodo’s rescue.

Sidekick archetypes get the job done

A well-written sidekick archetype pulls a lot of weight. They’re not just merely standing in your hero’s shadow. They’ve got a job to do and they get it done, pushing the narrative forward, challenging your hero, highlighting your main character’s traits—and making for a more immersive, engaging experience for your readers.