This was another panel discussion I took part in at ConCarolinas, and one that I went in thinking very hard about. Why? Because I don’t really like the idea of the “sidekick”. More often than not, if you really think about it, the sidekick is the more compelling and interesting character. I liked Robin better than Batman, Cato better than the Green Hornet, Bill Cosby better than Robert Culp in “I Spy” (Yes, I’m THAT old!), and of course, Watson better than Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes, as with the last of these (in the stories, of course, not the movie or TV shows), the sidekick is the true protagonist, and the “hero/heroine” is a secondary character. This panel discussion centered upon how to manage secondary or support characters without having them dominate the story.
“That’s ridiculous!” you say. “They’re my characters, and they do what I want them to!”
Not as easy as it sounds, at least for me. In fact, only one of the panelists out of the several who joined me at Con Carolinas had that opinion. If that works for you, great. For me, the characters come alive in my head, and they have definite opinions about how the story will go and what their part in it will be. Characters evolve during the telling of a story, or at least they should. If a character is exactly the same at the beginning and end of a story, that character is just a prop, not a person. The difficulty arises when the character changes in ways you didn’t expect or particularly want. Then you have a revolution on your hands.
This happened so profoundly to me during the writing of Weapon of Flesh that I had to back up and rewrite about five chapters. The evolution of Mya just would not unfold as I had planned it. The whole story arc changed due to her evolution, and damn if she wasn’t right! What did I do? I went with my (her?) gut instinct, and made sure that she didn’t take over completely.
So, if you’re a writer, make your characters real and listen to them. If you’re a reader, settle for nothing less than real characters, not props.