|Sidekick. Get it?|
What is this, you ask? Activity on this blog other than on the first Wednesday of the Month IWSG post!? Armageddon must be right around the corner. Sigh.
Life has been busy these past couple of weeks, but I seem to be settling down into a somewhat chaotic routine where I alternate between online tutoring sessions for chemistry and working on my story. It’s not full-time writing, but it’s more time than I’ve ever had before. My hope is that with practice, this will translate into finishing my story at a much-accelerated pace. In fact, I’m bullish enough about writing that my critique partners and I have agreed to meet every other week instead of once a month. Ah, nothing like a little pressure to keep things interesting.
Earlier this week, as I was reading over one of my earlier chapters, I suddenly realized that I could make the scene much snappier by replacing some of the main character’s internal thoughts with a few snippets of dialogue from the character’s sidekick. Instead of forcing the character to “think” about things so that the reader understands what’s going on, a few well-placed quips by the sidekick was more than enough to explain the situation.
Although I have yet to finish a story (other than my fanfic), I’ve noticed a common theme among the partially completed stories littering my hard drive. I always seem to have a sidekick to ride along with my main character. It wasn’t a deliberate choice, just something that always happened, but over the years I’ve learned that having someone for my MCs to talk to makes my scenes much more active. When my characters are allowed to be alone with their thoughts for too long, my story stagnates and my writing becomes stilted. My prose degenerates into either sloppy telling or a convoluted mess of showing.
Of course, I have to be careful not to rely too much on these sidekick conversations. My crit partners have dinged me in the past for overly long and bloated stretches of nothing but talk, with too much on-the-nose back and forth dialogue between the participants. Perhaps this tendency comes from having had to write detailed research reports at my job over the years, reports where I’m expected to explain everything. Regardless of the reason, there’s no denying my conversational infodumps are a problem.
Still, there’s nothing like having a sidekick for the MC to bounce ideas off of. He’s the perfect vehicle for dropping subtle hints you don’t want the reader to notice until later in the story. The comedic value he can add to break up a tense situation can be invaluable. And the interactions between the MC and the sidekick is great for revealing character—for both of them.
So, the next time you begin a story, think about adding a sidekick. Your readers (and maybe your editor) will love you for it.