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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sidekicks as Secondary Characters

Please welcome guest blogger Nancy J. Cohen

Secondary characters must serve a purpose, either to advance the plot, showcase your protagonists, or act as comic relief. The sidekick is a beloved secondary character in many series. He can serve several purposes at once and sometimes may even overshadow the hero. So what are some of the uses that you can assign this character?

COMIC RELIEF

Providing humor is often a major role for this important secondary character. Often the sidekick will be the amusing foil to your straight hero/heroine. Or he might play off other secondary characters for the same purpose.

In my new futuristic romance, Silver Serenade, Jace Vernon is a convicted murderer on the run. He's been framed for murder and is hunting Tyrone Bluth, an intergalactic terrorist who can prove his innocence. Silver is an assassin assigned to terminate Bluth, the one man Jace needs alive as a witness in his defense. They team up to find Bluth but each one has a different goal in mind. One of them ultimately will have to make a sacrifice to help the other.

Jace’s only friend is his loyal Elusian valet, Mixy. Elusians lack sex hormones, so they are unable to experience strong emotions. Thus they seek to bond telepathically with a human to share their bond mate's feelings. Their robes change color to reflect these emotions, often embarrassing the human attached to them. This adds a paranormal element to the story and also a touch of humor. Mixy’s mental link later extends to Silver, so that Jace and Silver can sense each other’s feelings.

Here's an example of how Mixy's enhanced emotions play against Jace in a humorous manner, while at the same time revealing background information on our main character:

Mixy, unpacking the cases he kept ready for emergencies, glanced up when Jace entered their quarters. Most of the clothes he was carefully placing in the open drawers were Jace's.

"I won't be needing all of those." Jace folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the hatchway.

Mixy straightened his spine, shooting Jace an indignant glare. "You have no idea what situations you'll encounter, milord. It is my duty to make certain you are properly attired."

"Comet dust, Mixy. I'm not a privileged member of the upper classes anymore, remember?"

"Bah! Your blood still runs true. Woe be to those who betrayed you." He beat a hand against his forehead. "If not for your cousin Garth's perfidy, you would still be an esteemed member of the Parsate, not an outlaw"—he spit the word—"hunted throughout the galaxy." He wrung his hands in the air like a priest summoning the ancient gods. "Let us pursue revenge. Let us reap the rewards of justice!"

"Let us not get carried away." Jace's lips curved downward.

Mixy expresses the emotions Jace feels but can’t acknowledge or say aloud. That especially annoys Jace when Mixy berates him for lusting after Silver. He can’t hide anything from his valet.

Secondary characters can also play against each other as evident when Mixy meets one of his own kind on his home world. Mixy is very fastidious, proper, and attentive to detail. He also likes to go shopping. Kira, on the other hand, is an Elusian with a financial background. So when she unexpectedly joins the crew, she demands to inspect Mixy’s expense accounts and establishes a budget. Rivalry comes into play when Mixy and Kira strive to meet the needs of Jace and Silver.

Jace performed introductions outside. Mixy and Kira sized each other up like two prizefighters.

"I hope you know these are not ordinary humans," Mixy said, sniffing. “They're at each other's throats more often than their enemies."

Kira looked down her nose at him. "Fascinating. I'll look forward to these new experiences. Did Silver tell you I'm doing the bookkeeping from here on in?"

"Mistress Silver to you. Do we have to teach you proper forms of address?"

"Is he always so snippety?" Kira asked Silver.

And Later:

"Do you always have free rein with the budget?" Kira asked Mixy then clucked her tongue. "Four people cannot possibly require so many provisions. I hope you kept receipts."

"We're on a life and death mission, madam. Under such dire circumstances, I don't do receipts."

"You'll be changing your ways with me handling finances. Get used to it."

Kira and Mixy’s bickering adds an element of humor as well as suspense, because the reader wonders when these two will realize they actually like each other.

REVEALING CHARACTER

What other roles can the sidekick play in your story? He can be a sounding board, like Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. He can be a confidant, like Mixy is to Jace. The sidekick may also expose truths about the hero through dialogue, or share scary stories about the villain to enhance his evil reputation.

ADVANCING THE PLOT

In this excerpt from SILVER SERENADE, we learn important background information about Jace that the heroine lacks. He’s hiding a secret from her that she won’t learn until much later. It builds suspense because we can imagine her reaction. This excerpt also demonstrates how the sidekick acts to reveal character (the hero’s) and furthers the plot (by introducing a critical story element).

“Remember, you have an obligation to your family.” [Mixy speaking to Jace]

“My parents can no longer arrange a marriage for me. My only obligation is to restore my honor.”

“You would do well to ally yourself with Yvette’s clan,” Mixy advised, tossing a shirt with creases onto a separate pile.

“I’ve known Yvette all my life; she’s like another sister to me. I was never interested in such a match.”

“I’ve sensed more than sisterly affection on her part, plus her parents were amenable to your suit.”

“Not any more.” He’d learned quickly who his true friends were after being accused of the crime.

What did you learn here? That Jace has someone back home waiting for him, and a match had been arranged between their families. So what’s going to happen when he’s cleared of the crime and his title and lands are restored to him? Will he feel obligated to pursue his suit of Yvette? What will happen if he’s fallen in love with Silver by then? Just from a few short sentences, we’ve raised important story questions.

The sidekick is a valuable secondary character who can serve several purposes. Hopefully, he'll become an endearing friend your readers will want to see again.

* * * *

To learn more about Nancy, please go to:

Website: http://nancyjcohen.com

Blog: http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com

Facebook: http://bit.ly/c3YchC

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nancyjcohen

Nancy J. Cohen is a multi-published author who began her career writing futuristic romances as Nancy Cane. Her first title, CIRCLE OF LIGHT, won the HOLT Medallion Award. After four books in this genre, she switched to mysteries to write the popular Bad Hair Day series featuring Florida hairstylist Marla Shore.  Several of these titles made the IMBA Bestseller List. PERISH BY PEDICURE and KILLER KNOTS are the latest books in this humorous series. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who's Who in U.S. Writers, Editors & Poets. Nancy's next release, her fifteenth title, will be SILVER SERENADE, a new futuristic romance coming in July from The Wild Rose Press.

Silver Serenade

Ace pilot Jace Vernon is forced to flee his home world after being framed for murder. He seeks justice, but S.I.N. agent Silver Malloy gets in his way. The platinum-haired beauty counters his every move in the quest to clear his name. As he makes it his mission to break down her defenses, he doesn’t count on the personal consequences of success.
Silver refuses to abort her deadly mission even if it means killing the one man Jace needs alive to prove his innocence.  Her resolve wavers when Jace’s charms melt the barriers around her heart. Can she help him win his case, even if it means betraying her family and ruining her career?

15 comments:

lynnrush said...

Nice!!! I love secondary characters, as long as they're not annoying as all get out. LOL.

I like the idea of them being "sounding boards" like you mentioned.

This was a great post. Thanks!!

P.L. Parker said...

I agree - I love secondary characters. So many facets to explore. Enjoyed the most. Thanks

Lex Valentine said...

Secondary characters are the best. The funny ones are my faves. My secondaries tend to be very strong and noteworthy and fans send me email asking for their stories! LOL

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Secondary characters can be fun to write especially if your main characters are "straight" players and serious. Thanks for stopping by. I'll be at RWA this afternoon but will be checking back to respond later in the day.

kmt1976 said...

Enjoyed the snipits of Mixy's comments. That alone is enough to have me put the book on my To Buy list - if it wasn't already there from reading your other blogs :>) Thanks and have a ball at the talk on the state of the industry. Maxine has a good comment on that topic today.

Author Mary C said...

Secondary characters are truly fun, so long as they don't take over the story.

Those were such interesting excerpts, I'm going to check out more of your books.

Have fun at RWA today.

Mary Corrales, www.authormaryc.com

Caroline Clemmons said...

Great post, Nancy. I did a post for a seminar on secondary characters recently. I believe they're potential is often overlooked as tools in our stories. You covered the subject well IMHO--better job than I did, but differently.

Mary Ricksen said...

Nancy, do you ever go into your secondary characters POV, or do you always stay in H/H heads only?
I love those wise guy secondary characters!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Lynn, I'm with you. I don't like annoying secondary characters either. P.L., you're right, they have so many facets to explore. Lex, I like it when sidekicks supply humor like Mixy and Kira. I really liked writing about this pair. Would love to see what happens in their relationship. Kmt, glad you enjoyed the excerpts. Author Mary, sometimes the secondary characters almost do take over the story. Caroline, what else would you add about secondary characters? And Mary, check out Starlight Child , my earlier futuristic. I do go into those secondary characters heads and they're quite a pair.

Karen Michelle Nutt said...

You gotta love the secondary characters. They just add to the story.

It's like having a sidekick to a hero.
What's Batman without Robin. lol

T said...

Silver Serenade is such a wonderful book and yes, the secondary characters (mostly Mixy) was my favorite in a long time. Ms. Cohen, you are an exceptional author, especially to someone who generally shyed away from this genre originally. T.
finalcutediting@yahoo.com
http://finalcutediting.viviti.com

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Karen, you're absolutely right. Many of our fabled heroes had their sidekicks. You mentioned Batman and Robin. That's a perfect example. And T., I am glad you are enjoying the genre. Futuristics sweep you away to adventures on other worlds. Mixy and Kira were special to write. I can imagine them bickering even as their affection for each other grows.

李家黃喬盈榮 said...

期待你的下次更新喔^____^..................................................................

Nancy J. Cohen said...

Karen Michelle Nutt has won my July blog drawing prize. Please contact me via email and congratulations.

rosalie said...

Secondary characters do help the storyline progress in a way that minimizes any damage to the hero or villain. The hero's reaction to their behavior or what they say can show his innermost values and ethics. If the reader is identifying with the hero, the secondary characters, particularly those in the mode of guardians, can free the reader to enjoy the emotional aspect of a story.