The literary world is full of sidekicks — Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Stephanie Plum and Lula, Linus and his blanket.
So are movies — Thelma and Louise, R2D2 and C3PO, the Karate Kid and his actual side kick.
So are meals. After all, what’s the point of mashed potatoes without gravy? Bagels without cream cheese? Cheesecake without strawberries? Orange jello without grated carrots?
I never said all sidekicks were good.
We have sidekicks in our real lives, too. Spouses, significant others, kids, siblings, BFFs, business partners, cubicle mates, roommates, critique partners, beta readers, pets.
Everyone brings their unique angle to the relationship. And don’t forget that nobody thinks they are the sidekick — everyone is the hero of their own story. Some are equal relationships, others might tilt weekly or even hourly in favor of one or the other depending on a million different negotiations, verbalized or not. (But in the case of pets, the sidekick is always the one without opposable thumbs.)
As a writer, I depend on all these types of sidekicks, real and imaginary. The real people keep me moving forward, helping with my manuscripts or my psyche, calming, cajoling or kicking me, whichever I might need at that moment.
The imaginary people help creatively. They populate and drive my stories, often doing things that surprise and delight me … and sometimes confound me, spinning me off in a scary new direction.
But then there’s a group of sidekicks in that nebulous world between real and imaginary. I call them My Readers. I feel their presence almost more than I do my real-life sidekicks because they’re always hovering on my periphery. They never go to school or work, they don’t sleep, they don’t disappear while on a ski trip or a Netflix eight-season binge. I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering how to get My Readers to fall in love with my characters. How can I pull them into this plot with me? How can I get them to laugh, or gasp, or cry, or keep turning pages?
My Reader sidekicks are always in my head. I’m compelled to be a better writer for them, to be a better storyteller, to give them more than they give me.
I doubt I’ll ever be able to give them that much, but I can promise all my sidekicks one thing. I will never put carrots in their jello.