Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hero... or Sidekick?

Kate Burns

Who is the heroine or hero of your novel? And is that protagonist also the storyteller?

There are many discussions on writers' blogs about point of view and narrator modes. First person, third person, and the rare second person are some examples of point of view. And to narrow that down, third person omniscient, associated with epic novels, third person limited, or third person intimate, where the thoughts and experiences of only the narrator are the only ones shared. I think most of us are familiar with at least the top levels of those.

But I would like to dig into the subject of narrator modes today.

A common type of narrator in a commonly used point of view is the narrator-as-hero. This main character narrates the tale of their own involvement as protagonist.

That view affects the readers' experience of this character. Whether the point of view is first or third person, the reader rides along on the shoulders of the protagonist/narrator, and in a sense, becomes that character -- at least for the duration of the book. I'm not suggesting that a male reader hops into the skin of a hot young female private detective and suddenly understands the true pain of running down back alleys in high heels. That's crazy.

But a certain empathy is created. And that can make it challenging when you need to elucidate on the character's shortcomings. When it's done right, it's magic. Take, for instance, Tom Ripley in Patricia Highsmith's brilliant novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. (Spoiler alert ahead!!) Tom Ripley's character is illuminated to the reader solely through a series of his interactions with other characters, each of whom have a piece of knowledge about him, none the whole, and who are in only sporadic contact and communication with each other. By the time the reader figures out our antihero, people are dead. It's a masterwork of both plot and character.

Another way of really shining a light on a main character is to have the story narrated from the point of view of the sidekick.

Let's take an example from the most classic of mystery series, Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Dr. Watson sees in Holmes what the great detective could perhaps not see or reveal about himself. Such as... a cocaine habit...? Yesss.

This character device could be employed when certain things should be revealed about your main character that otherwise may not be discovered.

You could, through the magic of point of view, give the sidekick some scenes. Not all, perhaps a few. If you are having trouble giving a full view of your heroine or hero, try a little sidekick. Because sometimes the sides make the meal.

Now, tell me:

Can you think of notable sidekick/hero combinations that you think have really worked in books or movies?

Can you think of some heroes who could benefit from having a sidekick along?

Who narrates your story? Is it the heroine? Or her trusty all-seeing maid?

How does your sidekick illuminate your main character or protagonist? And would you ever be comfortable letting your sidekick tell part -- or all -- of the story?

1 comment:

Tracy Ruckman said...

Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are excellent examples of the sidekick telling the story.