Why Your Hero Needs a Yappy Sidekick

This week’s video discusses the value of a vocal, oft-present minor character who can act as a foil for your protagonist.

Video Transcript:

Some of the most memorable character pairings in literature and film are those that team the protagonist with what I like to call The Yappy Sidekick. Now, if this is giving you images of an obnoxious little runt running around after your purposeful and heroic lead and generally making a nuisance of himself, while said hero is doing his best to save the world, the damsel, and maybe a kitty or two—not necessarily in that order—then you’re only partly wrong. The point of The Yappy Sidekick is both to run around after your hero and to be a little obnoxious, in the sense that he is a foil for your main character.

However, this does not mean The Yappy Sidekick should be unlikable. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. It also doesn’t mean he has to be yappy. Technically, Chewie from the original Star Wars movies qualifies as A Yappy Sidekick, even though he never actually says anything intelligible. Furthermore, The Yappy Sidekick doesn’t even have to be a sidekick. He could be a full-blown partner/co-protagonist, as in, say, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or he could be the protagonist’s romantic interest, as we find in stories such as Jane Austen’s Emma. (And, yes, I just referred to Mr. Knightley as A Yappy Sidekick. Please don’t shoot me.)

The point of all this is that stories which present characters who have opposing personalities, values, or goals create inherent conflict. This is valuable even within stories that already possess an overarching conflict between the protagonist and a main antagonist. The more layers of conflict we can create, the more interesting the story. So why a Yappy Sidekick? Well, two reasons:

1. The best conflict is often dialogue-driven. That doesn’t mean the character has to actually be yappy, but let him be vocal toward the protagonist.

2. Sidekicks, by definition, are almost always with the main character, which allows the conflict to be ongoing. A Yappy Sidekick isn’t a die-hard must by any means, but it’s something worth thinking about.

Tell me your opinion: Does your story have a character who qualifies as a yappy sidekick?

why your hero needs a yappy sidekick

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Hmm, now that I read this, she might indeed have a yappy sidekick, the trouble is, I can only keep her through the first third of the book (according to the outline).

    But.

    Now that I think on it, I could bring her back which might make things more interesting …Thanks!

  2. This was an interesting read, given my characters. My MMC is more talkative than his mentor/best friend, but when his friend (I suppose he would be the “Yappy Sidekick”) speaks up, everyone had better listen, because it’s something worth remembering.

    ~Keaghan
    http://www.whisperabovethethunder.blogspot.com

  3. I do like my yappy sidekicks. I’ve found it can be particularly effective for writing humor — wherein the humor is not always derived directly from the main character and his comments and actions but from his reactions to the insane and yappy characters that inhabit his world.

  4. If you’re familiar with the Hollywood formula (protagonist-antagonist-relationship character), then you know you’ve just, essentially, described the relationship character.

  5. In my WIP i have 4 pov characters, of which two are sidekicks 🙂
    I think character relationships can work in many ways as long as you care about characters and you have conflict 😉

  6. @mshatch: Yappy sidekicks don’t have to be with the hero for any set amount of time. Whatever works best for the story is perfect. However, it *is* often a nice touch to bring early elements full circle by reintroducing them in the final third of the story.

    @Keaghan: Yappy heroes are good too! So long as they have someone to talk to, it works out just as well.

    @Dean: I love hero/sidekick relationships that play out like that. I’ve included one in almost all of my stories just because they’re so darn fun to write.

    @Sam: Yes, indeed – what can also be referred to as the deuteragonist or tritagonist.

    @Grisha: The possibilities are limitless, and lots of fun to play around with.

  7. K.M., this was such a fun post. Characters just popped up as I read. I read you regularly, but this one is especially memorable…

  8. Glad you enjoyed it! It was one of the more fun for me to write as well.

  9. Makes me think of Don Knotts!

  10. Yes, my young hero Adam has his cousin Justin as his Yappy Sidekick. It makes for a lot of fun because Justin comes out with what everyone is really thinking but is too polite to say… Long live the Yappy Sidekick, such a necessary tool in writing!

  11. When I think of yappy sidekick, I think of two things:

    1) Al from the movie Sahara. He’s goofy, smart-mouthy, and is the perfect foil for Dirk Pitt.

    2) The character I love who usually dies. Face it, if I absolutely love a person who isn’t the main character (Charlie in Lost and Alan A’Dale in Robin Hood are two good examples) they’re probably going to die.

    Great post! 🙂

  12. I have them in the form of the best friend/confidante. They always up the ante so-to-speak for the protagonist when it comes to the villian’s plots/deeds. You’re right, they are a great foil. I can’t imagine writing a story without them.

  13. I don’t think so. Unless you count the team lead’s little brother. He’s yappy enough I guess. Things in my story are so rough it’s kinda hard to tell right now.

  14. @Summer: He’s probably the ultimate yappy sidekick.

    @Fiona: I think we all have a soft spot for those characters through whom we can vicariously say what we would never get away with in real life.

    @H.A.: You raise a good point. The lovable sidekicks are all too often prime candidates for touching death scenes.

    @Traci: Somebody has to keep our protagonists in line. It’s too big a job for an author all by herself!

    @rcootsart: Sounds like he could definitely qualify.

  15. Great post! I love writing side kicks and enjoy reading stories with them as well. They most certainly fill a dramatic role. The creators of the Dramatica structure seem to think so as they even include this character archetype during the plotting stage. Through the side kick, the main character’s personality is revealed a little more through the interaction, and you get to show his or her lighter side. This is a great way to create a little breathing room, and I use it often to break up the tension.

  16. I almost always develop my sidekicks in the early stages as well. If they’re going to be present with the protagonist for most of the story, you know they’re going to end up being integral to the way things play out.

  17. Love this post! 😀 I don’t think I have a true ‘yappy’ sidekick in my current WIP, but the hero’s horse plays a role and has a bit of a personality. I’m having to be careful not to let him steal the show. 😛

  18. I scrolled down to add my comment and had to chuckle at Melissa’s… almost word for word what I was going to say about a recently completed novel, except the hero’s dog plays a huge role. The MC is away in the wilderness for much of the story and the dog is a major contributor to some of the scenes. Not exactly what you had in mind as a Yappy Sidekick, but he does bark occasionally. 🙂

  19. @Melissa: Now you’ve got me envisioning Prince Phillip’s horse in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty!

    @Carol: I don’t know, I’ve known some pretty yappy dogs in my time. 😉

  20. My favourite yappy sidekick is Dori from Finding Nemo, I learned a lot from her, she’s basically holding together the whole central part of the story

  21. Perfect example. She was charming in her own right, but also a perfect foil for the main character.

  22. I’ve been following you on Pinterest and have really enjoyed your writing advice. I’ve just started reading your book, Behold the Dawn, on my Kindle. Thanks for the all the inspiration!

  23. Thanks for stopping by! Makes my day to hear the blog as been useful. I hope you enjoy Behold the Dawn!

  24. I love yappy sidekicks… :)) They make you smile and shake your head even in the midst of a turmoiling scene in your book.

    Great vid!

  25. Yes, Yappies are a ton of fun – both to write and to read!

  26. Debby Hanoka says:

    Um … What about sidekicks that meow, take excellent care of children, and think they know more than their humans do?

    Regardless of whether one’s sidekick yaps, meows, chirps, or whatever, having such a sidekick will enhance the overall story and can serve as a sly lesson in kindness to animals.

    P. S. My three editorial cat-sistants approve of this post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      As long as it gives the protagonist a foil and someone to talk to, that’s the important thing.

  27. thatguy says:

    I’ll just chime in to point out that Donkey from Shrek was what happens with yappy sidekicks go wrong.

  28. Mine has two. ^-^ One is a romantic interest if she’d let him lol. The other is an intelligent cat man. hea.

  29. Jyl Milner says:

    Just wanted to drop a line and let you know this advice is still being accessed! I’m working my way through “Outlining Your Novel” for my recently completed rough draft of my first (completed!) novel, Untrue. I am relieved to learn that the love interest can double as the Yappy Sidekick, as my other candidate for sidekick is quiet and shy. Thanks for all your help – you’re my favorite go-to mentor for writing advice!

Trackbacks

  1. […] I can’t. Hank reminds me of something KM Weiland brings up in one of her videos. She discusses Why Every Hero Needs a Yappy Sidekick on her blog. I imagine these scenarios often, but never identified this as being an actual […]

  2. […] somebody to help your protagonist or get in your protagonist’s way—or just somebody for him to talk to? All you gotta do is introduce one of those minor characters. But in doing so, make sure not to […]

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