Why Every Protagonist Needs a Dialogue Buddy

Give Your Characters Someone to Talk ToAlthough some successful novels feature lone-wolf characters who face the world and its challenges by themselves, clever authors will sidestep the pitfall of leaving a main character without someone to talk to for the majority of the book.

Your protagonist’s fellow conversationalists can be varied and multitudinous over the course of the book—but usually, you’ll find a more satisfying experience for both yourself and your readers by deliberately creating a minor character who can consistently appear in scenes and engage in conversation with your hero.

Robinson Crusoe had Friday.

Robinson Crusoe Friday Pierce Brosnan

Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson.

sherlock holmes lessons for writers

And, in Patrick Oโ€™Brianโ€™s acclaimed naval series, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin had each other.

the three must-have story elements action humor and relationships

Because dialogue is usually more interesting than straight narrative, giving a character someone to talk to allows you to impart important information—spiced with a fair share of wit, of course—without boring readers.

It also opens all sorts of interesting opportunities for conflict and characterization—since dialogue can tell as much about a character as his internal narrative and, often, in a subtler, more convincing fashion, since you are showing the reader the character in action.

If you find your main character spending large amounts of time by himself, without someone to talk to, consider giving him a sidekick.

Behold the Dawn by K.M. Weiland

Behold the Dawn (affiliate link)

In my medieval novel Behold the Dawn, I supplied my taciturn main character Marcus Annan with the irreverent, impertinent indentured servant Peregrine Marek, who kept the dialogue going and the story interesting in ways I could never have accomplished without him.

Creating minor characters who can spark against the protagonist to create interesting dialogue is one of the most delightful—and important—parts of writing fiction.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Does your protagonist have a dialogue buddy? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. This actually goes back to POV in a way. If your character is going to be at the critical scenes, s/he is a good choice, but having someone for said charrie to talk to also helps.

  2. Sidekick characters are particularly useful in “sequel” scenes, which take place after the big action segments, and in which characters cool down and catch their breath. Better to have the MC talk with someone else, rather than just mull internally.

  3. I agree that secondary characters can be very fun to write. They are generally quirky and get the most laughs. Every hero needs a side-kick.

  4. Sidekicks are a blast. They really give authors the opportunity to let their hair down.

  5. “They really give authors the opportunity to let their hair down.”

    In my case, literally.

  6. Okay, now you’ve got me curious!

  7. Let’s just say, it has something to do with really, really, REALLY! long hair.

  8. How true! I like the contrast you describe between your taciturn hero and his impertinent sidekick.

    I’ve noticed that in most screen adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (except the inimitable BBC miniseries), they leave out Mrs. Hurst. Maybe she’s expendable to the plot, but this always strikes me as a very poor choice. How else can Ms. Bingley indulge in gossip and snark?

  9. Great info! Sometimes I like the sidekick the most in a book, maybe even my own ;o)

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. @Eldra: Rapunzel? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    @A.J.: That was on of the most enjoyable character interactions I’ve ever had the opportunity to write.

    @Erica: Heroes get the most love, just ‘cuz they’re heroes, but sidekicks are usually the most lovable!

  11. Hmm. Didn’t even think of that. No, it has to do with the length of my hair, plus the length of my MC’s hair. But Rapunzel is a very good word for it.

    This could add a whole new twist to my plot.

  12. The twisting of plots is always fun.

  13. Hello, I’m sure you’ve gotten plenty of them before, but I have something for you at my blog : )
    http://mightymouse88-hypotheticallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2010/09/creative-blogger-award-nomination.html

  14. Woohoo! Thanks so much, Erica.

  15. For another example, I read that this was the exact reason for the creation of Tonto in the Lone Ranger radio series. The Ranger may have been lone, but he couldn’t always be talking to his horse or the audience to explain what was going on. So, enter Tonto.

    If nothing else, a sidekick is always ready to ask the question, “So what do we do now?” ๐Ÿ™‚ But you’re right, they can be a ton of fun. One of my current projects is actually narrated in first-person by a sidekick-type and it’s been a blast to write.

  16. I never thought about it before, but you *would* except a character named the Lone Ranger to be alone, wouldn’t you? :p

  17. I love the sidekick idea. I wonder, can you use too much dialogue. I really enjoy writing dialogue, but have often seen books where it seems to take over the story.
    Thanks K.M.

  18. As with pretty much every aspect of fiction, dialogue needs to be balanced with other techniques. But it is, generally speaking, a “safe” technique, since many of today’s readers seem to prefer dialogue to straight narrative, description, etc.

  19. Despite the bulk of information online we often fail to get the specific information which is needed this post is good & contains relevant information that I was in quest of .I appreciate your efforts in preparing this post.

  20. Glad it hit the spot! Thanks for reading.

  21. Like in real life, on must have someone to talk to in order to share information. Thanks K.M. for the great post.

    Your on-going weekly contest is drawing more posts it seems each week. Glad to be a part of it by posting a comment.

  22. A life lived in solitude isn’t much of a life, if only because it never has anything to share with other lives. Goes for characters too!

  23. good blog i like great post its informative

    Thanks

  24. Thanks for stopping by! Glad you found it useful.

  25. Zachary Chong says

    Can this person for the dialouge buddy be a figment of their imagination?

  26. Depending on the kind of book, a dialogue buddy could even be a co-lead character. One of the co-leads is experienced in their world, while the other is new to everything. That way, new readers can learn along with the inexperienced character.

  27. Was just about ready to go back and trim my convos between my MC (sleuth) and her nosy neighbor/sidekick because I was afraid they were too info-dumpy… Thanks for this. Now I will just re-evaluate the dialogue and see if it a)reveals the character and/or b)progresses the plot.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As long it’s entertaining, it’s almost certain to add to the story rather than take away from it.

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