When I think sidekick, I think Robin. As in…Batman and.
When I think best friends, I think Monica, Rachel and Phoebe from Friends.
When I think nosy neighbor, I think Mrs. Kravetz from Bewitched.
These aren’t literary examples, but as I contemplate my WIP, I’m focusing on how I portray my main character’s posse, the people that surround her, support her, and the ones whom she, in turn, supports and surrounds. Does she need a sidekick? One best friend? More than one? A nosy neighbor?
Is a sidekick even desirable in traditional women’s fiction? I don’t think so. I tend to think that in classic chick-lit the MC always has a gay best friend or a sensible sister. He or she exists because the MC needs him or her to exist. The sidekick might be endearing and fundamental to the story — but is only there to serve. Like Robin. (At least the real Robin. Kazam!)
So, maybe nix the sidekick. But is a best friend necessary in women’s fiction? Not always, but a main character does need to get and to give, so there needs to be someone or a few someones with whom to have those exchanges and dialogue. For this reason, ensemble novels can be very satisfying in women’s fiction. In an ensemble novel the story is equally focused on multiple characters. Like Friends. I believe The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton is an ensemble novel, but I saw on Twitter (source of all excellent and pertinent information) that someone considered Little Bee by Chris Cleave an ensemble novel. I never thought of it that way because there were two main characters, the story was told from two points of view. Little Bee is captivating literary fiction — not sure it’s women’s fiction — although it’s the story of two women told from each point of view. Written by a man. (A blog post for another day.) I just finished my Cathy Lamb feast with Such a Pretty Face*. I might consider it an ensemble novel because although told from one point of view – in first person – I was equally enthralled by each character’s storyline and they were all woven together, dependent on one another. If I’d taken away one character the story would not have been the same. It would have unraveled.
I do think there needs to be a special relationship for MC because that person is who will help the MC into or out of trouble — or a quandary. Along with the main character, someone needs to be cognizant of the changes going on, even if they don’t like them. In my current novel my MC — Evie — has two best friends. I envision one as the angel on her shoulder and one as the devil on her shoulder. But each character has a life of her own the reader is privy to. Each has a character arc, storyline and a past. Ooh, gotta love those pasts. They could exist without the main character in another story. They’re not sidekicks.
I suppose in women’s fiction the nosy neighbor would be the trouble-maker. The antagonist. The one who throws up the roadblock. Every book needs one or more — and in women’s fiction we often find this in the form of internal demons or an external nemesis. (Cue creepy music) I had a hard time identifying the “bad guy” in my current novel because even the one who should be, is a sympathetic character. Sometimes. But she is the one who throws the curveball and makes the MC questions herself more than anyone else. And yes, sometimes the antagonist is a bitch. Again, only sometimes.
Sidekick, best friend, nosy neighbor, cousin, storekeeper, co-worker, butcher, baker, candlestick maker…it doesn’t matter who it is or what you call it. What matters is that each character has a raison d’être — a reason for existence beyond taking up space on the page.
Guess that could be said of real people too. But that’s another blog.
Tell me about your main character and her posse and your favorite ensemble novels.
* Such A Pretty Face was my least favorite of the five Cathy Lambs novels I’ve read in the past few months. That being said, I really liked it – just not as much as the others. So, if you’ve not yet read Lamb’s books, and you’re open to suggestions, start with Henry’s Sisters or The Last Time I Was Me. And then let me know what you think!