I've been advised to sharpen my sidekick from an "intriguing second tier" character to the delegate for the readers. Is there a tried and tested formula succinctly captured somewhere? I'm looking to avoid text walls, spoon feeding and a back story dump.
Here's the thing about Watson: he is a fully developed character. If you met him at a party, you would say to yourself, isn't that Doctor Watson? This is even more true in the Sherlock TV series (in no small part because Martin Freeman is a much better actor than Benedict Cumberbatch).
I think the formula for character is pretty simple: you have to be interested in them. Ask yourself, if your protagonist was hit by a bus tomorrow, would you still know who the sidekick is? Can you imagine Watson without Holmes, Sanch Panza without Don Quixote? Sam without Frodo? Hermione without Harry? Q without Bond? Jeeves without Wooster.
I think the answer in each case is yes. Not, of course, that it would be the same story, but there would still be a story, a person capable of telling a story about.
Who is your sidekick without your hero?
There is no succinct tried and tested formula to do anything in literature. The technique used in the last best-seller or blockbuster is hailed as the new way but it's a futile exercise in shadow chasing. Meyer and Rice inspired several tons of rejected vampire manuscripts, Rowling and Martin did the same for epic fantasy.
I question the source of your advice. An editor is not your school-teacher. Invariably editors cannot write, hence they are editors. No child dreamed of being a book editor when they grew up. Editors are individuals there is no universal formula to please them. The first Harry Potter novel was rejected by pretty much every editor. The Bloomsbury editor wasn't overly impressed, however, his kid - was.
The comment regarding your sidekick may well be a symptom of something else. Wilson (Castaway) and Man Friday (Robinson Crusoe) aren't the most dynamic of sidekicks. At the other end of scale Crockett and Tubbs (Miami Vice), Murtaugh and Riggs (Lethal Weapon) are examples of sidekicks with equal billing.
If YOU feel you need to enhance your sidekick there are several routes to take.
- Why are they 'friends'? Why is the sidekick a sidekick (lesser)?
- The hero cannot be the hero in every scene. Incapacitate the hero for a while and let the sidekick take centre-stage.
- The surprise (window to back-story). The sidekick saves/rescues the hero. He then clarifies it wasn't he couldn't fight/shoot/drive or whatever, it was that he didn't fight/shoot/drive - not since the incident.
I spent 18 months writing revisions at the publisher's request. Finally I stepped back. It was then I realised the story only vaguely resembled the original, the final draft didn't actually make any sense - and I would not put my name to it.