The Best Side Characters in Each Trope
Side characters don't always get the appreciation they deserve in books, especially if they never become a main character able to tell their own story. So why do some side characters jump off the page when readers never get a chance to be in their heads? I decided to explore a couple of my favorite side character tropes, with examples of characters that stand out rather than fall flat.
THE COMIC RELIEF
It feels good to laugh, so it's no wonder we grow attached to characters that make us laugh often. But, in many cases, the comedic character uses humor to mask pain and is actually one of the deepest thinkers on the page. Their determination to put their friends first and keep everyone optimistic is a strength all its own.
Pippin Took: Chronic jokester, loyal friend, part-time philosopher.
“We may stand, if only on one leg, or at least be left still upon our knees.” - Pippin, Return of the King
Jaskier AKA Dandelion: Irreverent, intuitive, resilient.
Dandelion [. . .] sat much longer, alone, quietly strumming his lute.
[. . .] The ballad told of a certain Witcher and a certain poet. About how the Witcher and the poet met on the seashore, among the crying of seagulls, and how they fell in love at first sight. About how beautiful and powerful was their love. About how nothing—not even death—was able to destroy that love and part them.
[. . .] Dandelion could have changed the contents of the ballad [. . .] He did not. [. . .] Who would have wanted to hear that the Witcher and Little Eye parted and never, ever, saw each other again? About how four years later Little Eye died of the smallpox during an epidemic raging in Vizima? About how he, Dandelion, had carried her out in his arms between corpses being cremated on funeral pyres and buried her far from the city, in the forest, alone and peaceful.
[. . .] No, Dandelion stuck with his first version. And he never sang it. Never. To no one. - Sword of Destiny
For every mentor trope, there are about ten grouchy, cryptic wizards. And yet . . . we can't help but love them.
There's something about that fatherly affection under the gruff exterior that pulls readers in. We come to rely on these mentors as much as the characters, because they've clearly got their shit together, right? And when this character dies or becomes separated (as they inevitably do, because that is the hero's journey), we feel that loss—the loss of support, of parental guidance. It's a secondhand realization that this is everyone's journey at some point, and that's what makes this trope so powerful and timeless.
Haymitch Abernathy: Cranky, blunt, and ruthless.
Several sets of arms would embrace me. But in the end, the only person I truly want to comfort me is Haymitch, because he loves Peeta, too. I reach out for him and say something like his name and he's there, holding me and patting my back. "It's okay. It'll be okay, sweetheart." He sits me on a length of broken marble pillar and keeps an arm around me while I sob. - The Mockingjay
Brom Holcombsson: Curmudgeonly, self-sacrificing, mysterious.
Eragon looked back at him, confused. "I don't understand."
"Of course you don't," said Brom impatiently. "That's why I'm teaching you and not the other way around." - Eragon
THE BEST FRIEND
Ah, the best friend—meant to have the hero's back through thick and thin and sometimes act as a peer mentor. They keep the hero on their journey and are self-sacrificing to the point where readers question if it's necessary. But, boy, do we crave a bond like that.
Iko [The Lunar Chronicles]: Optimistic, fashionista, staunch supporter of crazy plans.
“All right, Miss Cryptic. What's the new plan, then?"
Glancing around the room, Cinder tipped up her chin. "It starts with kidnapping the groom."
Iko's hand shot into the air.
"That is the best idea ever. Count me in.” - Cress
Tobias "Toby" Domzalski [Trollhunters]: Humorous, practical, and oddly wise.
"I am Toby, Grandson of Nana, fan of hard rock!" - Trollhunters
This is a fun one. While traditionally an actual rogue in a fantasy setting, this trope can extend to any morally gray character who's still technically on the side of good. They're borderline antagonistic, challenging the protagonist and adding a good punch to the narrative with their sarcasm and disregard for rules.
Han Solo: Selfish (until it involves his friends), arrogant, but loyal to a fault.
“Look, your worshipfulness, let’s get one thing straight. I take orders from just one person: me.” - A New Hope
Gwaine [Merlin]: Troublemaker and notorious flirt, brave, savior to those in need.
“Why did you help us?"
"Your chances looked between slim and none. I, er . . . I guess I just kind of liked the look of those odds.” - Merlin and Gwaine
Which of these tropes are your favorites? What about any that aren't listed here? Drop some of your favorite side characters in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter with us @bookish_witches!