Monday, March 18, 2013

Guest Blog by Brian McClellan, author of Promise of Blood - March 18, 2013

Please welcome Brian McClellan to The Qwillery as part of the 2013 Debut Author Challenge Guest Blogs.  Promise of Blood (The Powder Mage Trilogy 1) will be published on April 16, 2013.

Sidekicks and Companions: An Author's Perspective

Samwise Gamgee. Tonto. Dr. Watson. Chewbacca.

Everybody loves a good sidekick. Not only are they funny, useful, and interesting, but they are important to the narrative. Sidekicks and companions serve a very pronounced role in fiction as a foil to the main characters, and as a relatable figure that helps the reader immerse themselves in the world.

We see sidekicks in every kind of story. As a concept, the "companion" is such a vital part of the Doctor Who series that there's a rather long Wikipedia entry dedicated just to them. Why is that? Why are so many heroes accompanied by a stalwart, trustworthy, and loyal fellow? I mean, other than to have someone that can save them when they get in over their heads?

They're used as a foil, for one. Someone to provide contrast against which we may see the protagonist's strengths and weaknesses. They may point out the hero's flaws directly within the narrative itself, or indirectly through their actions and opinions. Horatio, from HAMLET, is a fantastic example of this. He, like us, sees the madness at the Danish court and, like us, can do nothing to stop it. Which leads to the next point: sidekicks have the potential to be an everyman. He is a direct connection between the reader and the narrative and is often swept along by it just as helplessly as we are.

Often times our heroes are someone remarkable. They rise above and beyond the rest of the ruffians through brawn or brain or access to technology or magic. Their sidekick, more often than not, is a regular guy (or girl) and this makes them relatable. When the hero has to be brave, the companion can be scared. It gives us, as readers, a relatable proxy for what we'd likely be doing in their shoes. And again, it provides contrast. The hero goes on when the regular person gives up.

Which is, by the way, a fantastic argument for why Samwise Gamgee is the actual hero of the Lord of the Rings series.

Companions are also a wonderful channel through which an author can introduce their world to the reader. This is especially important for writing epic fantasy. The reader begins the book by knowing absolutely nothing about an entirely new universe and the author has to explain it to them. Enter the sidekick; a constant companion that the main character can talk to about worries, troubles, and plot points.

Each of the three main characters of PROMISE OF BLOOD has a companion for at least some of the book. Field Marshal Tamas has a new bodyguard named Olem. Taniel Two-shot brought his spotter, Ka-poel, back with him from a foreign war. Inspector Adamat hires his old friend SouSmith help watch his back while he investigates. While these characters weren't created explicitly for the purpose I mentioned above, it sure came in handy.

I think that sidekicks are often a great deal more fun to write even than main characters. They aren't the ones driving the plot, so you can give them character traits that might distract from the narrative if given to a main character. Olem, for instance, is a cheeky bastard. He chain-smokes his way through the day even though Tamas can't abide the smell, and he wears a beard against army regulation. And he's under orders to be blunt so that Tamas has at least one person around that isn't afraid to speak plainly.

Olem serves many purposes. Relatability and contrast, like mentioned above. He gives Tamas someone to bounce ideas off verbally, so that I don't have to write his thoughts into the narrative too often. Olem provides humor that comes across naturally, rather than forced, and he has particular traits that give the world depth.

I use companions to a different extent with each of my main characters. Olem almost never leaves Tamas' side. Ka-poel is with Taniel for most of the book, but she also has her own things to do, and SouSmith makes time to accompany Adamat when the latter is doing something particularly dangerous. I think this variety helps keep the idea of companions fresh, and keep it from being too obvious to the readers just what role those people are playing in the eyes of the author.

The Powder Mage Trilogy

Promise of Blood
The Powder Mage Trilogy 1
Orbit, April 16, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 560 pages

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

It's a bloody business overthrowing a king...
Field Marshal Tamas' coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas's supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

It's up to a few...
Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

But when gods are involved...
Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should...

The cover for the second novel in The Powder Mage Trilogy, which is slated for publication in February 2014.

Photo-Illustration by Michael Frost and Gene Mollica
Design by Lauren Panepinto

About Brian

Brian lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife, two dogs, a cat, and between 6,000 and 60,000 honey bees (depending on the time of year).

He began writing on Wheel of Time role playing websites at fifteen. Encouraged toward writing by his parents, he started working on short stories and novellas in his late teens. He went on to major in English with an emphasis on creative writing at Brigham Young University. It was here he met Brandon Sanderson, who encouraged Brian’s feeble attempts at plotting and characters more than he should have.

Brian continued to study writing not just as an art but as a business and was determined this would be his life-long career. He attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp in 2006. In 2008, he recieved honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest.

In November 2011, PROMISE OF BLOOD and two sequels sold at auction to Orbit Books. It is due out in April of 2013.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  Google+  ~  The Powder Mage Trilogy FB Page



  1. The movie Sky High takes this trope and makes it explicit, giving "Sidekicks" who are considered only adjuncts to the hero agency.

    This is somewhat undercut by the "sidekick" who really is a hero, but the principle applies.

  2. Tochiro from Space Pirate Captain Harlock is one of my all time favorite sidekicks. He's a great combination of smart and funny.