A big welcome to Carrie Patel who is here to telling us about creating the perfect sidekick and celebrating the release of The Buried Life, Buried Life #1 (published on March 3, 2015 by Angry Robot). Check out our review of The Buried Life here!
Creating the Perfect Sidekick
Holmes and Watson. Frodo and Sam. The Doctor and everyone else. Many of genre fiction’s superstars come with wingmen, and even when it seems like those characters get stuck playing second fiddle, we know our favorite stories just wouldn’t be the same without sidekicks.
Sidekicks are the underappreciated heroes of many a novel. While they don’t always get as much prose as the protagonist, they play a variety of critical roles, from comedic foil to straight man and partner-in-crime to voice of reason. Sidekicks highlight their protagonists’ strengths and weaknesses while challenging and complementing them. As close associates and confidantes, they help the protagonists grow and develop and often motivate many of the key story moments.
Inspector Rafe Sundar begins his career in The Buried Life as the rookie partner of Inspector Liesl Malone, one of the novel’s central protagonists. In many regards, he’s her opposite. He’s unseasoned where she’s experienced, chatty where she’s terse, and charming where she’s blunt.
Not surprisingly, Malone begins as less than thrilled with their arrangement. After all, she’s a seasoned detective—what could she possibly have to learn from this wide-eyed newbie?
Plenty, as it turns out! But it takes a few chapters for her to figure that out.
First, we had to start with the traits that made Sundar a foil and a possible liability for Malone. Chief among these is his faith in others. He’s inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt when Malone would rather shoot first and ask questions later. These differing dispositions lead Malone and Sundar to butt heads over investigative approaches, but it’s Sundar’s goodwill that gives them a leg up as often as not.
Sundar’s also more comfortable figuring things out on the fly while Malone prefers meticulous and detailed planning. It’s an approach that’s served her well in the past, yet the present case forces Malone and Sundar to improvise more than usual. It’s another one of his strengths.
Over the course of the novel, however, Malone begins to appreciate Sundar’s differences for the advantages they are, and their relationship changes from barbed challenges and one-upsmanship to easy banter and mutual respect. After all, the uniquely challenging case at the center of The Buried Life—a murdered historian and a rapidly dwindling circle of elites—forces Malone to face new challenges, including tight-lipped witnesses who are more susceptible to Sundar’s charm than her frankness.
That’s why the very traits that Malone initially distrusted about Sundar make him vital to her. It’s this shift in perspective that shows her growth as a character as well as the rarity of the trials in front of her. Both Malone and Sundar present likeable and sympathetic faces to the reader, but watching them come to understand one another is the turning point.
Which brings me to how the heck Sundar started out as an improv actor. The meta-answer is that he didn’t. In earlier drafts, he was just a well-meaning rookie with a lot to learn and a lot to teach Malone. But it didn’t feel like quite enough. It seemed like he needed another detail to justify Malone’s early wariness, particularly when he came across as such an earnest guy.
So, I thought, who’s one of the last people Malone would trust? Whose professional background would seem like the weakest qualification in her eyes?
Actors would be pretty high up there.
Furthermore, given Sundar’s role as the “faceman” of the duo, it gave him a fitting career history to explain some of his quick thinking and people skills. And merging those traits and distinctions—the ones that make him stand out from Malone—is what made him the perfect sidekick for her.
Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
She completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and worked in transfer pricing at Ernst & Young for two years.
She now works as a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment in Irvine, California, where the only season is Always Perfect.
The Buried Life by Carrie Patel
Available on March 3, 2015 by Angry Robot
The gaslight and shadows of the underground city of Recoletta hide secrets and lies. When Inspector Liesl Malone investigates the murder of a renowned historian, she finds herself stonewalled by the all-powerful Directorate of Preservation – Recoletta’s top-secret historical research facility.
When a second high-profile murder threatens the very fabric of city society, Malone and her rookie partner Rafe Sundar must tread carefully, lest they fall victim to not only the criminals they seek, but the government which purports to protect them. Knowledge is power, and power must be preserved at all costs…
Read an excerpt
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