If you are a human living amongst other humans, you have probably noticed the difference between a lazy bum and a genuinely helpful individual. People who actually want to help are humble, responsible, understanding, and perceptive. Lazy bums are prideful, shifty, slow to listen and calloused. It’s no surprise that we naturally gravitate towards people that we perceive to be more helpful. This feeling is called solidarity.
Of course, with almost all things in real life, you can replicate that feeling of solidarity with your own characters, attracting readers to them similarly. I call this character the Dependable Bro (because he’s usually a male, females have a different form of helping the protagonist, I’ll get into that later).
Believe it or not, the dependable bro (because I’m tired of capitalizing my proper terms, deal with it) is actually not at all simple. He has some very simple traits, but the traits alone that you’re probably thinking of aren’t going to do the trick on their own. The bro is a complicated mix–the recipe of which I will now share with you.
The first traits of the dependable bro is a healthy dose of humility. This character can take a lot of flak without a murmur, never complains, and is never fazed. While this isn’t exactly fortitude, it involves knowing one’s place and sticking to it, excelling in one’s appointed area. The dependable bro knows his place and tries his hardest to fulfill his role, and doesn’t brag about his accomplishments.
The second trait is proactivity. Even when the hero doesn’t need helping, the bro is already up and about, finding new things to improve and help. The bro is present at key moments in the MC’s journey, often allowing key points in the story to happen. You need to combine this trait with the next one for maximum effect.
The third is analysis. While the dependable bro might not be really talkative, he is, deep down, very understanding of those around him. This might lead to a more quiet character whose introspection often takes the place of dialogue. But when you mix proactivity with analysis, the bro often knows exactly what to do and actually does it. Mix that with humility, and you have a competent, dependable person whom your main character can rely on.
The fourth, which kind of stands on its own, is honesty. Just like analysis and proactivity go together, humility and honesty are the other duology. The thing about analysis and proactivity is that they can be traits of anyone: a villain, an ordinary person, a machine. It’s honesty and humility that set the dependable bro apart from the rest. Honesty makes all of the bro’s moves genuine and sincere, leading to the obvious conclusion that the bro does what he does simply because he’s a good person.
And if you really want a fifth trait to be thrown in there, I would recommend obscurity. The dependable bro could be, in many ways, the real hero of the story, but he’s smart enough to realize the real hero when he sees them. The bro is the hero that would have been, but is still a hero in his own right. These tend to be the most self-sacrificial characters, often giving their lives to save the main character or to complete the mission. Obscurity only reinforces the fact that this character is all the more a hero, because he does what he does truly for no reward.
Before we break into examples, I want to address why females often make worse dependable bros for your main character. Now, I’m not saying that women are bad at helping people; but, as we already established, the dependable bro is much more than just a helper.
The form of humility we’re looking for is a kind of silent strength, often a dismissal of petty insults, misdemeanors, or hateful comments. Men, who tend to be much more indifferent towards personal insults and things of that sort simply because they can’t be bothered to care, are more characteristic of that form of humility. Females are more often offended or ashamed at browbeating, and as a result don’t usually bear as well under emotional pressure as men.
Look, I’m not saying that the dependable bro can’t be a dependable sis. Resilient or indifferent women exist out there, and I’d be a fool to say they didn’t exist. I’m just saying that you’re doing yourself a favor by conferring your helper role on a guy instead of a girl simply because of the characteristic utility you get from the male’s ability to be indifferent. That’s all.
The two examples that stand out to me of dependable bros in fiction are Halo‘s Thomas Lasky and The Lord of the Rings‘ Samwise Gamgee. You’re likely familiar with the latter: tough, understanding, and supportive of his friend Frodo to the end. He cooks for him, forages, guides, and literally carries Frodo to the end of the line, all without a single complaint at having to “do everything himself”. That’s why most people tend to like Samwise more than Frodo: it’s because of these qualities.
Thomas Lasky is a bit more obscure, despite hailing from the beloved Halo video game franchise. Halo 4 had its fair share of narrative difficulties, but the young officer named Thomas Lasky seemed too good to be true. Aside from disobeying orders on multiple occasions and siding with the Master Chief whenever he can, he seems like the only one who has genuine respect for player character, even when it puts his own career at risk. I was immensely interested in his character, even though he was ultimately of little consequence throughout the story.
Welp, hopefully I’ve explained this concept in my head with relative accuracy. Dependable bros are there as supporting characters, but have a certain undeniable charm about them that makes us smile with honest pleasure. I mean, with all the villains and proud A-holes who are always struggling to 1-up the hero…he’ll always have his buddy, a dependable, solid helpmeet, to fall back on.
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!