Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
From a writer’s perspective, perhaps some of the more interesting (and potentially valuable) sidebars are those that deal with characters’ back stories, histories regarding settings, and proposed plotlines. These items present a handy, dandy way of enriching one’s own narratives: pretend that you are a fan of your own work and that, as such, you buy a book (or a magazine) about the narrative of which you are an aficionado. Imagine, also, that you are the writer (or one of the writers) of the commentary and develop sidebars of the sort that you think fans of the narrative you’re writing your commentary about might enjoy, particularly ones associated with characters’ back stories, histories regarding settings, and proposed plotlines. Write them about your story, and, presto!, you’ve developed some ideas for future chapters of your novel in progress or (should you be so lucky) your ongoing series of novels.
For example, let’s assume that your story takes place in ancient Rome and that you want to create a sense of horror mingled with terror. Perhaps you decide to have a present-day visitor to the catacombs get stranded in the underground burial chambers overnight. This situation (and setting) cries out for a sidebar treatment in which you summarize the history of the local catacombs and given a succinct, but ghastly, description of the place.
If your character is (or knows) a famous person of the period, a sidebar concerning the famous man or woman--perhaps he is an emperor of a visiting queen--will help keep your fictitious portrait of him or her both accurate and intriguing, provided that the sidebar contains not only pertinent facts but also a spicy anecdote or two concerning the historical figure.
An artifact could also deserve sidebar treatment. Again, the facts and anecdotes you include in your sidebar will help you to stay on track and be interesting as you describe and explain the significance of the relic or objet d’art.