Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Foiled Again!

Eons ago when I was taking a writing course in college, I wrote a short story about two friends that were about as similar as black and white to each other. My professor told me I had showed a good example of creating a foil character. And I was like, a what character?

Wasn't sure if I should be insulted or not.

Turns out, that was a compliment!  I then learned how authors purposely put certain people in their stories who are the complete opposite of their main character in order to highlight the features of said main character. Instead of outright telling readers about the hero/heroine's wonderful or not-so wonderful qaulities, they show them by contrasting them with another character's personality.

In movies, we'd call these people supporting actors/actresses. (Check out Wikipedia's definition of a Foil for a better description)

If you want to write about a risk taker, give him a super-safe friend (Ferris Bueller anyone?).  Or...well, I could go on and on with the or's but I imagaine you've caught my drift.

So there's my helpful writing tip for the day. Don't forget about Foil Characters!

Famous Foils in Literature

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell : Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck : George Milton and Lennie Small
Don Quixote by Cervantes : Don Quixote and Sancho Panza
Hamlet by Shakespeare : Hamlet and Laertes
Star Wars by George Lucas : Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo
Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling : Harry Potter and Ron Weasley
Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle : Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson


Big Mike said...

One thing I like to do in some stories if it fits the theme is contrast the hero or heroine with a foe then in the finality you find out they're not so different after all, there is a binding connection between the two of them. For example, in WHISPERS OF INNOCENCE you discover the hero caused the bad guy's life struggle and visa versa without knowing it. I call it the mobius moment. Had a reader tell me when he got to the end he was shell shocked to discover the truth (just what an author loves to ear, g)

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2011)

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Good point. I didn't know it was official, but I've done it. Recently Bilgewater and everybody!

Liz Fountain said...

In a writing class I took, the teacher called these "clone characters." They can show something about the MC either by contrast or by similarity. In my book coming out with CBC, my MC is driven by emotion; her best friend is the one who can think things through. I just read Neal Gaiman's American Gods (fabulous book!) and his MC's dead wife is able to do some things the MC cannot - like kill the men who are after him. We see the MC's limitations through what she can do.
I love this stuff - can ya tell?? Thanks!!

Rhobin said...

Enjoyed your post.