Throwback Thursday: Foil

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On Thursdays, I’m going to post a previous article from my blogging past. This week’s post was originally titled “The Value of Foil” and appeared on The Texts of Madness in November of 2012.

Here’s one for the writers. Now I know what you must be thinking. I’m not talking about aluminum foil. I’m not talking about the old math technique. I’m not even talking about foiling an evil villain’s plans. I’m talking about a character.

A foil is someone who’s the exact opposite of your main character, personality-wise. It sounds simple enough. But most people roll that in with their antagonist, and it doesn’t work that way. The main thing about the foil is that they have no idea that the things they’re doing might actually be bothering the main character. The way this person acts just happens to highlight the main character’s weaknesses and insecurities (at least within the story–you, the author, should be very intentional about it!)

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you probably already have a foil in your story and don’t even know it. In fact, this is probably one of the biggest things writers tend to do without even thinking about it. And that’s great! But if you realize why you have that there, you can make it that much stronger. Not only that, but some people don’t have it at all.

My novel didn’t have a foil for about 20,000 words.

That’s probably why the vast majority of those words were just internal monologue! My character was literally just sitting around, doing nothing except feeling sorry for himself and occasionally talking to a few girls and let them walk all over him. Sure. Great. There’s his life. Could happen to anybody. Who wants to read that?

It doesn’t become interesting at all until you see Ed Morse, picking up women nonchalantly and practically incapable of frowning. The only thing that he has in common with Aaron is an inner madness that occasionally creeps up in both of them, but it sends them both in very different directions.

I’ve hardly had time to play with this dynamic here, but it’s what put the spark in a dying novel. Think about your novel for a minute. Do you have a foil in place? Please comment–I’d love to see what you have to say.

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