Foils: Beyond the Algebraic Equation

I know we are right in the middle of your last days of summer. But, as I have been grading your essays over the past few days. I want to make sure we start the year off on the right foot. So, I am going to teach a summer lesson on foil characters… right here… on this blog. I know you were taught this term last year, but, now I want to expound on it. Below are some helpful ways to discuss foil characters in your essays and future class discussions. (Citation: some of the following information can be found on the blog: “traci’s lists of tens”).

I always describe  foil characters as a diamond ring. If you have ever been ring shopping, the jeweler places the diamonds on a black velvet cloth to show you the cut and clarity of the diamonds. To the naked eye, the diamonds can look small and insignificant— just small specks on the jeweler’s cloth. “That costs, how much?”, you begin to think to yourself. “How did the diamond get to be such a precious stone? It is only a speck on this black cloth” is another thought. But, then the jeweler takes out a plain gold setting and with the other hand masterfully places the diamond into the setting. Now, you see the rare jewel for what it truly is… beyond the black velvet cloth in the golden prongs, the diamond is now center stage. And, that’s it right? No one proposes with just a diamond… they buy the setting too. Why? Because we need the not-so-precious metal to showcase the masterpiece.

The same goes for foil characters. You need one to enhance the other. The most basic of definitions for a foil character is that: they are two characters who are paired together to enhance the major characters traits by personality (all of this most be done in contrast). Remember, a foil character must be from the same class, rank, and background… you don’t put a diamond ring in a plastic setting, and you don’t have foil characters from two different worlds.  And, also remember, describing a foil character is not like commentating a tennis match… you don’t bounce back and forth between the two comparing their every thought, hair on their head, and idea.

TYPES of FOILS: Here is a list of ways to think and write about foil characters

* Mathematical: using the foil method for algebra: First, Outer, Inner, and Last. What is the First thing that comes to mind? What is something that connects them outwardly? What is something that connects them inwardly? What is the Last piece to their connection?

* Mirror: when you look into the mirror, everything looks right back at you… right? Kinda. You must remember that what you are seeing is a reflection and that is all backwards. Find two characters in a story, that seem to be exactly alike, but at closer consideration… everything is backwards.

*Light (by contrast): foil is often used by photographers to decipher light from dark. If one of your characters is light, then there must be some other character that is contrasting them in the dark. As a reader, we would now know our character was light… until we saw another character with darker qualities. For example, in “The Hunger Games” Katniss and Rue are foil characters. Why? at first glance, both girls appear the same. Both, like to hunt. Both, love their families. But, look closer, Rue accepted the call of the games, she was a product of the government. Katniss was a product of the woods and her rebellious nature. The readers need Rue’s sense of darkness to find the light in Katniss.

*Deliberately weak: Foil is one of man-kinds weaker metals.. it easily tears, rips and punctures. And, that is why author’s create foil characters. So, you ask, “Does an author create a weak character on purpose?” Yes. Yes. Yes. Author’s need weak minor characters to show the strength in their main characters. For example, in “The Giver” Asher is a deliberately weak character. Lois Lowry created him to enhance the strength that Jonas finds through his meetings with the Giver. Without Asher, we, the readers, would not be able to see the constant and quiet strength that begins to build in Jonas… it is through a scene of Asher playing “war” that the reader gets to see the affect of Jonas’ war memory and later his dismissal of his society.

*A Plot Bolt: (* Science Fiction writer Michael Stackpole coined the term “plot bolt” to mean, “Just as a bolts fastens objects together by sticking through them and ‘hanging them from the holes’ a plot bold extends through the plot of a story and helps to hold the parts together. Plot bolts pull a story together by helping the reader to see the connections and how thing ‘all come together as a connected whole.'” Look through your stories, is there a character that has been created to “fill in the holes”? What about Crane-man? Does the story need him? Or is he just a plot bolt?

*The Missing Soliloquy: Soliloquy when a character stands in the middle of the stage, all by himself, and tells the audience his inner-most, truthful thoughts. By using a foil character authors don’t need their protagonists to stand center stage and just gab. Instead, the reader will see the opposition in the minor characters around them… leaving the protagonist the ability to keep some secretes to himself… for the time being.

*Dueling Practice: Not an actual duel, but the practice of sparring. Foil is used for practice swords in sparring… they have a blunt tip and will not leave a mark. When the author creates a foil that is involved in a dueling practice… they are training their protagonist for a “war” that is going to happen later in the novel.

Now, that you know more about Foil Characters then you ever though you would know… here is the prize. Respond to this post with an example from one of the books we have read this summer. Specify which type of foil character you are describing and then give me an example from the novel of your choice. (IE. Foil by light and contrast: Katniss and Rue are foil characters because… ). I will give bonus points on your summer assignment for everyone that responds to this post with a viable example of foil characters from our novel. Offer expires on September 6, 2016.

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4 Comments

  1. alexharakas
    8/29/2016

    By the mirror method, Kay and Wart are foil characters. Despite their brotherhood, Kay has a pompous attitude, while Wart displays humility and accepts advice. Throughout the novel, Kay represents childishness and self-focus. As king, Wart differs from Kay in focussing on the “greater good” and instilling righteousness in the kingdom.

  2. kylethorin
    8/31/2016

    Using the mirror method, we find that King Arthur and King Uther are foil characters. Even though they are father and son, they grow up to be completely different people. The phrase usually goes, “like father, like son”, but King Arthur contrasted his father in many ways. For example, King Uther was all about war and fighting for land, but King Arthur did not want to fight in wars unless the enemy strikes first. King Arthur wanted to use Might for Right while his father only used Might, and no Right.

  3. hallegj
    9/5/2016

    Using the light (by contrast) foil method, King Arthur and Sir Lancelot are linked as foil characters. While both are noblemen with a sense of right and wrong, the darkness of Sir Lancelot’s character contrasts the light in King Arthur. Although Sir Lancelot is not necessarily a dark character, he seems to first hurt the people that appear in his life. For example, when he first meets Guenever he is mean to her, but once he sees that he has hurt her, he begins to love her. However King Arthur’s intentions for people seem to be good from the start.

  4. missloock
    9/7/2016

    Congrats.
    Extra credit will appear in RenWeb by the end of next week.

    Great job.

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