Tip #1249: Use a Foil to Enhance a Character

… for Random Weirdness

Tip #1249: Use a Foil to Enhance a Character

Larry Jordan – LarryJordan.com

Foils are used to enhance our perception of a character.

Sherlock (image courtesy of PBS).

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This article, written by Alejandro Medellin, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is a summary.

A foil character is a simple, yet effective, literary device that uses two opposite characters’ juxtaposition to showcase their differences. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the term “foil” came about in the 1500s, and is based on the technique of placing a thin metal sheet, or foil, behind a gem to make it shine.

A foil character can be any character in a film that’s similar to another character, while also being different. Typically, however, foil characters exist to challenge or oppose the main character (or protagonist) of a story. A good foil character highlights the good and bad in their counterpart, shining a light on the foiled character’s personality without spelling it out.

A foil character and an antagonist are not mutually exclusive, but not every foil is an antagonist and vice-versa. An antagonist’s sole purpose in the story is to oppose the protagonist and their actions. Foils are similar, which is why there’s such confusion, but foils aren’t inherently against the protagonist. Instead, they serve as an opposite to contrast the protagonist.

A foil character’s primary role is to bring the character being foiled into sharper focus. By simply existing in the story and taking a different approach to a situation, a foil character can carry the narrative of the opposing character. Whether they do something or don’t, how the foil character reacts in contrast to their counterpart is a useful tool in character development and storytelling.


The article provides more detailed analysis of foil characters in:

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Harry Potter
  • Iron Man & Captain America
  • Sherlock
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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