A Foil in Fiction: Emphasizes the Protagonist’s Qualities

image by SplitShire


In fiction, a foil is usually a secondary character whose traits contrast or oppose qualities of the protagonist. The foil is created to highlight certain characteristics of the protagonist.

image by johnhain
  • Foils and protagonists aren’t necessarily opposites. The foil could be like the protagonist with one important difference.
  • A foil character may be a good person who emphasizes the protagonist’s flaws or a bad person who makes the main character seem extraordinary.
  • A protagonist may have multiple foils.
  • The foil character is usually not the antagonist

Foil Versus Antagonist

A foil could be a best friend or a sidekick whose opposing traits to the protagonist, by contrast, make certain protagonist qualities stand out. The antagonist’s purpose is to stop the protagonist from achieving his goals.

The foils purpose is to bring out traits in the protagonist that make him an interesting and complex person. The antagonist could be a foil but not merely because he fights the protagonist.


image by skeeze

The protagonist and foil may work together, such as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. For example, Dr. Watson’s opposing traits make Sherlock appear more astute and impersonal.

The “good cop-bad cop” behaviors of detectives, parents, and business partners are often given to a protagonist and an important secondary character.

Here’s my attempt at showing Billy as Trevor’s foil.

    Billy huffed and bumbled along as Trevor raced ahead to the car smashed against a tree, its hood crumpled like an accordion.
    When Billy caught up, Trevor had the unconscious driver out of the car and was ending a call with a 911 operator.
    Billy peered inside the front and back seats of the sedan. “His wallet’s on the floor.”
    Trevor lifted his head from the man’s chest. “He’s alive, thank God. Bring his wallet.”
    Billy carried a fat wallet with an abundance of green protruding from inside. His eyes were wide and focused on the wad of bills. He licked his lips. “Who carries this much cash these days?”
      “Does he have a driver’s license?”
    “Yeah.” Billy slipped the plastic license from a slot above several credit cards. “If only my wallet contained a quarter of what this guy has. With that kind of money, I could gain some respect from women.
    “Billy, his name. What’s his name?”
    “Edward Freeman.”
    Trevor touched the man’s cheek. “Mr. Freeman, can you hear me?” He glanced at Billy. “What are you doing?”
    Billy sifted two hundred-dollar bills between his thumb and fingers. “With all the dough this guy has, he’d never miss these two Franklins.
    “Put them back, Billy.”

As all secondary characters should, Billy does his job. He fleshes out Trevor’s character, moves the story along, and gives Trevor someone to talk to instead of Trevor constantly reflecting internally. Billy’s opposing qualities quickly highlight Trevor’s efficiency, caring nature, and honesty.

Other Benefits of a Foil

Foils’ choices and consequences opposite to those of the protagonist can demonstrate what could have happened if the protagonist had made the foil’s choices.

The foil’s opposing traits can create deeper emotions for how the reader feels about the protagonist.

Foils can help form how the reader feels about the protagonist. Click to tweet.

What example of a foil comes to your mind?

Juxtaposition Boosts Comparisons – Behind the Scene

image by Hans
image by Hans


Definition of Juxtaposition 


Combining my research: Juxtaposition is a literary technique in which the writer places two story elements side-by-side for the reader to compare and contrast. Elements can be characters, places, concepts, events, actions, or objects. The elements are related but distinct. The comparison can show irony, humor, or sadness. 

Common Examples of Juxtaposition


  • All’s fair in love and war.
  • Making a mountain out of a molehill.
  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
image by johnhain
image by johnhain

Examples of Possible Comparisons


  • Good and evil
  • Despair and hope
  • Spring and fall
  • Poverty and prosperity



Examples of Juxtaposition in the Elements



Purpose: Highlight our protagonist’s failures.

Introduce into the story the protagonist’s successful brother, best friend, or colleague.


Purpose: Shape a character’s beliefs about prosperity.

The character is invited to an estate with lovely gardens, opulent buildings, and stone statues. On the way home, he gets lost and ends up in a shantytown. Show how he reacts to each place.


Purpose: Show despair in the strong and joy in the weak.

A self-centered, successful prizefighter suddenly becomes a lost child at the deathbed of his frail grandmother. His grandmother, who raised him, pats his hand and praises God that she’ll soon be with the Lord, whole and joyous.

image by ThePixelman
image by ThePixelman


Purpose: Contrast in third world countries suffering during war and peace.

A soldier runs through a village fighting the enemy, his Uzi rat-tat-tatting. In the next scene inside a hut of a nearby village, a nurse missionary ministers to a woman sick with malaria. The sick woman’s two young sons sit cross-legged on the dirt floor, playing a game with stones.


Purpose: Differentiate between leaders and followers.

At a women’s military boot camp, women are sent on a long run. The women complain. They can’t go any farther. This isn’t training; it’s torture. A woman, a peer among them, jabs a finger at a telephone post ahead and yells, “Come on. You can make it to that post. It’s not that far.” The women stagger on to the post. The same woman points to the next post and shouts the same thing.


Purpose: Show man’s penchant for rebellion that hurts only man.

On the grass beneath a billboard depicting a man dying due to smoking cigarettes is an accumulation of cigarette butts.

Juxtaposition can support important story comparisons. Click to tweet.

How have you used juxtaposition in your stories?

Turn Your Scene That’s Becoming a Cliché Into a Reader’s Surprise

“I look for ways to purposely write myself into corners and then use them to my advantage.” —Steven James (Writer’s Digest July/August 2015)


image by ClkeFreeVectorImages
image by ClkeFreeVectorImages

While writing a scene, I realized it was turning into a cliché for a Christmas story. Snow falls and the couple builds a snowman or starts a snowball fight. I thought, “Will you, much less your readers, be satisfied with that?”

Image by kerplode
Image by kerplode

To my surprise as I typed more words, the hero suggested a twist mid cliché. Something told me not to backspace through the paragraphs leading into the cliché activity. I allowed my hero to switch from the familiar pursuit to an activity I’d done in my past. Something most characters don’t do in a Christmas story.

Two benefits naturally emerged from my unique solution:

  1. I was forced to bring out much deeper character values than in the developing cliché. Better than the heroine squealing and yelling, “Don’t you dare hit me with that snowball!”
  1. By allowing the scene to head into a cliché, it became a red herring. I started out in one direction then orchestrated a switcheroo. Surprise! The bonus: the reader’s greater understanding of the characters’ values and characters.

I added this idea to my scene checklist:

Look for cliché activities and turn them into surprises for the reader. Click to tweet.


Sarah pulled herself into a sitting position and rested her back against the headboard. If she didn’t overcome this illness soon and help Clay in the fields, they’d lose much of the crop. They still didn’t know if the drought had hurt the wheat. As it was, the proceeds would barely be enough to pay their bills.

She slid her legs over the edge of the bed. When she stood, lightheadedness and nausea seized her, and her knees wobbled. She crawled into bed. Clay didn’t need to come home and find her on the floor. He already spent too much time worrying about her slow progress.

image by Jan Temmel
image by Jan Temmel

As she stared out the window, a tear rolled to her jaw. In the distance, Clay strode in from the fields for lunch. She grabbed her comb from the bedside table and went to work on her tangled hair. Was that flowers he was carrying?

The door opened and paper rustled in the other room. What was Clay doing?

Clay clomped into the bedroom and held out the flowers concealed in a sheet of her drawing paper. His lips trembled, and he looked as if he’d cry at any moment. What had Clay done wrong that brought on rare tears and flowers?

image by sushi
image by sushi

Studying his face for a clue, she accepted his guilt offering. Her fingers shook as she unwrapped a posy of … healthy green wheat.


To me, a man bringing flowers to his sick wife is nice, but a little cliché-like. Making this activity a red herring for his wife and the reader will liven up the scene. Their actions say a lot about them and their relationship.

What are other cliché-like activities?