Other Ways to Develop Characters

Last time, Rosalyn talked about the five kinds of archetypal characters we can see as protagonists.  It really is great because if a character is stagnant, that is how we can figure out how to add depth. 

There are other ways to add depth to characters as well, and one of them is actually not dealing with that character.


Foil characters are a great way to add depth to main characters.  (How many of you right now are thinking about little tin foil people you made as some art project in your elementary life?)  Not that kind of foil. 

A foil character is someone who shows a reader more about the main character because they are there.  Think Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (BTW the new movie is FANTASTIC!!!). 

Sherlock follows his own set of rules, sees things in a different light, which allows him to have some success; however, because Watson is there with logic and reason and sanity, we get to see what Holmes is and isn’t because of Watson. 

Foil characters can be complimentary or contradictory. They can be comedic or serious.  They can even exist as part of the conflict – hero vs. villain; hero vs. mentor; etc.   There is a great Writing Excuses Podcast that really explains this even better. 

But take just a minute and think about some classics (I think).  How much do we learn about Luke Skywalker from what Han Solo does?  Horatio and Laertes both serve as foils for Hamlet, allowing us to see that people can act in difficult circumstances.  Think about how much we learn about Harry Potter because of the way Ron or Hermione act.

The incorporation of a foil character can allow depth for the main character that probably couldn’t be achieved by the main character alone. 

Who are other well-known foils you can think of?  Is there room in your WIP for a foil? 

4 thoughts on “Other Ways to Develop Characters

  1. At the same time, in the best stories I think we see the foil characters with arcs of their own (have you seen the BBC version of Sherlock? I adore Watson). I just recently read Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now (it was on Elaine's list too) and it was fabulous–part of what made it so rich was that almost every character that showed up changed, even just a little bit, over the course of the novel.


  2. Great post! This is very true. We need these characters to help us learn more about the MC.

    I'm a new follower. I found you through Tasha's post on my blog. I'll definitely be back. 🙂


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