I watched Hocus Pocus for the first time in years. Yet I somehow remembered almost every scene and a ton of the lines. Either I watched that movie a ton as a child or it’s a really memorable movie. Or both.
Some things hadn’t changed for me when I watched it. I was still freaked out by that creepy book (was the eye really necessary?), and I still thought Bette Midler killed it when she sang “I Put a Spell on You.” But now that I’m an editor, I noticed one element that really worked in the film.
What is a foil? It’s basically when two characters highlight an aspect of each other, usually through contrast. Not the best definition, but it’s easier to understand through example, so let’s get to it.
Binx and Max are foils of each other through their relationship with their sisters. When the movie begins, Max can’t stand his sister. He goes trick-or-treating with her because his parents force him, not out of any real desire to be a good brother.
By contrast, Binx desperately misses his departed sister and yearns to reunite with her.
Through their interactions during the various adventures of the movie, Max comes to appreciate his sister, and their relationship strengthens. And Binx dies and is finally able to reunite with his sister.
Because the two men met each other, their relationships with their sisters are restored.
How does this apply to your writing?
Think about your book and see if there is an opportunity to include a foil. Can a side character mirror or contrast one of your character’s flaws or strengths? What do they have to teach each other?
Foils are great vehicles for character growth and highlighting the ideas/themes of your book so I challenge you to bake this into your next book. And maybe look for foils in your own life.
Just hopefully they aren’t ghosts from hundreds of years ago.