A new year means mean new ideas, projects, aspirations, and resolutions. Or not. Personally, I dislike resolutions. A resolution is a reminder of what I haven’t been doing, or of those things that I haven’t been doing sufficiently. I prefer to focus on what I do well. I’m really good at recycling foil. That’s right, aluminum foil. Perfectly good foil can be used again and again—providing coverage and support until those little crinkled fissures crease and tear away.
So, I found myself, in the final days of 2009, smoothing out with reversed fingertips, a mercury-colored sateen sheet of foil to reuse for some casserole cover. A well-worn foil. A tool of service. A way to highlight the qualities of a dish…or of a hero. In literary terms, “A foil is a character who serves as a contrast to another perhaps more primary character, so as to point out specific traits of the primary character.” Think of Doctor Watson to Sherlock Holmes…Sancho Panza to Don Quixote…Tonto to the Lone Ranger.
As I rubbed my foil to a silvery patina, I began to think of all the foils or sidekicks I had created in the past and not fully used; those characters who existed solely to supplement the activities and motivations of a main character. They never achieved hero status. They served their purpose and slid back into the gloaming mists of fictional memory. Yet, some of those characters were pithy and proud, well-developed and dimensional. Where are they now? They reside in files and in imagination, waiting to be recycled.
As one example, Jayne Anne Krentz, writing as Amanda Quick, is an avid foil recycler. I recently drove through a couple of her audiobooks (i.e. Second Sight and The Third Circle) wherein she uses a group called the Arcane Society as a hub of suspense and character motivation. Characters who appear in minor supporting roles in one book frequently reappear in a subsequent story as the hero or heroine.
And why not? If these characters are well drawn, they effectively insulate some aspect of the plot. As with foil, the writer can smooth them out, heat them up, and concoct starring roles. I recently foil-recycled for a short story called Saturnalia, released by Sapphire Blue Publishing a couple of weeks ago. In a story I wrote several years ago called The Balance of Power, I created this guy Fernando as a gentle, thoughtful, but conflicted reservoir of modern superstition. I never did much with that story, but the character of Fernando appealed to me.
A first-generation American, Fernando epitomizes the conflict of cross-cultural integration. On the surface, he is successful, but emotions of severed loyalty, tenuous assimilation, and lingering mythological heritage roil beneath the surface. Juicy stuff. When I came up with a new character of Lola Baz, a Lebanese immigrant with hope for a better life in America, I imagined who her foil would be. Fernando. I rolled him out, smoothed out the creases and twisted some edges. He looks the same, has similar experiences as his doppelganger, but his motivation is not as pure and benevolent as the original Fernando. He is no less an interesting character and, in fact, can carry the villain role of this story. (A foil can typically be depicted as the antagonist.) Yes, a much different character than initially envisioned, but easier to write because, essentially, he already existed.
This New Year, besides my resolution not to make resolutions, I determine to recycle foils. I know they’re out there, birthed of my imagination, crinkled up and covering some forgotten bytes. Recyle foil this year.
What literary foils do you favor? Hi-ho Silver away!
K. F. Zuzulo is a multi-published author, specializing in genie fiction. The Third Wish is a paranormal romance novella published by Sapphire Blue Publishing in June 2009 and Saturnalia is a short story that was released by Sapphire in December. Angels & Genies was chosen by All Romance eBooks as part of their 28 Days of Heart campaign and will be released in February 2010. The Genie’s Curse is coming from Sapphire Blue in early 2010. You can find out more about the author, her writing, and genies at www.kfzuzulo.com.