Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Hobbies and Habits


From my theme calendar for the month called Risk.

Credit: Stock Connection Distribution - Alamy.

Writers are advised to provide their main characters with hobbies and habits to assert individuality and round their personalities. Hobbies not only advance character as well as provide for possible reader identification -- as the comedian Fields ( I think) said " a man who hates children and small dogs can't be all bad" -- they also allow opportunity for plot leverage.

Such hobbies and interests are perhaps a more vital component of character development in a series than a stand-alone. Hobbies remain a staple for many cosy mysteries. Hobbies, especially obscure ones, also allow a reader to acquire information pleasantly without feeling instructed.

The very best example I can think of at the moment is Rex Stout's Nero Wolf, a private detective who seriously cultivates show orchids and employs a gourmet cook. (Warning: don't read him when dieting.) On many occasions, both orchids and meals operate as more than mere background and become essential to the unfolding action.

The worst -- or most limited -- example that occurs to me is L.K. Hamilton's Anita Blake's affection for stuffed penguins -- a habit that appears to me to be mechanically inserted to show that Anita has a mushy, vulnerable side to off-set her kick-ass attitudes. In the few of the Blake series I've read, the passive penguin collection provides a rather obvious character balance and nothing more.

To be fair, the more go-go action-oriented and fast-paced a story is, the less logical opportunity for diversional moments of quiet puttering and exposition.

That said, I think my Lillie might need a specific hobby, some activity beyond the faint suggestions about her herb garden. Perhaps she will write poetry.

Does your main character have a hobby?

44 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

I believe herb gardening could be quite beneficial as a hobby. She can crave the cool earth in her fingers, the head-cleansing that weeding provides, the quiet mumble of bees as she deadheads her roses. There is a lot in gardening that can provide time for reflection and to show an alternate side to a character.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, re the LKH penguins, I have noticed their conspicuous absence in the last several books, and wondered about it. But we get so much inner angsty dialog from anita that perhaps the author thought the penguins were superfluous. I rather liked the penguins, especially when she got upset that the zombies slimed all over them.

laughingwolf said...

what ww sez... except i have not read lkh

my mc, though a parapsycholgist, is an avid iaito student, the better to cut demons, with sacred steel....

Bernita said...

She does a little bit of that, Written.
I believe Anita also had a penguin mug and T-shirt.Cute - as far as it went.

Very job-related,Laughingwolf. Good integral stuff!

Belinda (Worderella) said...

My heroine balances her accounts when she gets really stressed. Some may find that weird...other characters in the book certainly do. However, it's the one thing she has real control over/the one thing that always has a correct answer. And since she doesn't like change, I felt this reflected her personality very well.

Robyn said...

One of my heroines likes to bake bread. Setting aside the time required, the feel of the dough as she kneads it, the satisfaction of the smells in the oven; like Written's example, it's a good time for reflection.

Bernita said...

Belinda and Robyn, those are very nice individual activities.

Carla said...

Agreed that herb gardening has a lot of potential if you think your Lillie needs a hobby. It works for Brother Cadfael :-)

Interesting topic. Do you think the perceived need for characters to have hobbies applies particularly to series or to mysteries? I can think of several fictional detectives with hobbies (eg PD James's Dalgleish writes poetry, Colin Dexter's Morse is an opera and crossword buff). Sherlock Holmes' violin playing (and drug habit) may come into the same category. I wonder if Holmes was the prototype - what do you think?

Rick said...

Hmm ... what sort of hobby would a PI in ancient Athens have? Or a Renaissance queen?

Dave F. said...

A Lillie habit...
Perhaps a garden?
Perhaps frogs - ceramic, metal, carved wood, cute ones, Christmas ones, plastic frig magnet ones.
Perhaps knitting, needlework or painting?

I somehow think that the most active sport Lillie might have is curling. Somehow kick-boxing and drag racing seem too funky. And Karaoke for the musically unvoiced seems unexpected.

Bernita said...

Carla, it wasn't exactly a hobby for Caedfel, it was his job - crime was his hobby!
One could certainly make a case for Holmes being the protype. Another is Lord Peter who collects rare manuscripts.At heart though, it comes down, not to eccentricity, but to a means of exhibiting a fuller character.

How about fishing, Rick? Or collecting intaligo rings or carving them?
A renaissance queen might enjoy tapestry ( not every female disliked domestic occupations) or reading Latin and Greek plays or collecting pottery, breeding dogs and horses, overseeing rose culture, many things.

Bernita said...

A frog collection would be a little too Mary Sue, I'm afraid, Dave.
Since Lillie is the solitary sort, many participatory sports are out.

Carla said...

Rick - Well, if I remember rightly, a PI in ancient Rome (Falco) is something of a cook. (Suspect the existence of that Roman cookbook - Apicius? - may have something to do with that choice of hobby).
For a Renaissance queen, didn't the real Elizabeth I write poetry ("My care is like my shadow in the sun")?

Travis Erwin said...

The protag in my latest novel reads and collects books about the Caribbean, but the plot also hinges around that fat so I'm not sure that is a good example of what you mean.

Carla said...

Rick - PS - And Mary Queen of Scots loved embroidery, even before she was imprisoned. There's a line somewhere about her sitting sewing during council meetings - not sure if that would have been regarded as admirable female domesticity at the time or as evidence of not paying proper attention to affairs of state. Could be taken either way, I suppose :-) Though somehow I don't quite see your Catherine doing that.

Bernita said...

Travis, I think it's a good - and integrated - example.

Charles Gramlich said...

I can definitely see that it would depend on the level of action in the series. So far, Ruenn hasn't had time for any hobbies. But in a detective series it could certainly add a quality to the character.

writtenwyrdd said...

Like Charles says, it might depend on the type of story, too. Got to thinking about this question whilst painting the kitchen walls this morning and it occurs to me that in my sword and sorcery fantasy, no hobbies. The character is journeying, so it hasn't come up. She tends to do leatherworking, however, and is very good at it. Is embarrassed when someone comments on the embroiderey to her boots, which she used to hide a big tear. It's almost a hobby.

Also, in the sf that I'm presently focusing on, one of the protagonists (there are two) is obsessively into fitness. It's compensatory for a drug abuse habit she's kicked, but almost qualifies as a hobby, too.

raine said...

One of current heroes is into developing new varieties of roses. His way of acknowledging new victims--er, lovers, lol.

I would imagine Lillie needing something to help keep her grounded, considering her occupation. Gardening would be good for her. Or erotic, earthy poetry. :D

My strangest? A cozy detective who fashioned figures out of clay, which took on the features and characteristics of his unknown antagonists as he slowly unraveled the crime...

Rick said...

Carla - certainly not embroidering during council meetings! Though not exactly a hobby, I know that Catherine reads romances (in the 16th c. sense!) for pleasure.

Scott from Oregon said...

She seems like the putting up pickles sort.

and jamming.

Bernita said...

Your right, Charles, and weapons training wouldn't qualify as a "hobby" for Ruenm!

Those both work, Written. The word "hobby" - while adequate - isn't the best for a secondary interest.

Those are great twists, Raine! I like those!
They strike me as the best type of integrated and multi-functional characteristic.

"She seems like the putting up pickles sort.

and jamming."

~blenches~
Scott, I hope you don't mean Lillie.If so, I might as well stuff the MS under the bed.

The Anti-Wife said...

Hobbies and habits can add layers to a character unless the author doesn't know enough about the hobby to make it realistic.

Demon Hunter said...

I think my character should have a hobby for my upcoming WIP, but I just need to figure out what it is... :-)

Bernita said...

That would be a problem, AW.

There's probably a list somewhere on the net, my Demon!

Lisa said...

There are hobbies where one does something and then there are hobbies where one collects. I think collections can be interesting for the more introverted protags -- rare signed first editions, artwork, comic books, dolls, a particular type of china or pottery, even stamps and coins. What people value and collect says a lot about them...

Bernita said...

Yes, and thank you for that definition, Lisa. Some are a passion and some a relaxation, but either affect how a character examines his or her world. A persistent boater may be more sensitive/alert to weather changes, for example, even if he or she is nowhere near water.

spyscribbler said...

I think she's forgotten about the penguins. Have they been in any recent books? That series sure has a habit of forgetting its world.

Steve Malley said...

I'm put in mind of Sherlock Holmes, with his violin and chemistry set and syringes full of cocaine, versus every other Victorian detective with a mandatory interest in roses or stamp collecting or whatnot.

Come to think of it, Watson meets a girl, marries her and is widowed, all off-page.

Gabriele C. said...

I don't plan hobbies. Some of my characters surprise me by having one I didn't know about. :)

BernardL said...

In one novel, my Seal Team Six guy sang and played jazz at a restaurant bar. It was fun writing him into the restaurant/bar; because he also worked there with the owners when he was off duty: a retired Navy Seal and his wife. His Seal Team buddies regularly met there throughout the book. Good post.

December/Stacia said...

My heroine's hobby is heavy drugs. So, yes. Megan doesn't really have any hobbies; she likes to cook, she reads, stuff like that, but no real hobbies. Maybe because I don't have any and never really have?

Jaye Wells said...

Does self-sabotage count as a hobby?

Lana Gramlich said...

Oh yes...My "character," Charles, has MANY hobbies. :)

SzélsőFa said...

I agree: it's convenient for the MC to have a hobby that furthers the story, gives some needed background information about the MC and the way s/he acts/thinks etc.
The hobby might also serve as a source of information for the MC himself.

My MC in Halodoes have a hobby - he lives and dies for it. In Copper Moon...Hmmm... 'll have to think about that.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I write mainly action so, as you said, it's rather difficult to insert superfluous tidbits about my characters' lives. They certainly have backstories which are what drive them through their lives but hobbies? No.
However, there is definitely a need for that kind of information with a character in a series, especially in gentler stories like mysteries.

Bernita said...

"That series sure has a habit of forgetting its world."
Don't know about the later books, Natasha, but I think that's a fair comment.

Steve, we also have Hercule Poirot, whose "hobby" (one might say) was his moustache, and who had the ambition to grow marrows, I believe.

That's what happened here, Gbriele. Some characters are funny like that.

Thank you, Bernard. You get a lot of riffs with that one.

Some people do view reading as a "hobby," December. I suppose cooking could only be considered a "hobby" if one spent their time creating unusual recipes.Hard to separate some activities that are basically essential.

More as a neurosis, I imagine, Jaye.

~giggles~
Is he a "WIP," Lana?

And you've summed up the advantages very nicely, Szelsofa.
"The hobby might also serve as a source of information for the MC himself."
Yes, in some types of stories the hobby is the cause - and guide - of the plot.

Suzanne,right - in some stories/styles, a hobby would be entirely superfluous.

StarvingWriteNow said...

In my stories, my characters always had hobbies/diversions/sideshows... whatever you want to call it. It's nice for me, as a writer and as a reader to see the characters aren't just "types", the hobbies make them more human, if that makes sense.

Bernita said...

"...aren't just types" - exactly, Beth.

Anonymous said...

Aidan listens to music and is crazy about art--any kind of art. He'd rather spend time in a museum than any other place, and he refers to paintings and art pretty frequently. It makes for nice metaphor and drives his brother kaelin absolutely bonkers. His sports are snowboarding and archery.

Kaelin loves to read and he's a sharpshooter. He's a sniper in his job, but the love for shooting started for him as a kid. He's a skier, or was, before he got so busy.

Sean from Hinterland...well. Hmm. He's a bit of a workaholic, but if his dad hadn't beat it out of him as a child, I suppose he might like sailing and carpentry.

--SSAS

Bernita said...

"It makes for nice metaphor" - which always delights me when I see something with such added value, SS!

Shauna Roberts said...

Some of my characters have hobbies, but after reading this post I realized I need to add more of that.

I agree with whoever suggested that painting would be a good hobby for Lillie. It would create that in-the-moment state in which revelations about the crimes she's investigating might pop up. And if she looks at her work at the end of each session, her subconscious may have planted clues there for her.

Chumplet said...

Ohhhh! Hobbies! Gardening is okay, but what would Lillie do? Hmmm....

Tarot card reader?
Ouiji Board enthusiast?
Bonsai artist!

If my current WIP characters had a hobby, I guess I'd have to pick something like Polo or fly fishing. Don't ask my why, 'cause I don't know.

Bernita said...

That's very clever, Shauna!

Sandra, I suppose we first have to decide just what we want the hobby to reveal about the character and its function toward the plot.