Character hobbies and interests

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Sanderling
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Character hobbies and interests

Post by Sanderling » August 28th, 2011, 11:45 am

I think one of the easiest ways to flesh out a character is to give them hobbies and interests: all of us have them, but if they're not central to the plot of our story sometimes we can forget that our characters would have them, too. In my last project there was only minimal mention of hobbies or interests among my characters (though in its defense, I think it worked okay because of the world they lived in). I've been trying to make more of an effort in my current WIP to identify what those things would be for these characters and bring them into the story to some degree - even if it's only in how they decorate their room or the occasional passing comment.

Something I've noticed is that I tend to gravitate toward using hobbies/interests that are my own. Either stuff that I have experience with, or stuff that I'd like to become interested in if I ever have the time available to learn it. In the case of the former, I suppose it means I write it more realistically, while in the latter it allows me to live vicariously through them. ;)

What sort of interests do you all's characters tend to have? Are they the same as your own? Do you think that by writing your own interests it stifles the character?
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maybegenius
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Re: Character hobbies and interests

Post by maybegenius » August 28th, 2011, 3:01 pm

I don't think writing your own interests stifles a character unless you're doing a bit of authorial insertion and essentially using the character as a cipher of yourself. I mean, if you make the character super talented at a bunch of things you yourself wish you were talented at BECAUSE you wish you were talented at them, that might shine through and end up making the character appear overdrawn.

But, let's say you would really love to play a musical instrument but have never had the time or ability to learn. So you have your character able to play that instrument. It's the thing they're best at. I think as long as you don't do something extremely over the top, like make them The Best Sitar Player In The World, it adds to the character because YOUR interest and love of the hobby will shine through, and that's a good thing. I guess the balance comes in not making things over the top.

It comes down to writing what you know, I think. If you know a lot about knitting and can do it justice, why not let your character be a knitter? As long as you're not injecting yourself into your own story, I think that's fine.

The protagonist in my current WIP is a piano player, which I am, and also a sketch artist with an interest in anatomy, which I am not.
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Quill
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Re: Character hobbies and interests

Post by Quill » August 28th, 2011, 5:48 pm

One of my main character's interests is horses. And I don't know a thing about them! Fortunately the role this interest plays in the story is relatively minor (she wishes for a horse, but doesn't get one) So I've been able to fake it, using impressions about horses and horseback riding from books and film.

On my next book I won't be so lucky! My main character is a rancher's son, and everyone in the book rides. I may have to take up riding just to have a believable take on the subject. Seriously.

Definitely it is easier to put interests (and settings, and professions) into writing with which we ourselves have familiarity. A background in something is worth more than a lot of research, I'd say.

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Re: Character hobbies and interests

Post by AnimaDictio » August 28th, 2011, 8:33 pm

In my WIP, the MC jogs a lot. I do this because it allows him time to think and this is where I share with the reader his plans, opinions, etc. (not that I don't also do this elsewhere.)

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Re: Character hobbies and interests

Post by polymath » August 28th, 2011, 9:26 pm

I ran into two different books on writing this week talking about writing what you know from different approaches. One teaching writing to writers, the other a poetics text. Both have qualifiers saying writing what you know is good but with limitations, has potential, unforeseeable sticking points, might come across as preachy or present author surrogacy's self-efficacy and self-idealization pitfalls, and possibly overburden readers with exhaustive detail. A workaround both texts suggest to overcome the challenges of writing what you know is to write about what you don't know about what you know.

Discovering the personal meaning of hobbies and interests can then make those activities more rewarding, one, and two, lend the kind of vigor that a fresh approach to them can bring to a narrative. Besides, a languishing hobby or plateaued interest might become fun again, and perhaps become more masterfully practiced if it's explored deeply for personal meaning and for narrative purposes.
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Re: Character hobbies and interests

Post by GKJeyasingham » August 28th, 2011, 10:04 pm

In the past, my characters shared hobbies and interests with my own. I'm trying to change that now, for obvious reasons. Sure, it's a good place to start, but the last thing you want is for your character to become a vehicle for wish fulfillment. If you use a shared hobby/interest (or even a hobby that you've always wanted to do), you run the risk of creating a Mary Sue and will have to work that much harder to keep the character at a distance from yourself.

If I give my character a hobby/interest that's identical to mine, I now try to use it as starting ground. Adding twists to this hobby/interest could make a character much more interesting. And with any character trait, I guess the key is to bring it above a superficial level (e.g. integrate it within the plot well, or if it doesn't fit with the plot much, don't give it undue attention).

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Re: Character hobbies and interests

Post by Gypson » August 29th, 2011, 7:23 pm

My main character has always had two interests: healing and cooking. Funny how, within the past two years, his prime interests have become some of my prime interests; I'm a lamb in the kitchen and pursuing a medical career. Ahem.

The rest of my primary cast have interests that are not too far beyond me. One produces fantastic charcoal drawings (I'm a mediocre artist, but enjoy trying). Another loves riding her horse (I've ridden for quite a few years and, although far from being the World's Best Rider, I can describe the euphoria of galloping bareback through a pasture).

I don't think it's a bad thing for your characters to have interests similar to yours, provided that these interests are consistent with the personalities of the characters. It helps to write about a hobby you have at least tried before. I would rather write well about a hobby I know than make an abomination of a hobby I have little knowledge of.

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Sanderling
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Re: Character hobbies and interests

Post by Sanderling » September 1st, 2011, 12:54 am

Great feedback from everyone; thanks for weighing in. I had pretty much come to the same conclusion that everyone here seems to have: that drawing on one's own interests and/or experience can lend a depth of believability to a character's, but that the author should be cautious of taking it too far.
maybegenius wrote:I think as long as you don't do something extremely over the top, like make them The Best Sitar Player In The World, it adds to the character because YOUR interest and love of the hobby will shine through, and that's a good thing. I guess the balance comes in not making things over the top.
Hee. Wise words, maybegenius. I guess that's easy to do if one's not careful: emphasize the skill of a character in some area that you wish you were better at. Though, I suppose, there's always the approach that perhaps being really good at something is important to the central conflict - maybe being The Best Sitar Player In The World isn't all it's chalked up to be. I was thinking about that after recently finishing Gayle Forman's Where She Went, since the narrator is a rock star who's achieved great success... and finds he doesn't want it. The character is awesome at what he does, way better than most of us could ever dream of being, but without him being that way there'd be no conflict.
Quill wrote:On my next book I won't be so lucky! My main character is a rancher's son, and everyone in the book rides. I may have to take up riding just to have a believable take on the subject. Seriously.

Definitely it is easier to put interests (and settings, and professions) into writing with which we ourselves have familiarity. A background in something is worth more than a lot of research, I'd say.
All the characters in my WIP ride, too, and I've drawn a lot on my own lifetime of living with horses (my mom owns some, though I don't) in writing them into the story. I don't think I could write about the ranch environment because it's so completely different from the hobby farm experience I have. The horses on the ranch, though, I could do those. ;)

Good luck with it! At least research can be a lot of fun, especially if it's the hands-on kind.
AnimaDictio wrote:In my WIP, the MC jogs a lot. I do this because it allows him time to think and this is where I share with the reader his plans, opinions, etc. (not that I don't also do this elsewhere.)
It's useful to have something like that that's very in character but still gives you a natural opportunity to share things, rather than just have the thoughts inserted without any sort of locational/situational grounding. My MC goes down to the barn and sits on her horse in its stall, which she finds restful and quiet and a good place to think.
polymath wrote:Discovering the personal meaning of hobbies and interests can then make those activities more rewarding, one, and two, lend the kind of vigor that a fresh approach to them can bring to a narrative. Besides, a languishing hobby or plateaued interest might become fun again, and perhaps become more masterfully practiced if it's explored deeply for personal meaning and for narrative purposes.
This is a great observation, polymath. I definitely found that happened with one of my interests that I drew upon for my WIP, which was an interesting and unexpected side-effect of writing the story.
GKJeyasingham wrote:If I give my character a hobby/interest that's identical to mine, I now try to use it as starting ground. Adding twists to this hobby/interest could make a character much more interesting. And with any character trait, I guess the key is to bring it above a superficial level (e.g. integrate it within the plot well, or if it doesn't fit with the plot much, don't give it undue attention).
Good point, GK. I think there's often the temptation to add an interest for the interest's sake, or dwell on it because we ourselves love the interest so much, but if it's not actually integral to the plot it's just going to slow the story down by focusing on it.
Gypson wrote:It helps to write about a hobby you have at least tried before. I would rather write well about a hobby I know than make an abomination of a hobby I have little knowledge of.
I think that's the thing that makes me shy away from stuff I don't know well. I've heard the advice a few times that you should at least try, once, everything that the characters in your book do (within reason) so that you can know a little what it's like from firsthand experience. So for instance, if your character is a swordsman, take a lesson or two in swordsmanship (you don't need to become proficient, but just so you have an idea what it's like to handle a sword). A marine biologist, see if you can find some willing grad student who'll let you tag along for a day. This is probably easier for some things than others. And cheaper for some things than others.
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Re: Character hobbies and interests

Post by Aimée » September 2nd, 2011, 12:53 am

This is something I've been thinking about lately. When a character is not involved in the main plot line at the time or is just not in that scene, I am thinking of what they are doing while this other stuff is going on. Sleeping? Eating lunch? Watching TV? I mean, what do these people do all the time? So I made one character a runner, which fit very nicely into the plot, actually, and his competitive personality. Another is a poet (he's quite the romantic), and one... I'm still trying to pin her down.

The characters' hobbies should fit in with their personalities of course, and if possible, they should fit in with the plot, so we can learn more about the character, and so you can bring more of the character's personality into the story. Hobbies make the characters more realistic and easier to relate to.
Sanderling wrote: I've heard the advice a few times that you should at least try, once, everything that the characters in your book do (within reason) so that you can know a little what it's like from firsthand experience.
One of my main characters, though, is a serial killer. I should probably shy away from that particular hobby...

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