Tuesday Ten: Character Development Through Hobbies

This week, I wanted to expand on one of the character quirks I listed in last week’s Tuesday Ten post: hobbies. If you’re like me, you might give your character a hobby simply to add a bit of color. And hobbies do add color: a good hobby will make your character quirkier and more memorable.

As a writer, though, you may want to make this character detail work even harder and, especially as you get deeper into a book, it can useful to think about what a character’s hobby can accomplish beyond adding surface color.

happyskrappy hobbies

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Here are ten questions (okay, more than ten questions <grin>) to ask yourself when you go hobby-hunting for your character:

  1. Do you want a hobby that makes a character more sympathetic? Readers tend to like characters who are passionate about something, so even a simple hobby can accomplish this purpose. You can also think about creating contrast within an otherwise unlikeable character: the villain who feeds the birds shows a softer side and the villain who has a passion for gardening might be touched by a protagonist who appreciates a fine cultivar of rose.
  2. Do you want the hobby to help your readers identify with the character? When you choose one of the “usual suspects” for your character—collecting baseball cards or playing basketball, for example—you can draw your target audience into the book. You’re creating a character familiar enough that it could be your reader. This character may face the same real-life problems your reader will face, or may have the sort of fantastic adventures your reader wishes he or she could have.
  3. Do you want your hobby to be new, exciting, or even exotic? Think of the kids who took up rollerblading before anyone else even knew what roller blades were. This sort of hobby makes your character stand out. It can play a major role in the story, or can simply add to the portrait of your character, implying that he or she is unique or, perhaps, trendy.
  4. Do you want a hobby that will make your readers go “Wow, I wish I could do something like that”? We all love to read about heroes who are slightly larger than life—the ones who do things we might only dream about. Do you want to provide your reader with a vicarious adventure? If so, this might be the type of hobby you’re looking for: rock climbing, parachuting, sailing around the world, riding a unicycle, competitive jump roping.
  5. Do you want a hobby that will make your readers think, “Ewww, gross, that guy is creepy!” (Or, if you write for middle graders, perhaps you want your audience to think, “Ewww, gross, that guy is cool!”)
  6. How does the hobby reflect your character’s values—who he or she is? Your character’s choice of hobby can illustrate her needs, desires, strengths, weakness, and fears.
  7. How does the hobby serve your character? A hobby can serve as an escape, a refuge, or even a place for your character to prove herself. Ask whether this activity represent a creative outlet or a distraction, obsession, or addiction.
  8. What is your character’s attitude toward this hobby? Does she take pride in it? Does it embarrass her? Does he hide it? Think how your hobby can serve as a vehicle for character development.
  9. Would this character grow if he allowed himself to pursue this activity more freely or if he gave it up for something more important? A hobby can play into your character’s growth over the course of the story, as an obstacle, a goal, or even as a way to mirror the book’s primary theme and conflict.
  10. Who supports your character in this hobby? Who stands in his way? Does this activity connect him with others or somehow keep him separate? A hobby provides a venue with which your character can connect to or be separated from other characters.
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In case you missed it, I’ve been writing about how writers can collaborate with others (writers, readers, spouses, fans) to supercharge their creative process. You can read previous posts here and here. If you’re working with other people, coordination is key   e_monk, Flickr There’s no question about it: collaboration has its downsides. It’s tough […]

Comments

  1. PW.Creighton says

    That's a sensational idea and great way to analyze the impact of adding the details. The one thing of note is that it could be quite difficult to delve into a hobby that deviates from the narrative. It could feel like a random fact or scene thrown in just because. Great post!

  2. wyvernspeak says

    This is why I love writing…being able to work in all those subplots, threads, and themes. Wonderful post, you've given me a few ideas for a character taht was important but a little too uptight!

  3. Patrice Kavanaugh says

    Great suggestions! I just took a class on how to detail a character on many levels, besides the basic looks, gestures, vocal specifics. But hobbies weren't mentioned. I think they can add a great dimension/richness to a main or even a secondary character.

  4. Cheryl Reif says

    @PW ~True–details are terrific, but it's important to pare them down to the best. I tend to write three pages of "pre-writing" for each page of the final project.

    @wyvernspeak ~I'm so glad! I find that even if I don't use a character's hobby, it helps me to think about what they *might* do in their spare time. Glad it helped!

    @Patrice ~Cool. It's funny, sometimes I find that sort of list very helpful and sometimes I don't. I think different character "questionnaires" are suited to different characters, writing, and situations. It's nice to have a big bag of tools from which to choose!

    Sorry to take so long on the reply–just returned from vacation, where the Internet access was not quite what I anticipated :). Good to be back and connecting with people again!

    Cheryl

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