Saturday, November 10, 2007

The hobby device

Here's a little more on that interesting thread on CrimeSpace last week, started by our own Kathryn Lilley ... about hobby/crafts mysteries, a sub-sub genre I've just entered. One poster worried that hobby/crafts writers might be using said hobby as a substitute for character development.

Quite possibly, but no more likely than any other writer.

It's true that we don't want a recipe or knitting instructions interrupting the action, but neither do we necessarily need a graphic sex scene to help us "understand the character." Think of all the cliché traits that have been used to define a character in crime fiction, such as alcoholism, listening to jazz, chain-smoking, and bar fighting. Any of these devices can be used well or as a cop-out for the hard work of creating a three-dimensional protagonist.

What a good hobby mystery writer should do is what any good writer should do: use the protagonist's hobby as a window into his/her worldview. How does the character see the world? In terms of the next bar, or as a tapestry to be woven? What metaphors is she/he likely to use for life? A pattern to be embellished, or the bottom of a bottle? Is studying an ancient piece of needlework less worthy than looking deep into a chest cavity, minus its protective covering?

The protagonist in my new series is a miniaturist. She looks at everything around her as potential material for modeling. A thimble becomes a wastebasket. A long bead becomes a vase or a lamp base. Her thinking is outside the box, since in her mind, the box is actually a refrigerator.

Does this help her solve crimes any better than a jogging-obsessed PI, a renegade cop, or a bed-hopping bounty hunter?



Monica Ferris said...

What a thoughtful entry! I agree we hobby/mystery writers ought to be wary of substituting the hobby for character development, rather than using the hobby as a way to look into the character of our sleuths. In fact, it has made me think that I ought to go back to a scene and do a little re-write which will open up the whole thing. Thanks, Camille!

Deb Baker said...

You are so right!

Camille Minichino said...

You're such good examples, as all our "killerhobby" bloggers are.
Monica, I admire the way you always tie the main plot points into your craft (I often cheat) and Deb, you have a collector's eye for detail and thoroughness so necessary for an investigator.

Anonymous said...

Whether in your finished novels or the MSS, I don't see that you cheat. I see that you continue to teach (and be thoughtful; thank you, Monica), and isn't that grand! xoxoxo

Kathryn Lilley said...

Great post, Camille--and I love the photo, by the way! Best, Kathryn

Sheila Connolly said...

Yes! I think that a protagonist's choice of profession/hobby should tell us something about her character, but while it may be shorthand, it's no substitute for making her a vital person on the page--it's only background.

How many of our hook crafts can be compared to puzzles? Certainly cooking, knitting, or making almost anything with one's hands--which is a nice parallel to solving the mystery.

Camille Minichino said...

Sheila .. when you have a minute, I still want that thumb print cookie recipe!