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?