"Hobbies" in YA fiction

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"Hobbies" in YA fiction

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jul. 27, 2011, 11:58pm

Has anyone else noticed/been bothered by books where it seems like the author has given his/her protagonist a bunch of hobbies instead of doing actual characterization? I've been noticing it a lot lately.

For instance:

Hold Still by Nina LaCour
Split by Swati Avasthi
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

These otherwise would have been good books, but when I think about what the reader knows about the characters, it's "She takes photographs," "He plays soccer," or "She plays the clarinet." You don't really get a sense of them as a real person, just a collection of attributes.

Has anyone else noticed this? Examples if you have.

jul. 28, 2011, 1:09am

Good point. It does seem like a cop-out. I can't think of any examples myself but am curious to know what hobbies authors thing "make" a character.

jul. 28, 2011, 5:56am

Mind you, there's the opposite situation in Twilight where Bella has no hobbies, nothing to define her except being in love with Edward . . . Both are bad.

jul. 28, 2011, 5:04pm

Very, very true, Sakerfalcon.

I've noticed that this has come up in a few books about death and grieving, and you just know that these kids are going to use their hobby to help themselves through the grief. Not that hobbies aren't a great way to do that, but after several books where the character is healed with the power of music/art/horseback riding/whatever, I just get tired of that plot arc.

jul. 28, 2011, 5:15pm

On the other hand, some do a really good job of making the hobby integral to the plot -- my example for this would be Flash Burnout. I think the key is tying it into the story, and still giving the character a distinct personality apart from that hobby.

jul. 28, 2011, 5:18pm

I think the thing about hobbies is that it allows the reader to see the character doing something he or she likes, and presumably something he or she is good at--it's under these circumstances that most people shine and show their best and happiest selves. For instance, I think this is well done in Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci, in which the heroine is a photographer and a training mask and makeup effects artist. I think Castellucci defines Egg much more broadly then just by her hobbies, but Egg's talents are a factor that allows the reader (and eventually some characters) to see her sympathetically, and it's also the means by which she's able to connect to some other characters.

My pet peeve is teen characters who are defined as being sympathetic because of their mean, negligent, or generally uncaring parents. Usually in these books the teen character has had to take care of him or herself for a long time, implying that he or she is more grown up than peers who are more dependent. Naturally the circumstance of having uncaring parents always pushes the character toward the person they luuuuurve who understands them and cares about them in a way nobody else can.

That cliche drives me nuts. Maybe I feel this way because I had lovely parents, and often find the depictions of bad parents in YA to lack nuance.

jul. 28, 2011, 6:34pm

I really liked If I Stay and Sisters in Sanity by Gayle Forman. Both of these had a female protagonist who is a musician, but they are fully fleshed-out characters on top of that. It's a treat to read a book that doesn't set off any of my "cliche" alarm bells.

Editat: jul. 30, 2011, 9:52pm

I would think authors use hobbies as a way to show another facet of a character's life, in order to give a more well-rounded feel to the character. Make them more real. Of course, if they're using it in place of actually creating a three-dimensional fully fleshed out character, that's a problem.

I haven't read those books, except Flash Burnout which I loved, so I'm going to see if I can get them from the library to see what you mean.

jul. 31, 2011, 3:38pm

Going back a few years, Avi's Nothing But The Truth: A Documentary Novel (1991) has a main character who is obsessed with becoming a track star, which is absolutely integral to the plot (and ties in with the fact that the only book he's interested in is S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders). Personally, I don't really at all care for Nothing But The Truth, but it's still considered by many to be an outstanding YA novel.

Editat: gen. 10, 2020, 7:06pm

Do you mean how instead of giving them strengths and weaknesses (i.e. character flaws) they will advertise that they are an avid chess player? Or that they love to ride horses?

I've seen a lot of this. In Y.A. they will have a few things that they "tell" the reader instead of "showing" because of the amount of time they have to get the story out. But, the character development (or even the character 'baseline' (business term, sorry) just isn't there?

This is becoming frustratingly more and more common. It turns the story into one massive 2D plot hole and I end up closing the book by chapter 2. I used to always finish books, but there is so much material, I can't anymore.