I've said before that I believe that your choices define who you are. I see it time and again with the students I work with, the people around me, and in my own life. I'm a pretty black and white person and I think that the word math is pretty easy:
Choose to act mean + Act mean = people will think you're a mean person.
It doesn't matter if you're really not a mean person. It doesn't matter if you acted out of anger, or frustration or whatever. The math remains true. Your choices define who you are.
So how does this apply to writing? I think it's ingrained in the characterization of the people we write about. We all want to create compelling characters that tug at the hearts of our readers. We want our characters to be unique, likeable, struggling, desperate, dispicable, evil, kind, or whatever.
So how do you do that? You can't just say, "He was kind." or "She was mean." That's the whole Show, Don't Tell rule.
I think you have to make your characters make choices. What they choose to do, will define what kind of person they are. Their choices will characterize them for you. You have to decide what kind of person your character is, not just what they do. Don't confuse who your character is with the hobbies they enjoy. This is a fine line that may be blurry for lots of us. I know it is for me. But I don't think it's enough to just give your character "stuff" that they "do" to make them different. I think it has to be done on a deeper level. You have to bring out who they are, and that will influence their choices--including the ones where they decide which hobbies they enjoy.
Ask yourself questions like these:
1. Does Kate just like to run? Or is she a runner?
2. Is cooking something Adam does? Or is he a chef? (Cuz I cook, but dude, I'm no chef.)
3. What's the real reason Vi breaks so many Rules? (Ha! Yes, that's from my book. And it's not because Rule-breaking is something she likes to do. It's because of who she is.) ((I like this question a lot. I think you should be asking yourself this as you write: "What's the real reason Super Awesome Character does This or That or The Other?" And I think the answer should always come down to them choosing why they do something because of who they are.))
I think it's okay to have "stuff your character does". Don't get me wrong about that. Everyone has hobbies that put them in certain social groups. But really, I don't care if someone can cook or set a new swimming record. I want to know them on a more personal level. When something uber-hard comes at them (which in fiction, is the basis of the book, right?) how do they act? What choices do they make? And are those in line with who they are?
If not, what you've given your characters as "personality traits" might just be hobbies. You'll have to decide.
And now I'm going to go all blasphemous on you. Well, maybe not. But I've heard people say that they are writers. It's who they are. Ready for the shocking part? *whispers* I don't feel that way.
I love writing. I enjoy how I feel when I write. I adore creating people and watching their journey. I really really love it. But writing is not who I am. It's something I really love to do. It's something that helps me find the person I really am. It allows me to help other people find out who they really are. By choosing to write, I discover who I am--and who I am not.
Because I know myself, I can make the choice to write, persist through rejection, drive myself to do better. And the point of hobbies, I think, is to develop those qualities that define us (like hard work, determination, perseverance, etc.). Now, can hobbies become deeper, become who we are?
Honestly, I think so, but it takes a long time. And by then, we've learned so many things about ourselves, that we can become anything we choose.
What do you guys think?