City of Bones – Read-n-Feed

I know it’s been a while since I’ve done a Read-n-Feed post, but I’ve decided to jump start it again with The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. Cassandra was the keynote speaker at the 2012 YALLFest, along with Holly Black, and it was very inspiring hearing them talk about their writing friendship, especially as I sat in the audience with so many of my own writing friends. 
Category: Young Adult
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Pages: 496
Amazon Description: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?
This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know...
My writing lesson from City of Bones is the way Cassandra used the main hobby of the protagonist to color her writing. And in this case I literally mean color. Clary is an artist, a talent she inherited from her mother. In the beginning, she uses her art as a form of stress relief and to work though her feelings like others might use a journal. Later, her artistic ability comes into play in a way that is important to the narrative. 
Most of City of Bones is told in third person from Clary's POV, so Cassandra uses Clary's artistic eye to full effect in her descriptions. Sometimes she actually compares things to famous paintings, like: “There was a queasy sense of something organic about the bikes, like the bio-creatures in a Giger painting.” and “If Bosch's paintings of hell had come with a soundtrack, they would have sounded like this.” Other times, she describes things in a way linked to her hobby like: “When he smiled at Clary, a thousand small lines rayed out from around his eyes, like the cracks in an old painting.” and “Luke's expression went blank, like a canvas wiped clean of paint.”
I don't have any talent in the visual arts, so I'm not really keyed into color and light when I take in my surroundings, but it completely makes sense that someone whose passion is art would hone in on hues and shadings, like Clary does when she describes things. And this would apply to other hobbies as well: if the protagonist is a musician, the wind blowing through the trees might remind them of a piece by Bach; if they cook, then the smell in a friend's car might remind them of a certain spice; if someone is into fashion, then the first thing they'll notice about other people is what they're wearing. The viewpoint character's passions and hobbies are a lens through which his/her world is filtered. 
And this also applies to secondary characters. Even though the narrative might not be filtered through their point of view, their passions and hobbies will still impact other aspects like their vocabulary and physicality. A love interest who writes poetry might speak in lyrical sentences. An athletic best friend might pepper their speech with motivational phrases like "keep your eye on the ball" and "it ain't over until it's over." But all athletes aren't the same because one who plays football moves differently than one who excels at golf. These types of small details make characters feel real rather than just cardboard cutouts spouting dialog to move the plot along.
The way Cassandra utilizes her protagonist's artistic eye to highlight the beauty and creepiness of her New York settings is a great reminder to use our characters' interests and talents to full advantage. Having a number of interests make characters three dimensional, and these interests should affect the way they see and talk about the world around them.
If you’ve read City of Bones, what did you think? Do you use your main character’s passions/hobbies as a filter through how s/he sees the world? Do you use passions/hobbies to add dimensions to secondary characters? 


Lexa Cain's picture

Yes, it's very important to give the characters special interests or knowledge that color the way they think and see things. The ms will feel much more realistic and interesting. Great post! :)

Cherie Reich's picture

What a great point about a character's interest reflecting how they see the world. I try to use that in my own writing (example: one character I have her dad worked in agriculture and mom worked in jewelry-making, so she uses plants and gemstones to relate to things because she was influenced by ther work). I do like how Clare uses the art hobby to have Clary describe her world.

Stephanie Faris's picture

It is definitely important to keep characters in mind when describing settings. We each see the world through our own unique viewpoints and by individualizing it to each character, we'll make our books stand out.

Medeia Sharif's picture

This sounds like an interesting novel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. I haven't read Clare yet, but own some of her books.

Jess@Fairday's Blog's picture

I haven't read this series- but it has been on my list for forever. :) I really enjoyed reading your take on the book and you made an interesting point about characters seeing the world through their hobbies. Thanks for sharing and getting me thinking. :)

Courtney Turner's picture

The genre of YA fiction seems to keep growing. I like how you are paying attention to the way this book is written. Have you ever read Skinny Legs And All by Tom Robbins? It's pretty darn funny but the first few pages take a while to get into. It's another book from the point of view of an artist and her boyfriend who becomes an artist and some other intriguing characters. The artist talks about a game she uses to see things. Also, thanks for stopping by my blog the other day.

Jocelyn Rish's picture

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by - much appreciated! 

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