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Holly Rivers: Bags of Personality

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Rucksacks, suitcases, handbags, satchels — you can tell so much about a character from the kind of bag they carry, and what they have stashed inside it. The day to day essentials that a person can’t leave home without, can reveal so much about their personality and lifestyle.

For example, in my book, Demelza and the Spectre Detectors, the protagonist, Demelza, never leaves home without a satchel full of her most useful inventions. This is because she’s logical and forward-thinking, and always likes to be prepared for any eventuality. However, if you were to delve inside my rucksack, you’d probably find a well-thumbed book, a pair of woolly gloves, and a couple of squashed old sweets. What does that say about me I wonder? I guess it shows that I love words and stories, that I feel the cold, and… that I’m a bit messy!

During the writing process, revealing what your protagonists carry around, can give both you and your readers a deeper understanding of the characters’ personas, and how they go about their day to day lives. For example, a shiny briefcase filled with neatly arranged files and papers probably indicates that the owner is quite organised and businesslike. But a worn-out backpack containing a passport, compass and torch might belong to someone with a more spontaneous personality — someone who’s always prepared for an adventure. In more fantastical worlds, characters might have bags full of strange creatures, or carry around scrolls, weapons or talismans.

Let’s delve into the bags of some of literature’s most famous characters, and have a think about what the contents might say about them:

Paddington Bear– There’s lots of space for jars of marmalade inside this bear’s battered suitcase, but there’s also a special compartment for all his important papers and postcards. From this information, what kind of character do you think Paddington is?

Mary Poppins — This famous nanny’s infamous carpet bag contains…well everything! A folding armchair, shoes, a pot plant, nightgowns, and of course, bottles of medicine. What kind of life do you think she leads?

Harry Potter — In this boy’s rucksack you’ll find spell books, quills, a magic map, an invisibility cloak, a Gryffindor scarf, and some chocolate frogs. What kind of adventures does Harry have?

Moominmamma — Moomintroll’s mum is rarely seen without a little handbag which contains essentials like sweets, tummy powder and woolly socks. What do you think this tells us about her?

I’d like to challenge you to write about what one of your own characters might carry around with them in their bag. A notebook and pen? A supply of jellybeans? An asthma inhaler? A lucky rabbit’s foot? A photograph of a deceased loved one? Think about the kind of objects and possessions your character wouldn’t leave home without, and what this says about them.

Demelza and the Spectre Detectors is published 6th February 2020 by Chicken House Books