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What's in Your Character's Backpack?

Packing is fun, unpacking not so much – that’s the general rule. But when it’s someone else's bag…that’s another story.

WTH. (credit)

Imagine this scenario. You’re on a trip with a few acquaintances. You know them, but you don’t know them, you know? Y’all are heading to parts unknown together, ready to spend an undetermined amount of time getting to know new places and one another.

You check into your: hotel / hostel / tent. The others head out to: go shopping for shoes that cost more than your car / find coffee that doesn’t suck / attempt making s'mores with Kahlua instead of a chocolate bar. You’re alone. Just you…and their backpacks.

Reach in. You know you want to. (credit)

You’re a good person. Of course you don’t snoop. But come on – you’re tempted, admit it. Outside of physical appearance, favorite bands, and maybe a few quirks, you don’t really know these people! What better way to find out who they really are than to dig around in their packs and find out what parts of their lives were important enough to bring on this adventure?

In real life, snooping ain’t a good idea. But in fiction – why not? I’ve said before that writing a book is like taking a road trip with your characters. But in this case, there’s no risk of Amalia opening the door to find you sitting there with her backpack in your lap, a guilty expression on your face and her deck of Sexy Bikers playing cards spread out on the bed. There’s no way Mason is going to unzip the tent to discover you scrolling through all of the Beyonce albums on his iPod. YOU CAN’T GET CAUGHT.

However, you can get mauled. Cuidado. (credit)

Get in there! What’s that bulging in the front pocket of Jamie’s bag? A ziplock filled with diet pills? Pot? Fresh cherries? A collection of human hair? (Uh, I'd be booking a ticket elsewhere if that's the case.)

And what about Gina – why did she bring only long-sleeved shirts on a summer trip through the southwest? Is she insecure about her body? Is she hiding scars? Does she simply enjoy showing off the fact that she’s immune to embarrassing pit sweat? (Anti-perspiring bitch.)

R2D2 despises B.O. (credit)

Pick up your characters’ bags, tip them out over the floor and snoop away. What you find will take you past that superficial level that comes at the start of the relationship and give you a much more real sense of who they are.

And don’t give Mason too much guff about his Rule the World obsession. (Although if you hear him singing it in the shower, he’s really just asking for Internet infamy. YouTube away.)
Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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  1. Very cool idea.

    Tobias' bag would have a jar of sand, a faded photograph and his father's dogtags.

    Marina's would have a crushed pink flower and a baggie of cherry pie. There would likely be a few cosmetics her BFF snuck in as a hint.

    Rue would carry nothing, yet not find the bag empty.

    Anne-Marie would have a bag of nail glue and polish, water bottles, crayons and snack food crammed in on top of a piece of paper with a boy's name written over and over and over.

  2. This is such a good idea for character building. I feel like I have my characters down, but I'll have to sit down tomorrow and go through what I think I'd find in their bag.

  3. This is a really interesting idea! I'd never thought of that before. What's in my characters' backpacks? Hmm...

    That's a fun characterization technique . I'll have to try it out sometime.

  4. "Rue would carry nothing, yet not find the bag empty."

    Love that.

  5. This reminds me of a writing exercise one of my professors gave us. We had to list 50 items our characters have with them. The first ten or fifteen were pretty standard ... describing clothes and what not. We had to get really creative and really dig into our chars' psyches to finish the list. Great exercise!

  6. It depends on the bag. Allura carries two. One during the day at school when she's pretending to be a human. In that black back-pack is her binder and textbooks and a pen. Also, in the small pocket is a tube of lip gloss.

    Her water-proof bag though, it's empty when she's hurrying to the beach. Once she's there, near the water, she removes all of her clothing, stuffs it into the bag, and then she jumps into the water.

  7. In The Book of Lost Souls, Ivy carries magic spell books, some of which are nothing but trouble.

    In Don't Fear the Reaper, Keely would carry photos and a scythe.


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Item Reviewed: What's in Your Character's Backpack? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman