The Things They Carried

Reading Richard Skinner’s “Fiction Writing” i just wanted to share with you a small idea that I love 🙂

Tim O’Brien wrote a book called The Things They Carried which is a collection of short stories about Vietnam. He starts by listing the things that he and the other soldiers carried with them. The sort of things they had in their pockets and back packs. Skinner suggests using this technique to create a character (but I guess you could use it to get to know one better too). I’ve used this before by using photos on Flickr of women’s handbag contents (search for the “handbag contents” tag – its entertaining looking through those pics I can tell you!).

So today I’m sharing the contents of someone’s handbag:
Moschino Make Up Bag
Cigarettes & Lighter
Pencil Case
Small Note Book
Packet of Tissues
Mobile Phone
Keys with memory stick & pen attached.
Coin purse/small zip up bag

So what character would that lot inspire? Have you ever thought about what your MC would carry around on their person?

26 thoughts on “The Things They Carried

  1. it would make for an interesting scene if the contents were to spill out and something highly unusual would be inside.. something that might mark the MC a freak, for instance… love this idea.. wheels are turnin’!


  2. I think the contents of the handbag you describe give us a woman ( OK-That part’s obvious) she’s likely over 30 since most younger women don’t use handbags and many don’t smoke. She’s fairly sensible because of carrying tissues and painkillers, and probably professional because of her use of a memory stick to carry information. She carries earphones so may prefer a little privacy with her mobile which also places her in the over 30 range. The make up bag shows she’ ready for running repairs and so is more likely to be particular about her appearance and the pencil case and notepad show she’s very prepared, maybe even a writer ready to jot down notes as they occur to her.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx


  3. Just checking my handbag!- Food bills, Petrol bills, notepad and pen (nearly full), 3 other pens, sticky notes, purse, lipsticks, earrings, hearing aid batteries – two packets! sugar, tomato sauce, salt, Costa serviettes, Tesco vouchers, Morrisons collect for xmas vouchers. Boots money off vouchers. Save the Cat book. and the iphone would be in there if I was out. I think I need to clear out my bag! Over to you David…
    Great post Vikki


  4. Neat idea…thinking about what the contents of someone’s purse might tell you about them. I’d gladly apply this to fiction, but would hate to think what someone might think of me by the state of my purse…lol.


  5. A handbag can give a lot away! In the last story I had published, the main character’s fingernails filled up with crumbs while she was digging around for her keys in the bottom of her bag. Can’t think where the inspiration for that came from… (blushes)


  6. The owner of that handbag is very organised and tidy. My handbag has all sorts of things in it other than the essential purse, mobile phone, hairbrush, mirror, lip salve, and fold-up umbrella. Things like old elastic bands, paperclips, empty plastic money bags from the bank, loose tissues, hair bands and clips, worn-down pencils, biros, and scraps of paper with scribblings on them.


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