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What’s in the bag?

How to come up with ideas for a book

The bag

Here’s a writing activity for you to try whatever you are writing. It’s called ‘the bag’. You can use it to develop your imaginative powers! Make up a bag on paper or find a real bag and fill it with objects to use as a prop. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas go with the real bag, because engaging several of the senses helps to enliven the imagination.

I once had a student – a long time ago – who wrote a whole novel for NaNoWriMo using this activity as a starting point. I had brought in a prop suitcase to the workshop and filled it with objects. I also had sound effects – seagulls and the sea breaking up a beach. The sensory stimulation worked!

Make some lists

List games are great because they let you off the hook. You don’t have to write sentences, or go back and edit, or organise what you’ve written, you simply keep adding items to the list. Time yourself for one minute while you are making these lists. Turn it into a game, and involve other people if you like.

  1. Make a list of bags OR find an actual bag. E.g. lunchbox, briefcase, a carrier bag, a suitcase, a bin bag.
  2. Make a list of what’s in the bag OR fill the bag with random objects. Everyday objects are best for this, although one or two unusual ones are fine too. You can get someone else to fill the bag for you for an added twist.
  3. Make a list of places. Then pick one of these. Visualise it if you can. Use all of your senses to fill in the details. Imagine you are actually there. This could be somewhere familiar to you, somewhere you’ve been when travelling, or it could be a fictional world; a beach, a mountain or a train station, for example.
  4. Make a list of jobs: circus performer, firefighter or dog walker, for example.

Once you’ve got your lists, leave them for a while, then circle the ideas you like, and use them in any piece of writing. I’ve used this activity for years in drama workshops and writing workshops. So many interesting characters and situations have come about this way! I hope you enjoy it.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. Want to know what to do with the results of this exercise? Here’s part two.

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