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What’s in the bag? 2

How to come up with ideas for a book

Yesterday I talked you through one of my favourite workshop activities – what’s in the bag? – which always seems to result in interesting characters, places and story ideas. Try it here if you haven’t already. Today, I give you the imaginatively titled What’s in the bag? Part Two, where I’ll be showing you what you can do with your baggish ideas.

How to begin

You’ll need a real bag full of objects for this one. Take one object out of the bag at a time and imagine you’ve never seen it before. Weigh it in your hands, examine it, use your senses to ‘experience’ this object. Does it have any stories to tell, and experiences associated with it? How does it make you feel? Nostalgic, hopeful, angry? Put all of the objects back in the bag.

Starting Points for Poetry

Dive in again. Pull out 5 objects at random. Treat this like a lucky dip and take out whatever you happen to touch first. Now write a poem with ten lines and five couplets. Each object gets two lines each. For inspiration, have a look at Maura Dooley’s poem ‘What Every Woman Should Carry’.

In a similar way, you can write a poem about the places you came up with or characters you listed. Jot these on small pieces of paper and play lucky dip with them, pulling random places or people out of a bag. Again, write a poem with ten lines, in five couplets. I’ve suggested the constraint because (ironically) a constraint is like a puzzle – it gets your brain interested enough that it will want to ‘solve’ the conundrum you’ve set up.

Starting points for nonfiction

Take three items out of the bag. Write a sentence saying how they connect to one another. If you need help, you can take one more item out of the bag. Asking your brain to find connections between random objects is another way to set it a puzzle. If you can’t think of anything at first, simply make up a connection!

For example, say you take out a plastic duck, some loose change and a train ticket. You might rememver that there was once a hotel that promised to get its guests anything they wanted at any time of the day or night, so a travel journalist asked for a rubber duck to play with in his bath at 2am, to see if they would find one. Once you’ve done 2 or 3 of these, pick one to write about.

It helps to go think of your why when you’re doing this and what you want to write about. For example, if your ‘why’ is to earn money as a feature writer by pitching to magazines every day, and your ‘what’ is advice for parents, you might see the duck, the loose change and the train ticket and turn it into:

  • Parents need to build in time to relax.
  • Why classic toys are the best.
  • Save on days out by exploring the great outdoors.
  • Water birds and how to spot them with your family.

All of these could turn in to pitches, with the ultimate aim of turning some of your ideas into a book for parents of young children.

Starting points for stories

Choose a type of bag from the list you made yesterday and decide what’s inside it or use the real bag with objects again. Use two fictional characters that you began to think about yesterday.

  • Person one left the bag behind.
  • Person two found the bag.
  • They found the bag in one of the locations you came up with yesterday.

Write a story from the point of view of EITHER the person who left the bag behind OR the person who found the bag.

OR: go back to your list of jobs. Invent three new fictional characters. These are three people connected to the person who left the bag behind. For example, their boss, school friend or neighbour. Write as if you were each of these people, commenting on person 1’s disappearance. Play ‘the bag game’ whenever you need a new idea!

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. The bag game is featured in my book How to Think Like a Writer. Check it out here.

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