The Handbag: Adding Depth to Characterisation

An explanation about how the contents of a characters handbag shows their personality, followed by a short writing activity.


When we think about handbags, we don’t necessarily connect them to story characters. However, handbags can reveal a lot about a person, which makes them excellent tools for characterisation. 

Inside my bag, I have 2 notebooks, several pens, a bookmark, clean tissues, a used tissue, sanitary towels, paracetamol, ibuprofen, a smartphone, a stone, an out of date coffee voucher, loose coins, a book, lip-balm, toy car, Lego fireman, hand cream, keyring, a shopping list, hair bobbles, kirby grips, and lots of other little bits and bobs.

What do the contents tell you about me?

  • The notebook may have been a diary of some sort, but the presence of the smartphone indicates that I have some technical knowledge, so It’s likely I keep a digital calendar. Therefore, the notebooks and pens indicate the likelihood that I’m a writer. 
  • The toys tell you that I’m a mum to a child of primary school age.
  • The random contents show that I don’t have time to clean out my bag. I am slightly disordered, but the shopping list indicates some level of organisation.
  • It shows that I like coffee, because I have a voucher, but I’ve forgotten that I have the voucher, as it is buried under so much stuff.
  • The lip balm indicates that I have chapped lips, and the handcream shows I have dry hands. These are both indications that I don’t drink enough water, so I’m not really looking after my body. We already know the reason for this is that I’m a busy mum.
  • The hair bobbles tell us that my hair is long enough to tie up, but not long enough to do without kirby grips.
  • The sanitary products indicate that I am of childbearing age.
  • The tissues show that I have a runny nose, perhaps I regularly catch colds, which is likely passed on from my children.
  • The paracetamol shows that I possibly get headaches, which in turn shows a level of stress or chaos in my life because the headaches are likely caused by lack of water, which I don’t remember to drink.
  • The bag isn’t expensive, which indicates that I can afford wardrobe items from the high street, but also that I prefer to wait for a bargain buy.

The Handbag in Fiction

In the novel Wolf Border, the contents of the protagonist Rachel’s bag are dribbled throughout the story. Rachel carries ‘a stash of granola bars, and a plastic sick bag’…’a mottled feather’…’a cagoule’…a scan picture of her unborn baby…’rhubarb and custards’ (Hall 2015).

Have a think about what this tells us about Rachel. We can talk about it in the comments below.

Writing Activity

Have a rummage in your own bag, or if you prefer not to use your own bag (because handbags are personal), imagine you are going through someone else’s bag. What is in the bag? Try not to think too hard, just pluck things from your own bag or imagination. List up to 10 items (or more or less if you want).

Next, write a character sketch about what the items reveal about the owner of the bag. Let me know how you get on in the comments below. 

References

Geraghty, M. (2016) The Five-Minute Writer. London: Robinson

Hall, S. (2015) The Wolf Border. London: Faber and Faber Ltd

Published by Inking Prose

Writer & Poet

One thought on “The Handbag: Adding Depth to Characterisation

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