Packing Your Bags

One of these things is not like the other

One of these things is not like the oth­er.

by Lisa Bullard

One of the basic writ­ing exer­cis­es I use with kids starts with hav­ing them cre­ate per­son­al “Time Cap­sules” (down­load the activ­i­ty). It’s a great way to explore how writ­ers build a char­ac­ter through the use of “telling” details — in this case, the items a char­ac­ter val­ues the most.

But a person’s stuff can reveal more about them than just the obvi­ous. For exam­ple, I have iden­ti­cal twin nephews. From the time they were two, one of them (Alex), insist­ed on spik­ing up with hair gel like a por­cu­pine or a James Dean-wannabe. When he came to vis­it me, he’d car­ry along an entire 128 oz. bot­tle for an overnight stay (I guess you nev­er know when you might have a hair gel emer­gency).

For years we weren’t sure what the gel rep­re­sent­ed. Was his cho­sen hair­style a “cool­ness” thing? A mat­ter of van­i­ty? And then Alex final­ly answered the ques­tion we’d been ask­ing for so long.

This way nobody con­fus­es me for Matt [his iden­ti­cal twin],” he said. “I real­ly want peo­ple to know it’s me under here.” Hair gel rep­re­sent­ed his deeply felt need to have oth­ers rec­og­nize him as a dis­tinct indi­vid­ual.

Under­stand­ing that, a writer could build an authen­tic, believ­able char­ac­ter — using noth­ing more than the 128 oz. of hair gel the char­ac­ter packs in his suit­case.



7 Responses to Packing Your Bags

  1. Emilie Buchwald March 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    Lisa’s advice, as always, is right on the mark. The use of details works won­ders in a text.

    • Lisa Bullard March 24, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

      Thank you, Emi­lie! Com­ing from you, this is high praise indeed!

  2. Joanne Toft March 24, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    So per­fect! Amaz­ing what lit­tle ones will think of — I love the 12 oz of hair gel. Thanks for a great post.

    • Lisa Bullard March 24, 2015 at 2:16 pm #

      Thanks so much for com­ing along for the ride, Joanne!

  3. Linda Koch March 24, 2015 at 9:07 pm #

    I love this post, Lisa… and the time cap­sule. Thank you.

    • Lisa Bullard March 24, 2015 at 9:11 pm #

      You’re so wel­come, Lin­da! It real­ly is a fun activ­i­ty – I hope you’ll try it your­self!

  4. Nina September 16, 2017 at 6:13 am #

    Wow! Light bulb moment! Thank you!

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