I put on a coat I hadn’t worn for some time and found a folded piece of paper in the pocket: an old church bulletin. This told me when and where I’d last worn it, of course. But suppose that it had been a Clue!
I used to play detective a lot when I was a kid, that’s probably where I got the habit, but it’s useful plotting practice too. In one of the “how to be a detective” books I read at the time there was a whole chapter about figuring out facts about a person from papers and tickets in their pockets, wallet, et cetera. (I recently found a metro ticket from Paris in the middle of a book, suggesting I was reading it in Paris and stopped halfway through because it wasn’t gripping enough, and indeed I didn’t even remember the part before the bookmark. But on the other hand, I tend to keep tickets around to use as bookmarks so they often get recycled.)
So here we have a church bulletin from the Thisdenomination church in Seasidetown in the pocket of a woman’s coat. (Let’s call her Subject to avoid saying “the woman” all the time.) We probably know a couple of things about Subject already, for instance that she lives too far from Seasidetown for this to be her regular church, and that when she does go to church it’s one of a different denomination. So we can conclude that she was on holiday at the time and went to the local church, right?
Not unconditionally. If there’s anything written on the paper, for instance an email address or a phone number, Subject might have got it from the person who wanted to give it to her and didn’t have another piece of paper handy. That person could be from Seasidetown, or close enough to be in the habit of going to church there. Or they could even have been on holiday, gone to church, and slipped the bulletin in their pocket. We could track the person by the phone number or the email address and find out what their relationship to Subject is. Heck, we could track the person by their fingerprints if the paper holds them long enough while folded up in a coat pocket. If there are three sets of fingerprints, Subject’s and two others’, it’s likely that the first set belongs to the person who handed the paper to a churchgoer (the second set) and the churchgoer gave the paper to Subject.
If there’s nothing on the paper except what’s normally on a church bulletin, we’re back at our first assumption that Subject went to the Thisdenomination church in Seasidetown on that date herself. For a nice plot twist, let her have picked up the bulletin in a train and used it as a bookmark until she finished the book, still on the train, and put the paper in her pocket instead of leaving it at the back of the book.
Writer’s Brain’s companion condition, Writer’s Ear, is even more entertaining. In the swimming pool last Wednesday there were two pairs of swimmers going at more or less the same speed as me, one pair talking about work in a pharmacy and the other about travelling in Eastern Europe. Both equally interesting! I do have two ears but only one brain…
(And this morning I failed to go swimming because I was down an internet rabbit hole researching medieval waterworks and sanitation. GM’s brain rather than writer’s brain, but it comes down to the same thing.)