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Pen Pushers – Every picture tells a story
Writing Magazine

Pen Pushers – Every picture tells a story

Posted August 14, 2015   |   7083 views   |   General Interest   |   Comments (0) Use images to inspire your writing with our exercises

I was recently asked to write about a photograph which had inspired me for the author Dorothy Koomson’s website.

Pictures, and especially photographs, carry with them implicit narratives, making them great prompts for generating ideas.

I chose a photo of Roald Dahl with his wife and three children. The author is standing next to his daughter, Olivia, then aged seven. Two years after it was taken Olivia died from measles. So what looks like a happily family picture now tells a very different story. My latest book examines the fallout of the MMR controversy which resulted in at least one death, like that of Dahl’s daughter.

Try these exercises using images as prompts for stories
EXERCISE ONE
Pictures as prompts

• Find a photograph from a newspaper or magazine or a painting with which you are not familiar. The idea of this exercise is to discover what an image can suggest, so try to choose something which is new and not to think too much about it. You could try opening a magazine, or junk mail, at random and going with the first thing you find.

• Using the photograph as a staring point, spend ten minutes free writing. Write anything that comes into your head after looking at the image.

• Now, select one sentence that you wrote in the free writing exercise as a staring point for a story. It does not have to explain the picture; the image should simply have prompted it.

• Now write a story. It can be a short piece of flash fiction. It might even be a six-word story, or something longer. See where simply looking at something that you had not seen before you began this exercise takes your mind. Have you produced something entirely new or did you fall back on things you have written about before?
EXERCISE TWO
Jumping into the Picture

I used to read my children a wonderful book by Posy Simmonds, called Lulu and the Flying Babies, where the pictures in the National Gallery literally come to live and a reluctant toddler museum-goer goes through the frames and enters a whole load of new worlds.

This exercise aims to use that concept and, using a picture as a starting point, transport readers elsewhere.

• Find a postcard or painting or a picture from a gallery catalogue or off the internet but DON’T LOOK AT THE TITLE!

• Write a list of words or phrases that spring to mind when you examine the painting. Think about colours, images, memories and emotions.

• Now give the painting a title.

• If there is a person in the painting, write a brief character sketch. If there isn’t, imagine a character who is about to enter the painting and do the same for them. What to they look like? Why are they there? What do you know about them?

• Now, write a short paragraph leading up to the moment your character appears in the painting. What did they do earlier in the day? How did they get there? What is their purpose?

• Imagine that the fact they appear in the painting is significant. It will bring about a moment of change, which alters the course of their day and possibly their lives. Write about that.

• Now write a short sentence or paragraph imagining your character at some point in the future. It can be later in the day or perhaps years later. Write a sentence in the first person in which they reflect on what happened when they entered that painting and how it changed them.

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