“A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away” – Eudora Welty
Lately I’ve been trying a new (well, new to me) trick to get myself writing: photos. I got this idea from a creative writing textbook (Janet Burroway’s Imaginative Writing), but a quick Google search has shown me that it’s a very popular writing prompt.
I have written before about how other types of art and artistic pursuits can inspire writing, and photographs seem to be no exception. (Although both taking photos and viewing them can be useful for art, for this post I’m going to focus on looking at photos for writing inspiration.)
Here are two ways that I have been using photos to inspire my writing that could work for you too:
1) Use a photo as a writing prompt.
Choose a photo that intrigues you. Maybe it’s a beautiful photo that elicits an emotion or reminds you of times gone by, or maybe it’s an odd scene that shows a story just waiting to happen. Either way, choosing a random photo and then crafting a story around it can be a great way to beat a writing slump. If you’re looking for inspiration, you could check out these 18 Vintage Mug Shots from the Twenties from Awesome Robo. There are so many stories just begging to be told there!
Here’s a mug shot from Awesome Robo’s post (originally sourced from this site):
2) Use photos to further develop an existing story.
Since I discovered my love of photos mixed with writing, I’ve been using a quick photo search to help me out when I get stuck. Photos can be especially useful if you’re writing historical fiction since it’s sometimes hard to imagine exactly what something or someone might have looked like. Photos are also useful tools for writing about places you have never been before. Just be careful not to get so side tracked with your photo searching that you fall down a Google hole and lose out on writing time.
I used the photo below to add detail to a short story set in Ireland.
Where to find photos:
One of the great things about using photos for writing inspiration is that they’re easy to come by (as long as you have an internet connection). Here are a few sources I have used to find photos for writing prompts:
Google Images: This one may seem painfully obvious, but I’ve had a lot of success searching keywords for my stories using Google’s image search (e.g. “wedding dress 1930s”, “car 1925”). I usually use Google Images when I know what I’m looking for (so not as much for random writing prompts).
Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day: For a truly random photo prompt, check out the Wikimedia Picture of the Day. You never know what you might get, but it’s almost always something interesting.
Blogs!: There are a ton of fantastic photography blogs, or even just blogs that have darn good pictures. A few of my favourites are: The Simple Life of a Country Man’s Wife, The Shutter Sisters, Ruth Hendricks Photography, and PDN Photo of the Day.
As I see it, using photos as writing prompts is an opportunity to ‘run away’ with the captured moments that Eudora Welty speaks of in her quotation above. Take a captured moment in a photo and turn it into a story, or use it to help add depth to a story you’re already working on. Perhaps the story will not end up like the photo at all, but if it gets you writing, it will be well worth the effort!
Do you use photos for inspiration in your writing? Has a photo ever helped you start (or finish) a piece of writing? Do you have any great resources for inspirational photos?