Wednesday, May 29, 2013

WNI Writing Contest: Tips on Writing From a Photograph

Photo source:

The photograph at the top of this page is the launching point for the current Writing North Idaho writing contest, called "A Picture is Worth 500 Words." (Go here for details about the contest.)

Recently Jennifer Rova gave some great tips on how to write a short, short story. Today I'll talk about some ways to brainstorm story ideas, starting with a photograph.

First, study the photograph and jot down all of your sensory impressions:

*Notice the details of the house. The peeling pain, the sagging porch, the broken windows . . . what do these tell you about this house? How might it have gotten in this condition?

*What kind of people are the current owners? Are there any current owners? If not, why not?

*Think about the house when it was newly built. Who lived in it then? What happened to that person or family? Do the current owners have any connection to the original owners? If so, what is that connection?

*How old is the house? What was happening in the world at the time it was built? What has happened in the world since then? What changes have taken place: politically, economically, societally, culturally? How might those events have affected the people living in the house?

*Where in the world is this house located? How might the geographic location have influenced how the house got in this condition?

*Who are the neighbors? What are they like? What are their houses like? If you knock on their doors to ask about this house, what is their reaction? Are they welcoming and chatty, full of information? Do they shut the door in your face?

*How did you come upon this house? Did a real-estate agent show it to you? Were you driving past and just happened to notice it? What captured your attention?

*On the other hand, did you purposely seek out this house? If so, why? Was it difficult to find? Did you have to ask someone for directions? If so, what did they say about it--or not say about it?

*Imagine yourself walking up to this house. What do you smell?

*What does the air around you feel like?

*What do you hear?

*Does walking up to the house bring up any particular emotion(s)?

*Are you going to walk up the front steps to the porch? Why or why not?

*Are you going to go inside the house? Why or why not?

*Are you going to explore the grounds, the backyard, the garage or outbuildings? Why or why not?

*Are you going to turn right around and get back in your car? Why or why not?

*As you explore the house and grounds, do you encounter anyone? Who? What might they say to you?

You get the point. After fully immersing yourself in the photograph and letting your imagination roam free, your next step is to draft a fictional story based on what you've experienced. Not an essay, not an article, but a work of fiction, using the details brought out on your imagination's journey.

Your third step is to revise and polish the story and winnow it down to 500 words or fewer.

And your final step is to e-mail your story to, adhering to the contest rules.

See? It's not so daunting to write a story. Any questions? Post a comment below, or contact us at Also feel free to post any additional suggestions you may have for turning a photograph into a story.

Good luck!


Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

P. S. Once you know how to use a photograph as inspiration for a story, you'll be able to come up with all sorts of amazing story ideas, just by paging through a magazine or surfing the web for intriguing images. Writer's block, begone!

Jennifer Rova said...

Fiction writing is hard for me but your great and numerous hints helps me write any story! I'l print out this post and keep it in my educational file.