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Photographs as Writing Prompts


Photographs as Writing Prompts

Writing Prompt Choice #4

Photo by John Foxx / Getty Images
Pictures, and especially photographs, carry with them implicit narratives, making them ideal writing prompts for generating new short story ideas. Choose one of these photograph writing prompts, or use this exercise with a class or writing group, having each student/member bring in a picture and trade with someone. Whether you do it alone or with a group, the exercise will help loosen you up and get you to explore new themes. For groups and classes, exercises like these break up the routine and build cohesion.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 1-2 hours

Here's How:

  1. Either choose an image from this selection of photograph writing prompts, or have your students each bring in a picture and trade. With groups, have some kind of system for the trade so that students don't plan ahead. (Have everyone pass their picture to the right, for instance.)
  2. Spend ten to fifteen minutes free writing on the photograph.
  3. Choose some aspect of your free writing exercise as a starting point for a short story. The story does not necessarily have to explain the picture, so long as the picture has in some way inspired the resulting work.

  4. Share the stories (either that day or the next time the class meets, depending on how much time you have) alongside the pictures, explaining, when necessary, how the picture resulted in the work.
  5. A reader named Adam C. described how this played out for him in a creative writing class in which each student was given a different photo to write about. Adam writes, "The picture I was given portrayed an elderly couple, holding hands, looking off to the left of the camera lens. There was a large boat in the background. This prompted me to write about the couple as though they had just come from their home in Europe to join their son in America. There is a feeling of fear and isolation in the photo, and this was the best way I could think to translate it into words."
  6. If you wish to continue working on the story, you may want to refer to articles on plot, dialogue, and character as you revise.


  1. Don't worry overmuch about conforming closely to the photograph. The point of the exercise is to get you started writing -- ideally something you wouldn't have written otherwise.
  2. You can also do this exercise solo by opening a magazine at random or asking a friend to present you with an image. You can also give yourself the assignment of using an image from that day's mail. (Generally junk mail includes some images.)
  3. Don't use something you've written in the past just because it fits the picture. Use the exercise to write something entirely new.

What You Need

  • The photographs in the link above, or another image
  • Paper
  • Pen
Related Video
Turning Pictures into a Coloring Book with Photoshop
Organize and Share Pictures in Picasa
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