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Use Picture Prompts To Improve Your Writing Skills
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
Unless, of course, you have writer’s block and then forget about it!
We writers are creators. We are artists of the written word. We use our imaginations and we construct stories from seemingly meaningless objects and events. We can see five-hundred words in the simple act of a woman crossing the street, and we can give birth to a story while thinking back to a game of tag during our childhoods. This is what we do. This is who we are.
But even the best among us have days when the creativity is not flowing. There are days, and you all know what I’m talking about, when we have lost the “create” and all we are left with is “ivity.” Those are the days when some prompts come in handy, and today is the day when I’m going to give you a few prompts and hopefully jar loose that idea that has been stuck in the netherworld of your brain.
Are you ready and willing to give it a go?
This is a simple exercise. In each subheading below you will find a picture prompt to the right. Then I am going to ask you to use a specific sense to describe that picture prompt. In other words, the first picture will be your prompt to write something concerning sight. The second picture will be touch, the third smell and so on.
Never fear, I won’t leave you during this exercise. In each section I will help you with the prompt and give an example or two of what I expect from you. Fair enough? Well then let’s begin.
This first picture is one of my personal favorites. The beautiful woman in the shot is my wife Bev, and it was taken during one of our hikes to Pinnacle Saddle in the Tatoosh Range just west of Mt. Rainier in Washington State. She is looking southwest and in the distance you can see Mt. Adams in the Cascade Mountain Range.
What do you see? Of course you see the mountain in the distance, and the clouds and blue sky, but look more closely. Do see the different shades of gray? Do you see what season it is? Do you see what I see, a woman in love with nature and with life, a woman in the prime of her life and loving every minute of that life?
Yes, this prompt is of Bev again, doing her snow angel thing with snowshoes on. You can take the woman out of childhood but you can never take the childhood out of the woman.
What does this picture feel like to you? Do you feel the cold of the snow? Do you feel the crisp air on your face and the coldness in your lungs as you breathe deep?
Better yet, do you remember what it felt like the last time you made a snow angel? Do you remember what childhood felt like for you? Do you remember what it felt like to be so young and carefree, before the realities of adulthood began to weigh you down?
Of course I had to include this video
I was going to give you a picture of dog poop as a prompt but decided to spare you that experience. Instead we have a picture of our vegetable garden before planting in late March. What do you smell when you look at this picture?
I can smell the fresh soil and the lingering scent of the compost that had been added. I can smell the neighborhood awakening after a long winter. I can smell the first flowers of the spring and I can smell the springs of my childhood on my grandfather’s farm, again the scent of the soil but also the farm animals as they bask in the sunshine and rub up against me for attention, and the smell of my grandfather, a mixture of sweat, tobacco and Old Spice.
Watch it....Katie is a doll
My apologies if that subheading seems a bit erotic. It wasn’t meant to be but hey, I have a creative mind and I’m assuming some of you thought the same thing I did when I wrote “taste me.”
We have here a picture of a street fair we have in our neighborhood every September. When I think of street fairs I think of fair food, so I look at this picture and I can taste the hot dogs, corn dogs, cotton candy and elephant ears. I can taste the nachos and cheese, the cheeseburgers, the lemonade and of course the hot pretzels, just like the fair food of my youth, a taste sensation that never grows old or stale.
And of course, when it is all over and we have returned home, I can taste the sweet kiss from Bev as we say goodnight after a deliciously fun day with neighbors and friends.
You might think this is a strange picture prompt for hearing, but if that’s the case you aren’t listening close enough. This shot was taken looking east across Yellowstone Lake. Serene, yes? Beautiful, yes? But what do you hear?
Well I was there so I can tell you I heard the birds singing their eternal song. I could hear the waves gently caressing the shoreline. When I listened more closely I could hear the rainbow trout breaking the surface in search of mayflies, and I could hear the splash of otters as they played in the shallows.
The hawks were high overhead screeching their warning, and the bison not far away snorting as they bathed in a muddy pool, and thankfully this was early morning or I would have heard about a thousand other camera shutters as tourists snapped the same picture. Oh, and I can hear my stomach growling as I think of lunch at the lodge.
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A Few Final Thoughts
I have mentioned before that to ignore our sensory perception is to ignore a great gift we share with our readers. We all have our senses and sense-memory in common. As writers we need to remember that. When writing a scene remember that you are the five senses of your readers. You see the scene, you smell it, you taste it, feel it and hear it, and it is your job as a writer to make that scene come alive for those who will read about it later when your book or story is completed.
Using picture prompts like these help us to concentrate on those five senses. I am willing to bet that for each of the five pictures above you had a memory of your own from your earlier life. If you had such memories then it is not too great a leap of faith to assume that all readers have them.
You are an artist of the written word. Use your imagination to create scenes so vibrant that your readers will swear they are actually standing in those scenes. If you can achieve that then you will have most definitely arrived as a writer.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”