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Coming Up With Short Story Ideas By Looking At Pictures

Updated on March 3, 2013

Let Your Eyes Help You Find Some Good Story Ideas

Looking for a few creative writing prompts? Have a bad case of writer's block? If you're trying to come up with a good short story idea, but can't seem to get those creative juices flowing, then you should try looking at some photos.

Looking at images can be one of the best ways to spark your creativity, but only if you look at them in the right way. I'm a wannabe writer, and although I've not hit it big yet, I've been using photos for years to come up with short story starters. Some of these ideas were eventually made into short stories, while some were developed for a novel; others just sit on my bookshelf waiting for further inspiration (like a safety net for writer's block).

In this lens, I'm going to share with you how I come up with short story ideas, or at least starter ideas by looking at photographs and artwork. I'll also throw in a few examples to show you what I'm talking about. Just remember that while coming up with story ideas may seem hard at times, it's actually the easiest part of the creative process. Developing those ideas into a solid story is where writers dedicate most of their time.

Above artwork by Doug Miller / flickr.

Where Do Good Ideas Come From? - By Steven Johnson

Step 1: Find Some Photos Or Artwork That Speak To You - A picture is really just a short story. Imagination fills in most of it.

Today, finding interesting images is easier than ever thanks to the internet, but you shouldn't overlook magazines and catalogs either. I actually keep digital photos in a folder on my desktop and physical photos in a filing cabinet. Small images are taped into a notebook where I can peruse through them at my leisure. Whenever I run across something that talks to me or gives me an interesting feeling, I save it if I can. Even though, I may not be able to pinpoint my interest in it, if it stirs my emotions in the smallest of ways, I want to keep it for future reference.

While buying books may not be an option to everyone, I find that most creative people often have a robust collection in their homes. Always be on the lookout for books with great imagery. They are a great way to destroy writer's block. As an example, I recently came up with a short story idea because I had the book below on my bookshelf at home.

PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives
PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

The origins of this book started on the web as a group art project. People were asked to anonymously contribute a secret that they have never shared with anyone before. It needed to be true, brief and creative. Most people combined words with art or pictures to create amazing confessions.

These books are amazing resources for writers, as well as casual reading. If you've never experienced them, get ready for a treat.


What If Game

The "what if game" works well with pictures as it allows you to introduce unexpected variables into a somewhat fixed world.

Step 2: What To Look For When Looking At An Image To Come Up With Story Ideas

  • Look at the picture. No, I mean really look at it. Not just the main subject, but everything in the background as well. Let your mind absorb it all and see if any thoughts or ideas come to you. Keep a pen and paper at the ready to jot down those ideas.
  • Try to get inside the head of the main subject. Try to figure out what they're thinking. This can be accomplished by paying attention to eyes and facial expressions.
  • Letting your imagination run wild is important when trying to come up with story ideas, whether it's for a short story, book idea, movie idea or art ideas. Be sure to write them down, no matter how unrelated they are to the actual picture. The mind (and imagination) works in mysterious ways.
  • After the brainstorming session is over, it's time to sit down and weed out the bad ideas. I like to use highlighters. Red / pink for bad ideas, yellow for possible good ideas and green for ideas that I'm really excited about. I also like to either reference the photo from which the ideas came from or put the actual picture along with the notes.

Short Story Ideas - Example #1 - Short Stories - Ideas From A Photo


Photo by Eyesplash / flickr.

Short Story Ideas

1-A small dog and a tree have been secretly talking to one another for years. One day he comes by for his weekly visit only to find his friend dead.

2-Unbeknownst to the dog, the fallen tree behind him is not a tree, but a large cannon made to look like a fallen tree.

3-A dog gets mad after a felled tree pees on him.

4-Wood has become a valuable commodity after the great fire. A small dog stands guard while his owners prepare to haul the prize away.

5-The spirit has made the tree its home for many years. A good thing for it that another living creature is almost close enough for it to jump into. A new home that has the ability to move will be a nice change.

Short Story Ideas - Example #2 - Creative Writing Prompts From Art


Image courtesy of Peter Kelly / flickr.

Short Story Ideas

6-A person falls asleep on the beach and refuses to wake up from a wonderful dream.

7-Two years have passed without the body changing at all. The local town folk refuse to go near the mysterious phenomenon.

8-A fallen prince waits for a fair maiden to bring him out of his slumber.

9-Soon, one of the greatest poets of his time will wake up to find that he has only minutes left to live as the tide is rising fast.

10-For the first time in a century the drought has caused a river to reveal its secrets. And what secrets they are!

Writers Need Reference Books To Make Sure Their Short Stories Make Sense - Lots of info can be found on the web, but nothing beats turing a page.

Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Howdunit)
Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Howdunit)

This particular series has several different books that any creative story teller will find useful when dealing with the criminal element. This just happens to be my first buy. Highly recommended.


Share your short story ideas, writing prompts and story starters. Just keep them brief. - Thoughts on the lens are ok, too.

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    • ControlledChaos1 profile image

      Don 2 years ago from Tennessee

      I find that if I look at anything long enough my imagination can really be jump started. I don't think it's that way for everyone though.

    • Constantimo profile image

      Constantimo 5 years ago

      A good idea I often use is to 'people watch' on holiday. Where do they come from, what do they work at - is this couple having a clandestine affair perhaps? Let your imagination wander!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Some good ideas.

    • digitaltree profile image

      digitaltree 5 years ago

      Nice Lens, this page gave me ideas for new drawings, i been having an artists block. Thanks.