We've all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. Here's another angle on that old saw: a photo (or other visual image) may also help inspire and expand ideas. I'm teaching a memoir-writing class right now, and each week I have offered my students some new tools to help them access memories and to enter deeper into the events they want (or need) to write about. Last week, I had everyone bring a photo to "explore" through some questions.
This exercise will work, too, for writers in other genres. For the poet, digging into an image, whether a personal photo or a found image, can pull up fascinating connections and inspirations. For the fiction writer, images of settings, people, animals, or objects can serve to inspire short stories or scenes in longer works, especially when the narrator or a character answers the questions. An image might even provide the kernel for a longer piece of writing. For nonfiction writers who work outside of memoir, images can inspire deeper explorations.
So if you're looking for a way to go deeper, or wider, or to find new ideas, try "interrogating" a photo or painting. Start with these questions:
- Where is this?
- Why were you there?
- Who else was there?
- Did you go there more than once?
- Did something special happen there?
- Is some object in the photo significant to you?
- Is a person or animal in the picture significant to you?
- What do you hear?
- What do you smell?
- What did you eat or drink?
- What does it taste like?
- What’s the weather like?
- What time of day is it?
- What are you wearing?
- Who else is there?
- What do you feel with your hands, your feet, your skin….
- What emotions do you feel?
Give it a try. Let me know how it goes. Send a picture of youself writing!