Starting to Write a Novel: Writing from Pictures

Copyright © 2014 George Green and Lizzy Kremer. All rights reserved.

Getting up a head of steam is difficult when you're writing a novel, so here’s a look at how you can use visual aids to get you past that difficult first stage.

Many writers collect pictures, and you may find it helpful, too. You can download pictures from the Internet or cut them from magazines and newspapers; it doesn’t really matter which (although most pictures from the Internet tend to be either impossibly cute or seriously weird, neither of which are really what you’re looking for here). The best pictures from a writer’s point of view make you ask one (at least) of several possible questions:

  • What’s going on here?

  • Who are these people?

  • How did this happen?

  • What might happen next?

  • Who is taking this picture and why?

  • What can’t I see (in other words, what’s just off-screen)?

  • What’s wrong with this picture?

You might also ask yourself: What’s wrong with this picture? Consider that there are a number of ways of looking at the same picture, depending on what you know about it. If, for example, you show someone a picture of a man’s face and say ‘This man saved three orphans and a basket of puppies from a burning building’, they will reply something like ‘Ah yes, you can see the kindness in his eyes’. If, on the other hand, you show the same photo to someone and say ‘This man is a serial killer’, they will say something like ‘Yes, you can see that by the way his lips turn down at the ends.’ These judgements aren’t right or wrong, just human.

So, look at any one of your pictures and ask yourself, ‘if this was a happy picture, what might be the story? And, if the same picture was a sad story, what might be the story?’ And so on.

Using pictures offers you a short cut when you’re trying to think of what to write about. You don’t have to make up the characters and places; they are already there in the picture in front of you.

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