Creative Writing Prompts from Photos


from @DoWise

  1. Go beyond the picture; use it as a stimuls; don’t be constrained by it.
  2. Start with a wide focus and then zoom in on specific details
  3. Flashback and then jump forward if it fits your narrative to do so
  4. Craft the way you start some of your sentences (e.g. triple-noun-colon)
  5. Vary the length of some of your sentences (don’t overuse one-worders)
  6. Proof-read your work; always be meticulous
  7. Try to finish your narrative by refocusing on the image

Unsplash is a website offering free, high quality images for blogs and whatnot. Sometimes when I’m looking for something else, I linger on certain images, wondering about the context, wondering what else is going on outside the frame. These are the photos I want to save for creative writing prompts.


Photo by Jacob Rank on Unsplash

This story would (non-ironically) be horror or at least fantasy, though the writer could flip it and write comedy.

As it is, the coffee drinking guy seems unaware of what’s happening right outside the window, which puts the audience in superior position.

This is that old Hitchcockian trick of showing the audience there’s a bomb under the table, but not showing the character:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

― Alfred Hitchcock

We are fascinated by chicken body parts, in general. At least in the West, we’re a little grossed out by their feet. This is an age-old attitude and has surely influenced stories such as the Baba Yaga category of folk tale.

The glass and chicken-leg photo could prompt a modern Baba Yaga story in which writers practise the Hitchcockian technique of writing suspense (rather than surprise).


white lady looks out of a window

Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

Do you know your neighbours? Do you really, though?


a baby elephant walks past an outdoor dining set

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

This baby elephant looks sad to me. I’m thinking of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’m also thinking of that 1980s tearjerker film about Bette Midler and her best friend — Beaches — specifically that harrowing, resonant scene in which the teenage girl invites other girls to her birthday party. All the frenemies bow out at the last minute, phoning her one after the other, each with a bogus excuse. They have gathered somewhere else.

What about your take?


man flies above his bed

If you could wake up with a super power what would it be? The ability to fly has been part of wish fulfilment stories since forever. What would you actually do, though, if you could fly? Would you let everyone know about this newfound ability, or would you keep it under wraps? Are you scared of heights? Is there some way you could put this skill to good use, Super-man style? Or maybe it only gets you into trouble, Icarus style.

Levitation, an illustration by Alan Lee, from THE GOLDEN BOOK OF THE MYSTERIOUS (1976 kids' book by Jane Werner Watson & Sol Chaneles)
Levitation, an illustration by Alan Lee, from THE GOLDEN BOOK OF THE MYSTERIOUS (1976 kids’ book by Jane Werner Watson & Sol Chaneles)


man in hoodie at night with his reflection in puddle

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

It can be super fun to play with mirrors and reflections in storytelling.

When I look at this photo, I feel like the puddle is a portal. The photographer has foregrounded it. At the very least, this guy has a double life.


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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