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Every picture tells a story

Having a visual image can help and inspire and assist your writing for children as it can with any writing. A single drawing, illustration, photograph or piece of art can spark off a whole book by opening up the subconscious. Sight is probably the richest and most complex of our senses. The images taken and stored away in our brain every second of our waking day are powerful and probably the most easily recalled of all our senses.

In this article

Many authors cut out pictures of potential characters from catalogues or magazines. Giving your characters an instant face can bring them to life until they have developed well enough in your mind. You may find one which exactly fits your imagined person and to which you can refer constantly, or it may just be the starting point for developing your character.

Having an illustration for your setting, a map or a house plan will help you be consistent and authentic. There may be details in the picture which you wouldn’t have thought of without the visual prompt of a real place and which will make your writing more convincing.

There are ways to use photographs and illustrations to spark your imagination. Here are a few ideas which can be adapted and improved upon:

  • Choose a picture with a person in it and ask the following questions:Where is it? What is the date? The season? The time of day? The weather?Describe the picture as a whole. Who or what is just outside the boundaries of the picture?No get right in close. Write a paragraph about the person in the picture. What do they look like? What are they wearing? Who are they? What are they doing? What are they thinking? What is their problem? What do they want?

  • Take another picture or use the same one. Pretend it is the page from a book and write the facing page. Here you can have dialogue and thought, not just description. Remember that a photo is a frozen moment in time. What led up to this situation? What is going to happen? How will it be resolved?

  • Take a picture of a scene. Step into the picture and describe what it’s like being there, using all your senses. Look around. Is anyone outside the boundaries of the picture? What is the atmosphere like? Do you think something is going to happen?

  • Use a picture as a starting point for a story and without too much thought, just free write. Give yourself a time or space limit, say, five minutes or one page. Begin writing and don’t stop until your limit is up. The story does not necessarily have to explain the picture but will inspire the resulting piece of writing.

  • Take three pictures of ordinary items such as a key, a feather and a teddy bear. Then link them together in a story.

  • Collect postcards of paintings and other works of art. Cut out pictures of the models in clothes catalogues. Look through magazines for interesting pictures – these may even be advertisements. Old illustrated books can be a good source too.

  • Keep your pictures in folders of different categories – places, people, items, even themes or moods.

About the author

Stephanie Baudet
Children's Writer and writing tutor

With over 34 children’s books published, Stephanie has a wealth of knowledge on how to improve writing skills. She tutors for Writers' News Home Study and The Writers Bureau.

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