For this exercise, we’re going in a very different direction. It’s good to mix up what you work on to keep yourself from losing too many other skills while focusing on a particular area. Also if you vary, you’re less likely to get frustrated and tired of things and want to throw it all away.
This time we’re going to work with an image prompt. The following image is by Entity on Pixabay, so it has a creative commons license and you can use it for anything you want to.
Your goal should be to write a story that works completely independently of the image. But let it inspire you and perhaps push you beyond your comfort zone of the usual types of stories you write. The image doesn’t have to be used literally. Be flexible with yourself. Maybe there is a mood or a piece of the image that speaks to you most. If so, go with it.
We recommend focusing on a stand-alone flash fiction story between 500 and 1000 words. This means you need a relatively tight character arc and not to get too lost in world building. If you need help with the character arc part of it, this article from R. Jean Bell might help. But the most important thing is to get writing, so if it goes somewhere else, go with it.
Why Writing from an Image Prompt Is Useful
We’ve not done exactly this kind of exercise yet, but many of our usual participants have written to image prompts in the past. So we asked them what benefits they see in working from image prompts. How do they push us or help us grow as writers?
Anike Kirsten said, “An image prompt can help writers focus on giving good description and showing instead of telling. Working off an image prompt also promotes a writer’s ability to write-on-demand, whether that demand is to break out of a block, draft up something for a market call, or for a commission. It also helps the writer remember that inspiration can come from anywhere.”
Koji A. Dae said, “Picture prompts are a good way to explore symbolism and metaphor in writing–get our symbolic imagination more active. Also, for me they are a good way to stretch myself into writing characters who are different from me (male, POC, animal) which I don’t always try to write.”
R. Jean Bell said, “There are many different types of image prompts, but all of them open our minds to ideas we might not otherwise explore. And if you are stuck with a bit of writers’ block, finding an image prompt might help make your fingers itch to get writing again.”
Andrew J. Savage said, “Image prompts are great. Some of my ‘worst’ decisions as a writer have been due to them. They allow you to overcome your best instincts and silence internal editors. They encourage you to write characters from cultures you don’t really know. Image prompts spark something in the subconscious. They connect quickly to issues the mind has been mulling and circumvent rational thought. They allow the creation of new thought processes using a visual shortcut.
“For my own process, they usually give a hint as to the viewpoint character. No matter the image, for me, it creates an impression of a character. The MC and the story evolve from there. The best stories I’ve written based on image prompts have resulted in a clear closing scene (or at least a hint as to what that scene will be) which allows me to aim for it. My stories are character driven, so the plot arises from what the character does rather than the character being slave to the vagaries of plot.”
R.F. McNeill said, “The saying is ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ Using a picture prompt, as a writer, challenges us to determine what those thousand words are. And then of course to determine if all one thousand are necessary.”
Constance Watson said, “Image prompts are great tools when you’re struggling for ideas as it can offer your brain a different source of inspiration that you might not have already had access to. A new stimulus activating the creative parts of your brain may be exactly what you need to break writer’s block.”
Peter Philleo said, “Image prompts give the writer a starting point without making them responsible for the starting point. The idea is already there, so that burden is already taken from the writer. It’s almost like they can’t be blamed for what happens now, and they’re free to write whatever they want. If the story turns out good or bad, it’s no longer entirely their fault. The writer can blame whatever fool picked such a crappy image prompt.”
Jeremy Mifsud said, “When writers describe a static image in excessive detail, a story stops. By having someone else paint the picture, we can focus easier on setting motion to that image and bringing it to life, rather than on worrying on the image we’re building.”
Jasmine Arch said, “An image can be a doorway: there are so many different interpretations possible for that single moment in time. As a writer, it gives us a lot to explore.”
As you can see from all this, there are lots of different things to gain by writing from an image prompt. Did any of us remember to mention it can be fun too?
Joining in the Exercise
This isn’t a contest. We don’t recommend you promptly post rough drafts and we definitely don’t require that you post a finished story publicly. Our goal is to encourage you to write. The result of the exercise is your own and you can do whatever is right for you, be it share it on your blog or other platform, submit it to a magazine or journal, or tuck it away in a drawer and never show anyone.
To get the best results and discuss the task and your work with other writers, we recommend joining our Discord server and participating in
#inkubator. The room is always there, so you can come in at your own schedule and pace. We’ll also be having more discussion and possibly some small in-between challenges and assignments that don’t make it to our blog. You can post your writings in response to the exercises in
#ink-review to ask for help looking it over. This is a private closed system, so sharing work with us doesn’t cost you your first publication rights.
We operate as a peer review system, so we do expect everyone to give feedback on at least two other writers for every exercise you participate in. The reason for this is that learning to edit is an essential part of writing. It is often easier to learn to find the weaknesses in our own writing after we’ve seen the impacts they have in the writing of others. By giving feedback to others, you are building your own writing skills.
Anyone can join any of the exercises at any time and skip those you want to skip. We’re happy to work with you even if the majority of the group has moved on to a different exercise. You’re also welcome to work at your own pace. We will be offering recommended deadlines within our server group for those who work best with a deadline. But we aren’t going to kick anyone out or think less of them for being behind–let us know, however, if you need that extra shove to stick to a deadline for your own growth. We recognize that each member has their own path to follow, but we work together to support each other as we progress.
You’re also welcome to work on our exercises on your own or share them with your writing group without joining our Discord server.