...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

How Photos Can Inspire Writing

What's happening in this photo? How
might I use this image to inspire writing?
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?
  • When?
  • 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 about this one?
Now dig deeper:
  • 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?
And so on....

Give it a try. Let me know how it goes. Send a picture of youself writing!

Key to the photos.... The one at the top is of Sheila and Katy giving a presentation on how to be safe with dogs at a school in Hamilton County, IN. The bottom on is Sheila and Sage making their weekly visit to a special ed class in Noblesville, IN. Sage is thanking a friend for brushing her. That's Sage at the left during another school visit. 

Another memory - Kitty inspects
Sheila's needlework in 1994.
Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, often focusing on animals and environment. She is the author of the Animals in Focus Mystery series. Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, won the 2013 Maxwell Award in Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America Award, and The Money Bird was a 2014 finalist. The fourth book, Shepherd's Crook, will be out this fall. She is also the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association as well as a number of essays, short stories, and poems. Boneham has shown her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports and participated with them in canine-assisted therapy. She has bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. For more information, visit SheilaBoneham.com.

1 comment:

  1. Great idea for those who are 'stuck'. I think memoir writing is a great idea, because no one tells family stories any more, an no one knows what is in anyone's heart. I discovered so much about my aunt while going through her papers to write an article about her 1940s-50s radio show, although I had known her (I thought) well all of my life.
    A photo posted by a writer/photographer I know immediately inspired a novel for me. It's worth considerably more than 1,000 words for me!