Writing From Visual Prompts

What’s the story behind this picture?
Caroline Gordon reads in bed. 

Human beings are highly visual, me especially. I was an art major first, before switching to English. I love both visual and verbal expression, and I love especially the intersection between the two. It’s that impossibility, that exploration of the liminal space between any non-verbal experience and verbal expression, that is so exciting. An image is its own thing and there is something elemental about it, inarticulate, something that can never be translated, something that the image will always keep for itself. I think that is what is so powerful about images, I always feel like I’m looking at a secret. When I write from a visual prompt, I may make a guess at the secret, but the story I generate will reveal a different secret, one that tracks back to the image via my own imagination.

The web is full of visual prompts. Just type “Visual Writing Prompts” into a Google image search and you’ll come up with plenty. Peruse Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram for ideas. Create your own Tumblr or Pinterest account to store your favorites. Create your own visual library with Instagram. You can collect images as prompts or to go with a story you’re developing.

There’s a collection of abandoned places posted on Buzzfeed.

Not an alien ship landing but the House of the Bulgarian Communist Party

Or the Children From Around the World photographed with their Toys on Bored Panda.

Arafa & Aisha – Bububu, Zanzibar by Gabriele Galimberti


I could go on, but you get the idea.

When you look at images, look beyond the narrative on the surface for the details that you don’t see at first. How does the image make you feel? Does it make you think of something that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the content of the image? Follow those rabbit holes straight to Wonderland.

If you’re looking for something offline, consider The Last Pictures. It’s a book created from this project to shoot some art into space. It’s a fascinating collection of images. And they’re already in orbit. The creators call it an art installation but it seems more like a message in a bottle or a time capsule. Whatever you call it, the pictures are fascinating both individually and as a collection for what they say about how we curate our own experience as human beings on earth. According to the photographer:

“What I want out of art is things that help us see who we are now. And the best I can hope for is that this project will give us a way that we can actually look at ourselves.”     ~Trevor Paglen


That’s the best I can hope for when I write too!

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