Writing and Publishing

Use Photos to Fuel Your Fiction Writing

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why not use photos to inspire what you write?

I’ve heard of fiction authors who tape a photo of their main character next to their computer as they write. The picture inspires their words and focuses on their character description. This seems like an intriguing idea, one I never got around to doing – until this week.

Though the physical features of the characters in my novella, Ice Creamed, (soon to be a full-blown YA novel) reside in my mind, they morphed as I wrote. I realized I needed an image to anchor my vision of who they are. I needed pictures. I went online.

Though pictures of people abound on the internet, I found it difficult to locate the exact photo that fully captured what I envision my characters to look like. You see, these people have been living in my mind for a few months; they’ve become my friends as I’ve written about them, and I’ve even fallen in love with them—well, most of them. Trying to find a picture to match what is in my head and the words I have already written is hard. It might be impossible.

However, I’m going to add a secondary story arc to expand a minor character. I had no mental image of her; she was a clean slate. As I scrolled through pictures looking for one suitable for my main character, Brianna, another image popped out. That’s Rachel! I knew it immediately. It was perfect. 

I knew Rachel would play volleyball and was a setter. The Rachel in my photo exudes confidence, her eyes are sharp, and she’s intense—just what you want in a setter. A nickname jumped out: “Rambo.” A fiery volleyball player named Rambo. She’s going to be so much fun to write. I can’t wait to get started.

Going forward I’m going to find pictures for all my characters before I start writing them. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words—and so much more.

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Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.

4 replies on “Use Photos to Fuel Your Fiction Writing”

Great idea! You can use it for settings as well, say a picture of a house where your characters live in your mind. 🙂 I sometimes use music to help set the tone for writing. While writing my most recent novel, An Irish Slip Step, I listened to Celtic music. I’m working on one now that is partially set in the 1970’s. Good excuse to get out my old cds and records and listen to my favorites music from my college years.

I have long thought that The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg would be a good jumping off place and, indeed, that is what his introduction seems to suggest. As for myself, I used Google maps to locate my fictional town. It helped to figure out who would visit, who lived there, etc. I drew my own map of the town, to keep things straight in my head. Then I had the opportunity to visit the site (open farmland) and discover details I could add to make it more authentic (like the swallows that sweep over the bridge across the stream – never would have thought of that detail). I was a bit spooked when I saw a pile of rocks where I had placed them in my story. Did I see this on the original Google map or did I make it up and it just happened to be there?

Holly, yes! I just recently heard of another writer who used Google maps. What a great idea to use it to inform our writing. Thanks for adding this to the list of writing resources.

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