We live in a visually-oriented society, and so why not use photographs to get your creative writing juices flowing? Whether writing novels, short fiction or focusing on nonfiction, these creative writing exercises are just what your muse needs!
Creative Writing Exercises: Photograph your life.
Take a photograph from your life and write about it. From the mundane (a photo of walking shoes) to the special (graduation day of a child) and in between, this is a terrific way to think out loud about your life with words and visuals. Be sure you write about what the object means to you and go beyond the physicality of what it is. Take your walking shoes…are they a promise to yourself to take some time to think while you enjoy the outdoors? A vow to get in better shape? A need to move and breathe in the sunlight? Or rain? An effort to connect to the land around you, to notice your surroundings, to not run around so fast you miss life? What wonderful subjects to write about!
Creative Writing Exercises: Build a fictional world through visuals.
If you are starting or in the middle of writing a story (be it a book or short-fiction) start by gathering photos of the fictional world. Does your story take place in a house? What does the outside look like? What about the landscaping? And the front porch? What are the style and color? What is the history of the house? Now go up the steps. What does the door look like? Open the door. Is there an entryway? How is it furnished? Does it invite you in or make you want to run back out as fast as you can? Can you see any rooms from the entryway? What is the style of the décor of the house?
What sort of people live here? How are their personalities reflected in their surroundings? What are their lives like? What are their challenges, their conflicts? What is the story of their lives?
See how building a world and then moving to characters becomes a powerful tool for creative writing?
Creative Writing Exercises: Go to the library and look through photography books.
The library is an endless resource for this next exercise. Find a few books with photographs and begin paging through them. What photographs move you? Use them as a jump-off point.
Is the photo intriguing you one of a person? Begin freewriting and tell the page everything you can about them. Does this person have a family? Who are they? What issues are between them? What connects them? What does the family mean to this person? Does this person believe in God? What kind of god(s)? Does he (or she) practice a specific religion? How important is this to him? What part does this play in his worldview and how he sees himself in the world? Does he have a career? What is it like? Why did he go into this line of work? Is it fulfilling? Is this person married? Happily? How does he relate to his spouse? What issues are between them?
Are you looking at a photograph of a place? What happens here? What does the place smell like? How does the air feel? What is the weather? How does climate affect who lives here? What type of person is drawn here? ? Who lives here? Who dies here? What is the history of this place? Who was the first person to see this place? What is the past here? Who settled here? What is the future of the place? How will this place change in the next year? Five years? Ten years?
Creative Writing Exercises: Make a room for one out of ten characters that spring into your head.
Go to the internet and download furnishings for each character’s room. Once you have a solid idea of what the room is like, close your eyes. Take a walk around the interior space. Notice the objects. List them. Keep going until you have a list of at least ten objects for the room. Write about each object. Why is it here? What is it used for? Is it beloved or here for practical reasons? How did the character get it? Did someone give it to her, or did she get it herself? Where did she get it? Why did she buy it? Is there any meaning behind it? If it was a gift, who was it from? How was that person connected to the character? What did the object mean to the person who gave it?
Now go to the next character’s room and outfit it. Close your eyes, and take a walk around the room. Same thing, list ten objects you see. Now write about them.
By the time you are done (if you go all the way through 10 characters) you will have 100 pieces of descriptive writing. I bet you’ll be able to use some of them at some point in your writing. Plus, this is a wonderful exercise to activate description and attach meaning and subtext to a personal object. Maybe you will use that in a story as well.
Visuals have a great way of starting the right creative-side of your brain going. Start the practice of letting visuals inspire you today!
Award-winning novelist Kathy Steffen teaches fiction writing at the University of Wisconsin’s Writer’s Institute, Write by the Lake, Rhinelander School of the Arts, and at the How To Write Shop. Additionally, Kathy is published in short fiction and pens a monthly column, Between the Lines.