"A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words": How to Use Advertisements to Inspire Writing

Recently with my writing club, the students were talking about how they struggle coming up with ideas for their writing.

In past meetings, I discussed how writers often get ideas from their own lives. The students wrote down a memory, writing a short story as they did, and we talked about how their memories are unique experiences they have expert knowledge on, which is why so many authors write using their memories as inspiration.

Over vacation, I was flipping through a magazine when I saw the below advertisement.
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I stared at it, trying to figure out who was in the chair, then the deck seemed so empty and I wondered if they ever felt lonely being in such an open big space with just two people. I ripped out the ad and was planning on stapling into one of my writers notebooks to use as a setting inspiration. Then it hit me.

This is one of the ways I get ideas for stories!

As a lover of history, I often look at an object and will wonder what type of history it has, what story it has to tell.

Where has that water bottle been?

Who bought it?

Where was it purchased?  

I know it probably seems weird but it's the storyteller and historian in me.

 I do the same thing when looking at pictures, often in magazines.

What happened before this picture was taken? Who are these people? Is there anyone just outside of the frame? What is going on the moment the picture was taken?

Then I answer the questions:

They were fighting, they're half brother and sister, the dad is just out of the picture in the kitchen, they are looking at the huge stain on the rug left when the brother threw his spaghetti at his sister and  they're wondering if they can clean it up before the dad comes in the room. Boom. A story.

First, I ask questions that come to mind about is happening in the picture.

Then I answered the questions.

Through this question and answer, I get an idea for a story.

I used this technique today with my Writer's Club and they responded well.

They each choose an ad and for one student, she didn't have many questions but the picture was enough to spark an idea. One thing that I don't think I emphasized enough was that if there are already words on the ad, they should be ignored. All ideas should stem from the picture itself this way the student is the one who is truly creating the story, from their own minds. Other people might find the words helpful, but I find the words narrow my thinking as they fill up my brain and limit my good ideas.


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