Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Entry # 88 - "Imagine a Story from a Photo: Use 'What If' Questions"


Nova Scotia
Today for those of you who write or intend to write, I offer something a little different. Here’s a challenge for you. 
It's an exercise in imagining a story or a scene of a story built on a photograph of a place and a series of questions.  Write them down on a piece of paper and don’t think too hard. Just go with your initial reaction.  No need to be clever or to be critical of what you write for this.
JUST get words on a page

Select one of these photos. Read the questions. Read everything before you start.


WHAT IF – you were writing a mystery and a scene is set at this location in the photograph?
What has happened?
When did it happen?
Where is this place? 
(Here’s a clue – Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia & a lake in Scotland.)
Why is this place important to the story?
Who was involved? What makes this story worth telling?
What time of the year is it?
Who is the main character?What does he/she want?
Who is the secondary character?What does he/she want?
Now add another person because you’ll need at least one more person to pull the tension into a triangle. What does he/she want?
What is the problem? 
(Clue: it comes organically from conflict and clash of desire and possibility.) 

Get your notes, journal or computer ready.  Close your eyes for about 5 minutes and imagine. Now plan to write for 20 minutes without stopping. 
OKAY!  Ready. Set. Go.

Try and write for at least 20 minutes without stopping to reread or cross out on this first cut. Later you can play with the details, but not at first. No one sees this but you, unless you decide to show someone.  And at this stage of the process why would you do that!

Now Stop! Time's up. So how did it go? Hey Stop, I said. Leave it alone. Come back to it in a week. After a week reread and add more details. Then spend 20 minutes at some point working on a second draft. Do you have a promising possibility yet? What else happens?  And then what happens after that?

If you come up with something about this experience that you’d like to share with readers, write me a note on the blog site or send me an email. You can talk about it. But don’t send me the actual piece of work. Okay?

You don’t want to send me your actual piece to post on the website here, even as a draft, because …WHAT IF… you ended up writing a story or essay from this writing exercise and used this piece? If you published it by sending it to my website – many publications will not take it because they want first publication rights. So keep it and keep working on it and let me know if something good comes of this exercise for you.  Good Luck!

Today I am revising a story for an August 31, 2012 deadline. So I'll go back to work now and leave you to your writing!      

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:

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