April writing challenge: when a picture says a hundred, a thousand, or a hundred thousand words.


Years ago, I attended a de Bono DATT (Direct Attention Thinking Tools) course, hopeful for lateral ways to solve problems but without really knowing what to expect.

As an exercise, we were given a comic-strip picture, with five minutes to speculate in writing about what it could mean. I was the only participant to use the full time allocation, and I scribbled a long list of silly possibilities. Fun, yes–but how would I use this in the real world? I didn’t–until I turned my imaginings into stories.

Writers have been using art and images to prompt poems and stories for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Tracy Chevalier’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Toni Jordan’s Nine Days are but two modern examples of such novels, respectively inspired by a Vermeer painting and a found photograph.

The act of translating an image or object into words is known as ekphrasis. Ekphrasis can be a powerful tool for opening creative potential, giving constraints as well as previously unimagined possibilities within the confines of a physical subject. Enter this month’s writing challenge.

Monthly Writing Challenge #2–-April 2015: Ekphrasis–writing in response to an image.

Choose a picture at random from a magazine, newspaper or website. Write a poem or story in response.

In doing so, think about what may have brought this image about, what it could lead to. Are there certain words or phrases that spring to mind? How does it make you feel? What do you smell, taste, touch, hear? Who or what is standing outside of the image? From whose perspective(s) will you write your piece?

Having problems getting started? Use my photo at the top of this post as your inspiration.

You have 30 minutes for this exercise–or more, if you’re keen. Go for it!

Have a wonderful week,


Addendum of 8 April 2015: I cut the intro to this challenge by ~25%. The content remains; the really boring bits don’t.

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