Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Every picture tells a story

One of my stories (written, as usual, under my real name, Sheila Norton) is appearing in the 12th June issue of 'The People's Friend'. (Yes, the magazine that's still my best friend! I REALLY can't imagine why I seem to be best at writing stories for the ... ahem ... more mature ladies, but there it is, can't deny they take more of my stories than anyone else does!). This particular story ('Buttons and Bows') was the result of an interesting experiment for me. My friendly editor at P.F. had asked me if I'd liked to have a go at writing a story to 'fit' a spare illustration. They apparently had several . This was my first attempt, and it was great fun! The picture I was given, happened to be quite an obvious theme: a little girl dressed in what could have been a party dress but I decided was definitely a bridesmaid's dress, and a lady who just had to be her mum, also dressed in a nice satin number - so I made her a bridesmaid/matron of honour, too, and wrote a wedding story, from the child's point of view. It went down well, pleased to say, and was accepted straight away.

The whole exercise reminded me of being at primary school, having my favourite lesson ('composition' as we called it back then) - being given a theme, or maybe a choice of themes - or sometimes just a title - by the teacher and having to write a story around that. It was the one thing I really excelled at, at school, and I decided very early on that I was going to become a writer so that I could sit around all day having that kind of fun! Well ... maybe things didn't turn out quite like that (something called earning a living got in the way), but yes, in the end I did become a writer and yes, the best thing about it is that it's still (most of the time!) great fun!

Being given a theme by someone else is a really good way to kick-start your writing if you're in the doldrums. That's why I've always recommended writing competitions to new and aspiring writers. I won two of the short story competitions in 'Writers' News' magazine myself, back in the 1990s, and apart from the confidence this gave me to keep going, I think I also learnt a lot from the experience. You can't expect to get anywhere in a competition unless you stick strictly to the word count, the given theme or title, and any other instructions - and this is all good practice for following the magazines' fiction guidelines.

I enjoyed the experience of 'writing around a picture' so much that I've recently asked to have another go - and needless to say, just to make sure I don't get too sure of myself, I found this one a little trickier, so the jury's still out on whether it gets accepted. Fingers crossed ...

So if I get stuck for ideas in future, I might just pick a random picture from a newspaper or magazine, without reading the story it accompanies, and make up one of my own to fit it. Give it a try!


  1. I love cutting pictures out of magazines and I have a folder full of them filed in different categories: males, females, children, houses,animals etc, so when I'm at a loss for a story idea I randomly chose some pictures and have a go. I've had some interesting combinations!

    Julie xx

  2. Hi Sheila, I've book a seat for both my sister and I for your talk on June 7th. What wonderful news about your story I look forward to reading it. I've had great feedback from PF in the past but so far they hadn't taken up one of my stories yet. It has been a year since I sent one into them so I thought I would try again and sent them my latest short story. It's been over a week now and my fingers are still cross in hope that this time I've got it just right.

  3. This is a great exercise, isn't it? I love doing this! Sometimes I've been given a pic but sometimes I just choose one from a mag or online image resource and see what comes to mind. It's a wonderful way to kick-start the imagination and provides some discipline for my often wandering mind! x

  4. I'm going to try that the next time I'm stuck for an idea.

  5. Thanks, everyone. I like your idea of a folder of pictures, Julie - I might try that!

    Great to hear you'll be at the Ingatestone event, Jarmara! See you there. Don't expect a fast reply from PF though. I've sometimes waited more than 6 months - worth it, though, if you get an acceptance. Good luck!

    The on-line images are a good idea, Lydia - I hadn't thought of that! Will add some of those to my new folder!

    Let us know how you get on, Colette, if you do try it. Hope it works for you.

  6. I keep lots of interesting pictures in a scrapbook and when I'm feeling a bit stuck for inspiration I have a flick through. Used to love composition at school too, though it took me a long time to start taking it seriously in my adult life.

  7. At my writers' club we sometimes take a lucky dip from a box of magazine pictures and another from a box of headlines. We then link the picture with the words and try and come up with a story. It's a bit hit-and-miss but can sometimes throw up an interesting combination.
    We have another box full of racehorse names which can provide interesting ideas for stories.

  8. The scrapbook idea appeals to me, Joanne. And I do agree about taking 'composition' seriously as an adult. For a long time, until I started earning some money from it really, I felt like I was just playing about when I should have been doing something sensible!
    (aka housework, cooking, childcare ...)

    I like the sound of your writers' club sessions, D.I.T.D.I! Not sure about the racehorse names, although come to think of it, they are often very weird and random, aren't they!