How to use
Choose your prompt from the #FlashPICS list below and study the photograph for one minute. Put the photo aside and write down everything you remember. Compare the image with your notes, and add anything else that occurs to you. It is important to complete this step before moving on.
Now, consider the suggestion accompanying the prompt and decide whether to follow this or an idea of your own.
Depending on where you are in your writing journey, you may want to continue free writing, allowing the imagination to flow freely. Alternatively, use the prompt as a starting point for a short story or piece of flash fiction. If you are in the middle of writing a novel, perhaps this prompt can help you with character development, setting a scene, or adding a plot twist.These 20 #FlashPICS are a sample of what’s available in the Writers’ BLOCKbusters series of writing prompts.
At this mark on the pavement
First, set the scene. Imagine the street, is it quiet or full of traffic. Is the pavement packed with pedestrians, or is this a side street, secluded, isolated. Have you walked here before? Are you rushing, hurrying to get to a destination? Are you lost? Are you wandering, filling in time before a dentist appointment? Did you take a short cut which led somewhere you didn’t expect?
What is the time of day, the month, the season? Is it sunny or raining? What is the loudest noise you can hear, and how does this make you feel? What can you smell… diesel fumes, the heady perfume of jasmine from a nearby plant, a waft of Obsession from a passing girl? What colour fills your vision… blue sky, a passing red bus, red brick buildings, grey and glass office blocks, a circle of green in the centre of a roundabout.
Now put yourself, or your character, into this place and make them come face-to-face with someone a) they don’t know but who are instantly intimidated by; b) someone they fear; c) someone they have betrayed and have been avoiding; d) someone they love and feel shy with; e) a policeman who is chasing you for a crime you committed/didn’t commit; f) someone who is behaving oddly and you fear may be randomly violent.
What happens next?
This is an exercise in description. Write about everything you see in the picture, continue writing without stopping to think. This ‘free writing’ exercise is most successful if you hardly lift the pen off the paper, or your fingers off the keyboard, but write the next thing that comes into your head. Consider everything: the sky, the grass, the weather, a person/s, a threat over the horizon, a destination over the horizon, something unexpected happens.
Nothing of Value Left Overnight
You are teenager who thinks he is king of the world. He also believes signs like this always lie. What is in this shed? What happens to him?
We Are Watching You
As you carry out your daily tasks, consider how it would feel if someone were watching you all the time:-
What would you do differently, and why?
How does your body react to being watched – sweaty, feverish, twitchy?
Let your mind run over the question ‘Who is it?’
Why is it happening? Are you guilty of something? Have you been mistaken for someone else?
What emotions are you feeling: indignant, affronted, ashamed, guilty, bashful, frightened, aggressive?
How do you want to react? Challenge? Run? Fight?
Now in 20 minutes of free writing, write down everything you thought about. Single words, phrases, dialogue, stream-of-consciousness. Then use everything for a new character who is being stalked.
‘Were the berries edible, she wondered…’
Study the photograph, then use this sentence as the beginning of a new short story.
She knows they got out of the lift on the third floor, so they must be in one of the rooms along this corridor. She hesitates.
What does she want? Who is she searching for? What does she plan to do?
Beware Danger from High Tides Beyond
This photograph is a short story waiting to be written. A woman and a child collect shells on a beach. Beside them, a sign warns of the dangers of high tides. Consider what might happen next. Write a list of five possibilities. Now work each idea into a paragraph outline for a short story. Choose one idea and calculate your beginning, middle and end. Write a short story of your chosen length.
Looking Over the Parapet
Examine the photo, and then use one of these three phrases as the starting point for a short story:-
– Down, down, so far down, she leant further forward, the edge of the stone parapet cutting into the spare flesh at her waist.
– I should never have come, he’ll see me. That’s his desk there, the second window from the right, if he looks out of the window he can’t miss me here.
– He crouched behind a wall, listening for the sound of marching boots. He was breathing so hard from running, he had to hold his breath. Was that them, fading away? A hand clutched his shoulder.
Choose one of the arrivals listed and imagine you are waiting for someone. Write three versions:-
- someone you long to see, who you have been separated from, who you perhaps love;
- a person who you are committed to but who always brings trouble;
- a stranger whose purpose is mysterious, who you are suspicious of, you don’t know what to expect.
Now decide if the train arrives on time, is late, is cancelled, is rerouted to another station. What happens next?
If you get so far then need a kick-start try changing the city or country, the time in which the story is set, change daytime to evening, add a friend or rival, perhaps there is an accident.
Stairs to Who Knows Where
Imagine… you are walking up the walkway at the Reichstag in Berlin, a guidebook is in your right hand, your right hand is pressed to the earphone in your ear as you listen to the audio guide. And then…
– You imagine one of the craftsmen who built the original building, and the men who built the modern extension. The building was finished in 1894 after 10 years of construction. In 1994, architect Sir Norman Foster re-designed the damaged building and added the glass dome. How are the two men connected?
– As you stand and look at the view across Berlin, a Tall Man brushes past you, hurrying upstairs. Beneath his arm he carries large rolls of parchment. He is in a rush, his brow is sweaty. Outside, the Tiergarten is full of summer visitors.
– Overhead, you hear the drone of an airplane. It is a loud, guttural noise, unlike a modern airliner. The engine stutters, outside a siren screams, voices are shouting. The Pilot of the plane looks down, and hesitates…
– In the café on the Roof Terrace you order a pot of coffee and a slice of chocolate cake. The waitress who serves you wears an immaculate starched white blouse beneath a blue pinafore dress. A badge on her breast bears three flags – Germany, Turkey, UK – and the name ‘Zehra’.
Choose three of the situations below, and write a paragraph for each. Then concentrate on one, and write 500 words:-
A whole roast chicken, sealed in its packaging, is visible – do you take it?;
An argument takes place beside the rubbish bin;
A crime happens nearby;
A homeless person meets someone he didn’t expect beside the bin;
A passer-by finds something strange in the bin;
Two strangers agree to meet on a street corner, near the bin;
A spy uses this rubbish bin as a dead-drop, but someone else finds his package first;
A bird nests in the bin;
An uncared-for, un-emptied bin is adopted by a schoolgirl who lives nearby.
Cranes on the Skyline
Study the photograph and start writing using all or some of the following phrases:-
Choose the words which are working for you and continue with those; discard the others.
Study this photograph. Describe the colour tones, the textures, the movement and the feeling of the breeze which is blowing the bag.
Now use this situation either by putting yourself into the action, or by creating a storyline based on the photograph. Are you running after the bag, did it slip from your grasp and you must catch it, no matter what? What would it mean to you to lose the bag?
Who are the people, the two dark shadows on left and right? While your eye is caught by the bag, are they closing in on you? Is their intention helpful, sinister, threatening?
Why are you there? Are you a photographer? A passer by?
You are alone. No one knows where you are. You do not know which direction is north or south, east or west. You are in Death Valley, USA, where the highest recorded temperature is 134°F/56.7°C and the lowest 15°F/-9°C. Study the picture and imagine you [or your favourite character] are there in extreme heat. You may incorporate some of the following words.
Now repeat the exercise, but for extreme cold.
Study this photograph. What does it look like: rocks on the moon? A work of art? A space in a community garden?
Look a little closer… at the texture, the colours and shapes. Is it daytime, or night? Is there sign of life… is that a cigarette butt I see?
Describe the setting in 1-2 paragraphs. Next, put into it a character you have already created, someone you are familiar with, and see what happens.
Between the Train Seats
Simply use the photo to energise your writing, or start with one of the following phrases:-
Thigh to thigh
Barbed wire meant only one thing to him.
Use this sentence as a starting point to develop three different characters. For each, barbed wire means something different. The meaning could be war, imprisonment, escape, shame, guilt, regret, robbery, injury, death. Your three characters may be completely varied, young/old, male/female, soldier/prison camp guard, burglar/police officer, offender/ prison warder, POW/relative at home.
Now choose one of these characters and use as the basis for a short story – decide whether your story focuses on the original event with the barbed wire, or a time later in life when the meaning of the wire perhaps assumes new or increased significance.
Take two people, strangers. This is where their romance starts. Consider the following questions about each individual:-
Why are they on this beach on this particular day?
Are they on holiday alone, or with a significant other?
Are they looking for romance/love/excitement/sex/nothing?
What is it about the other person that attracts them?
How do they first flirt?
Write one flash fiction story limiting yourself to their meeting on the beach.
Write a second flash fiction story about what happens next.
This is a sign from London’s St James Park, discouraging cyclists from leaving their bicycles. Try this scenario:-
You are a student on holiday in London, this is your first visit;
Choose a nationality, and decide how much English you can a) speak and b) read;
You have your own bike and need to leave it unattended in the park, outside a park building for some reason [you decide what];
Do you ask for help? Ignore the sign? Walk away? Perhaps a passer-by stops to help?
And what happens as a result of your actions? Are you arrested? Is your bike stolen?
Write 500 words based on this photograph.
How thirsty are you?
Do you know how it feels to be thirsty? Really thirsty? Your mouth is dry so your lips are gummed together, the insides of your cheeks cling to your teeth. Your sharp-edged teeth cut into your tongue. You cannot count from one to five. Try this picture to kickstart a flash fiction story or a decision faced by a character in your novel. First create a world for your character. Where is he/she? Stranded on a mountain peak surrounded by rock? Adrift in a boat on the sea? On an unknown planet without a water source? In a drought when the taps run dry? Or is water available, but with-held or poisoned?
Imagine severe thirst. If it helps, go without a drink for a few hours and note how you feel. Not just the physical changes, but how does it make you feel mentally? Are your thoughts as clear as usual? What is happening to your vision and your pulse rate? Now take a stressful situation, and put your thirsty character into it. What happens next? If there is a questionable water source available, what would your character do? Would he or she drink the green water?
What are ‘Writers’ BLOCKbusters’?
I want to help you put words on the page. Those words won’t necessarily be the first line of your novel, or indeed anything to do with your novel, but they will be words to fill that intimidating blank space. And it couldn’t be quicker. Writers’ BLOCKbusters is a collection of three ebooks of writing prompts. Why are they different? Precisely because they are short, easy to use, and flexible. Designed for writers of fiction, any genre, novels, short stories, flash fiction, they are suitable for all genre of fiction precisely because each exercise is based on a subject unrelated to whatever you are struggling with. I am not looking over your shoulder.
Ebooks coming in 2021 at Amazon…
Writers’ BLOCKbusters: #500 FirstParas
Writers’ BLOCKbusters: #500 FlashPics
Writers’ BLOCKbusters: #500 WordStorms