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Micro inspiration

Writing micro fiction from image prompts

We all need inspiration to get words onto the page and image prompts are a very popular tool for sparking ideas, especially for micro fiction stories.

At Retreat West, we use image prompts a lot in our competitions as well as in the weekly emails we send to our members. Here at Lightbox Originals, a new prompt is posted regularly and there is a gallery full of great images you could use to inspire a story today.

So, how do you find a story in an image?

Image as focus

The focus approach is one of the most common and involves the image itself forming a major part of the story. This may be a landscape, building, street scene or something else.

When using this option for micro stories, don’t use too many words to describe the image because you’re limited. Instead, focus on what happens in the location. 

Dig deep to find out how to connect the location to the emotional heart of your story. You may only have a few words but your story has to mean something and give a sense of movement.

Image as springboard

With the springboard approach, the image is usually just glimpsed within the prose and may not even be mentioned at all as it has sparked something in the writer’s mind that is only loosely linked to it.

A great example of this is Ghost Blocker by Andrew Boulton, which was a third prize winner in one of our competitions. He wrote a piece of micro fiction inspired by the image below of two girls yet the picture itself doesn’t appear in the story at all. 

Image as metaphor

Using an image as a metaphor is one of my favourite ways to write micro fiction.

A 97-word story of mine, My 3-Week Relationship With a Fire-Eater (The Drabble, 2019), took this approach. I was browsing an image site for inspiration and came across a picture of a man swallowing a flame. 

I thought about playing with fire and the actions that could be attributed to it, the behaviours that it could incite. I then thought about heat being measured in degrees, which led me to angles. This inspired me to write the story in the way I did. 

Micro stories that stand out

When you enter a competition that uses an image prompt, try to find a way to use it innovatively so that you don’t just rely on a straightforward representation.

Often, stories that come at images from unique angles stand out, making it onto shortlists and winners’ podiums. However, they’ll also need to be well written and, no matter how subtle, will have a feeling of forward propulsion and change by the end.

About Amanda Saint

Amanda Saint is the author of two novels, As If I Were A River (2016) and Remember Tomorrow (2019). Her short fiction collection, Flashes of Colour, will be published in 2020. Amanda founded and runs Retreat West, providing writing competitions, courses and retreats as well as Retreat West Books, an indie press that publishes short fiction, novels and memoirs and won the 2020 Saboteur Award for Most Innovative Publisher.


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