Finding Inspiration – Pictures tell Stories.

Leading Writing Workshops on board a cruise is nothing like teaching Creative Writing courses back home. For a start, I used to limit my course groups for the University of Bath, Swindon College or the WEA to 12 people. On board ship, you never know how many passengers will turn up. It can be a whole roomful of people ranging from those who have never written before to experienced writers. Several years ago, I had a published author from California who joined the workshops and I know at least one of the people who came to my workshops on the Black Watch Mystery Cruise at the end of November had won a Writing Magazine short story competition and been highly commended in two others! The majority of passengers who opt to try my workshops would probably never consider attending classes back home so my main task, as with any Cruise Lecturer, is to entertain by providing the vital stimulus to help them start writing.

How do I do that?


Nearly every Creative Writing tutor will suggest keeping an ideas file but, especially for new writers, a picture file – plus the magic who, what, why, when, where and how – can be even more inspirational.

Take this picture. WHN7

The obvious question – What happens next?

Yes, we talked who is telling the story and how they felt about the situation. Of the six pictures I put up, each with very different scenarios, this seemed to be the most popular.






Again, I used half a dozen pictures for a session on dialogue and discussed a few possibilities for each one before passengers made a decision.






It never ceases to amaze me how well people write, especially those who have never tried writing before. I’m not sure I dare reveal my first drafts to anyone – it’s a brave writer prepared to read out in front of 30 or so others without having had the chance to polish their efforts. I was so impressed that after a couple of sessions, I decided to run a short story competition.

The results were impressive. Lots of great stories and picking a winner was a very difficult decision. Every story was based on at least one of the picture ideas we had looked at in the workshop sessions. The winner had used two, beginning with a dialogue picture and moving on to one from the locations workshop. There was also a great range of topics – a love story, several crime stories, ghost stories, a couple of twist-in-the-tales, a heart-warming story and stories involving murder abounded! The quality of the short pieces (it was a pity that we could hear so few in the short 45-minute sessions) and the competition stories gave me tremendous satisfaction. All the passengers needed was a gentle push in the right direction! Pictures DO make stories.

Among the many who came to chat after the sessions (mostly to say they resolved to scour the colour sections of their weekend newspaper and start a pictures file when they returned home) were several people who belong to writing groups who said they were going to take the ideas back to their own groups.

Preparing workshops and lectures (I actually did both) does require a lot of thought and effort, (I like them to relate to the places we’re going or, in this case the theme of the cruise) but their enthusiasm and wonderful results made it all worthwhile. Thank you my lovely, lovely passengers, if you enjoyed it half as much as I did, you had a great time!


4 thoughts on “Finding Inspiration – Pictures tell Stories.

  1. I had a great time at the workshops. I learned that pictures are a great way to develop ideas. A particular challenge for me was describe a location, thinking myself into the place and imagining the sounds and smells in addition to the visual stimuli. I posted my story on my website and have had some positive feedback. Thanks again for the great workshops!

  2. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the workshops. As I mentioned, one of the things that writers so often forget is developing the sense of place. For me, I need to picture exactly where I’m setting a scene – not just any restaurant or café etc. See it through the eyes of your viewpoint character. Feel what they feel and how it affects what they hear and smell etc depending on their mood.
    Immerse yourself and the results will be so much better!
    Great to meet you. It was an enjoyable cruise made even better by the lovely people like you that we met.
    Happy writing!

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