You know the old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That may be true if you already know what the picture is about. Otherwise a picture is a prompt for you to write a story, if only a fleeting one, in your mind.
Consider the picture above. Two things are obvious: A woman wearing a fancy white dress and gloves is holding a lacy white parasol. Anything beyond that is pure conjecture. Right now I invite you to join an experiment. Skip down to the comment section and spend a minute or two writing a mini story about what you see in this picture. Write your own before you check to see what others have written. Check back later to keep track.
I guarantee that no two readers will write the same story. With a dozen responses, three or four may be similar, but even those will differ in detail. I’ve used this exercise with various pictures countless times in classes, workshops and writing groups, and I never cease to be amazed at the variety of stories that pour out, especially when the pictures are more complex.
Nobody is surprised when different stories emerge from the same picture. You almost expect that, and after you hear the additional stories, you can see them too. But do you realize that the same thing happens with stories? Each reader reads a slightly different story, colored by personal experience. If it matters to you that readers clearly understand your point of view, it’s important to explain details with the most vivid description you can muster.
Including action and emotion in those descriptions builds strong connections with readers. Although my understanding of them is foggy, our brains have mirror neurons that cause us to have a sense of following along and doing or feeling what we observe others do or feel.
Observe feelings? Even when we don’t articulate feelings verbally, they tend to leak out the edges with subliminal hints others pick up. Become a sleuth and develop a writing vocabulary to describe how bodies and faces betray emotions and use these in your writing to elicit empathy from readers. These descriptions are especially valuable in portraying emotion in others when you are writing lifestory or memoir, because when you write in first person, you can’t report what’s going on in someone else’s mind – you can only write what you observe or they tell you.
Paint your word picture with vivid, finely tuned details and description, then pair it with a graphic. The combination of story plus graphic will double the value of each.
Write now: write a story in a comment about the woman in the picture. Include details of what she’s thinking, how she’s feeling, what she's about to do, and anything else you can think of. Then find a picture of some event or place from your past and write a story about that, including more details from your memory. Don’t skimp on feelings, reflections and action. Whether or not it activates mirror neurons, that’s what draws readers in.