WTF Photo Prompts

WTF Photo Prompts

You’ve heard the famous last words of a true redneck, right? “Hold my beer,” or “Watch this!” (I can say that. I’m in Texas, lol). What about these two guys? What are their buddies thinking as they watch? What are they thinking up there? How did they build this contraption? Why? What is their goal? What happens next?

And seriously, what were they thinking?

How many story ideas did the photo generate?

If you run across a photo suitable for WTF Photo prompts, send me the link via Contact Us.


WTF Photo Prompts

WTF Photo Prompt

A picture is worth a thousand words, so they say. I think a good picture is worth a story, especially those photos that just make us scratch our heads as we try to make sense of what we see.

So what’s the story behind this photo?  Who was driving? Who owns the trailer? Are there witnesses? What are the consequences of this…mishap? and what caused it?

Go Write!


What’s your first impression as a writer?

If you run across a photo suitable for WTF Photo prompts, send me the link via Contact Us.

Senses Enrich the Story

Senses Enrich the StoryWe all know senses are important, right? Sight, scent, taste, sound, and touch are as important to our characters and stories as they are to us. Our senses allow us to take in the world around us, but they also help transport us into memories.  What does the smell of rain or the sound of a train mean to your character?

Senses enrich scenes

Just as beats help break up and give flesh to the bones of dialogue, senses give clues to atmosphere and the character’s state of mind. “Elsa perched on the edge of the chair as her hostess poured tea,” is clear enough. But “Elsa perched on the edge of the chair, hoping the proffered tea was pungent enough to mask the  medicinal smell of the sick room” gives us a completely different impression. Or “Elsa perched on the chair as her hostess poured tea, the scent of which brought her back to her grandmother’s kitchen.”

Other senses could work the same magic. Perhaps the hostess has tremors our character notes, or she’s wearing a floral dress that reminds our character of someone from her past. Is there a mantle clock that chimes or does the heated porcelain of the tea cup trigger a response?

Senses invoke memory

Some great flashback scenes begin with a sense that sweeps the character into a memory. “Tom remembered that day clearly” is a statement. “The heat from the asphalt rose through Tom’s oxfords and  produced a shimmer on the horizon, just as it had that day when…” Or “The hot pavement and heated air brought her face clearly to mind. “Let’s go swimming,” she had said.”

Scent is a major player in memory recall, but so is music. The right song or snatch of lyrics easily transports me to a moment in my past and does so for characters as well. A certain touch can also bring the past sharply into focus, especially if the memory is an unpleasant one.

Senses improve recall

Police and therapists use a technique called “the cognitive interview” to help victims and witnesses to access their memories with greater detail. In this type of interview, the person is put into the scene by recalling what their senses were registering at the time. Once the memory of time and place is firmly established, the recall of the interviewee is usually sharper and smaller details are more easily remembered. You can try this yourself by recalling what your senses told you in a particular memory before the main event happens. If your character is a witness, victim, or investigator, this is a tool you can use.

Other senses

I would argue that there are other senses important in the scheme of things. The sense that air pressure has changed could indicate a door or hatch has just been closed or opened. Temperature, air flow, gravity, motion, and others also affect your character. We are aware of more than we realize and adrenaline heightens that awareness.

Try to give a specific when using a sense. Rather than tar smelling hot, does it smell oily, burnt, or heavy? Tea can be delicate, flowery, herbal, pungent, earthy. Touch can be grazing, reassuring, frightening, directional, or emotional. A sound can be grating, grinding, soft, metallic, sighing, startling, or out of context/unexpected. Taste doesn’t only relate to something put on the tongue. Defeat can taste bitter. Fear might taste metallic. Lemonade could taste like childhood.

Sight is the sense we use most often with our characters since we are essentially reporting what they are seeing and doing. But sight is richer when not used alone, and how your character process what is seen is unique to them as well as mood dependent.

If you (or your character) had to lose one sense, which would you choose and why?

The Writer’s Dark Side

A Writer's Dark SideHave you ever read a book that explored a disturbing event or followed a character doing unexpected and dark things? Did you stop to wonder how the author did it and why?

Good writers allow the darkest elements of humanity to rise and be explored. Does that mean we are all dark or secretly psychopaths? Not at all. Everyone has an element of darkness. Most of us bury it, ignore it. A good writer will dig it up, examine it, and then wonder how it could be made worse. Using your own fears and dark bits is hard. It makes us vulnerable. Exposed. But it is powerful in storytelling.

Horror writers generally do this well, but all writers can and should tap into this resource. What scares us will scare our characters and thus the reader. Every story has a monster. You just need to broaden the definition of monster to include natural disasters, cancer or disease, betrayal, loss of control, political upheaval, and the other things that make us fearful. These are the hurdles and events we impose upon our characters.

I’ve wondered if this acknowledgement of the darker side of a personality or society doesn’t contribute to the stereotype of the depressed, hard-drinking author. Every writer I know personally does not fit the stereotype, but we do sometimes talk about truly dark things, which may give the impression we are very disturbed individuals.

Actors who play villains must also tap into their own darkness the same way writers do. Are they as concerned about what people will think? Think about Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, or Heath Ledger as the Joker or Stanley Tucci in his role in The Lovely Bones. These are good men. Good people. But they did an incredible job becoming the villain they portrayed.

As a reader, I’ve been interested in where authors got their stories’ dark bits from and especially how they overcame the inhibition and self-censoring that holds a writer back.

For example, Joanna Penn has been honest about her own inhibitions to writing dark things, but she worked through them and delivers disturbing elements in Desecration that were very effective. Dave Wright has natural fears as a parent, but he explores them and then incorporates them into chilling stories such as Crash.  One of my dark places involves vulnerability to others and abandonment. Lillian, the main character in Shadows Wake, experiences them.

Makes you wonder if all writers went through psychoanalysis if we could still write those deep disturbing things, doesn’t it? Then again, our stories serve, in some ways, as therapy for our own fears, anger, and black spots.

Most of us are happy, smiling people. What makes us different is that, behind our cheerful normalality, lurks a willing fascination with the collective darkness of the human experience. It’s the stuff good stories are made from.


What are some of the darkest elements in books you’ve read that made you wonder?