Story Ideas from Pictures

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Welcome
* Leave the Character in the Shower
* Story Ideas from Pictures
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“Stephen King writes to feel ‘the exhilaration of leaving ordinary day-to-day life behind’.” from his newsletter announcing a new short story collection, You Like It Darker, coming May 21, 2024

You can order this in ebook, hardcover, unabridged CD or unabridged audio download at Simon & Schuster.


Welcome to Jim M and any other new subscribers or readers of the Journal. I hope you will find it useful.

Get the Archives and other free downloads at the Journal website. And I don’t do the ambush thing requiring an email address. Just click the links and a PDF will download in a new page.

I also recommend reading “I Believe in You”.

If you wanna see my tired old mug, catch this half-hour video where NY Times bestselling author Vin Zandri and I are chatting about writing and a bunch of other stuff.

And here’s a second video of us chatting at The Writer’s Life.

Leave the Character in the Shower

We might differ on this, but stepping into the Hovel, sitting down at my writing ‘puter and seeing a chapter title with nothing beneath is sometimes a stumper for me. Especially if the end of the previous chapter doesn’t lead directly into the next, as it does when a major scene runs longer than one chapter.

Many years ago, I got to see professional SF writer CJ Cherryh on stage at ENMU in Portales NM. I don’t remember a lot about the event, but one thing she said stands out. Ms. Cherryh doesn’t personally believe in writer’s block (neither do I), but she said if it strikes you occasionally, “Leave your character in the shower.”

Several members of the audience tittered and chuckled.

She said, “No, really. If you’re coming to the close of your writing day, put your character in the shower. Then when you come back, you’ll have to write him out of the shower before the story can continue. And that will get you back into the flow of the writing.”

That made perfect sense to me.

When I first started writing novels (they were westerns set in the late 1880s), toward the end of the day I would have Wes or whomever get off his horse, strip down and get in the shower.

Yes, it was an imaginary shower, and yes, it had popped up, glass walls, sliding door, drain and all, right in the middle of the desert or plains.

Of course, the next day I’d get rid of the shower scene (trust me, there are no showers out in the open desert), but not before I wrote him out of it. Then I’d continue with the story. And it flowed. My first novel took 29 days to write. Only one novel since then took as long as 32 days, but that one was my longest at something over 100,000 words.

Today I do the same thing, only without the shower.

Most days, Even if I’ve just ended a chapter, I’ll add the header for the next chapter and at least write the hook and the opening for the chapter. I’ll get just far enough along that the story is flowing, and then I’ll stop, save my work, and head up to the house.

Same effect, except the next day I don’t have to delete the shower scene. I just read over the opening of the chapter, then keep writing when I get back to the white space. Try it. It works.

Story Ideas from Pictures

In today’s Of Interest is a link to Johnny B. Truant’s latest post in his “Art of Noticing” series, and it’s a good one. He even offers you three story ideas and displays the picture that served as the catalyst for them.

Most of my novels are in series, so the ideas for them are simply the next one in the barrel. But I often write short stories (and novels that began as short stories) based on paintings and prints that I buy, mostly at garage or estate sales, and stock photos I download from the internet.

Especially when I need to write a short story for a curated anthology or a challenge, I go to images first for story ideas.

And re the paintings and prints I buy, I never buy one unless I see at least one story unfolding in it.

In fact, I’ve written several stories based on one print of an old hotel in probably World War I Spain or maybe Italy. I bought it for a dollar or something at a thrift store.

One began with an imaginary guy surreptitiously looking out of a second-story window in the hotel. That one was a modern-day political intrigue story. In fact, I caught a lot of flack from members of the “cancel culture” over that one. You know. The folks who see themselves as the General Managers of the Universe.

(No, I didn’t care. They’re like a 20-something year old living in his parents’ basement and giving them life advice over supper every night. Most of them aren’t old enough yet to have firmly developed a blood type. (grin)

Another story began with two imaginary characters seated outside at one of the small, round café tables sitting to either side of the entrance to the hotel.

Another started with the imaginary desk clerk inside the hotel. Another began with a wounded soldier leaning against the back wall of the hotel in the alley, and a young woman racing frantically along the alley to see him and be with him before he died.

In another story, a young woman stepped out of that same hotel and spotted a good-looking guy across the street. Tired-of and bored-with her parents’ aristocratic life, that one led to the short, four-volume Nick Spalding action-adventure series.

And from a different picture I took myself at the ruins in the ghost town of Charleston, Arizzona, a short story that evolved into what will soon be the 22-volume Wes Crowley saga.

Especially if you believe in yourself, trust your characters, and write into the dark, you really never know where a story or novel will go or where it will lead you. And it can all begin with the simple act of looking at a picture or part of a picture.

So if you’re ever feeling stuck for a story idea, look around you. Maybe even at the pictures on the walls of your house. Oh, and I’d be happy to share the print of the old hotel with you as a snapshot. Just email me and request the hotel picture.

Talk with you again soon.

Tomorrow: A Bittersweet Realization

Of Interest

An Image is Worth a Thousand Tales I often get story ideas from paintings and prints I buy and stock photos I get from the internet.

Stephen King on Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta — video and transcript

Book Tour: At Home with Stephen King

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1170

Writing of Rose Padilla (WCG10SF5)

Day 1…… 4086 words. To date…… 4086
Day 2…… 3609 words. To date…… 7695
Day 3…… 3971 words. To date…… 11666
Day 4…… 4129 words. To date…… 15795
Day 5…… 4542 words. To date…… 20337

Fiction for November…………………… 37845
Fiction for 2023…………………………. 356489
Fiction since August 1………………… 241817
Nonfiction for November……………… 11890
Nonfiction for the year……………… 239780
Annual consumable words………… 592762

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 7
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 7
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 78
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 235
Short story collections…………………… 31

Help keep the Journal Going with either a one-time or a recurring monthly donation via debit or credit card or PayPal.You can also press the Share button at the end of this post (on Substack). Thank you!

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.