Writing Exercise #9/Conference Challenge #5 – A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Happy last day of February! Tomorrow starts the three-week countdown to our 20th Anniversary Conference. Laura and I are looking forward to seeing you all there – both new and old friends!

Now on to our next challenge, which is inspired by a saying that was first coined in the early 1900’s right here in the good old U.S.A.

The adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image…The expression “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” appears in a 1911 newspaper article quoting newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane discussing journalism and publicity. A similar phrase, “One Look Is Worth A Thousand Words”, appears in a 1913 newspaper advertisement for the Piqua Auto Supply House of Piqua, Ohio. (from Wikipedia)


(from Wikipedia)

So, what do you think? Could you get a thousand words from a picture?

How about two-hundred and fifty?


Writing Exercise #9/Conference Challenge #5

Scan your home – walls, shelves, albums.  Stop at the first photograph you set eyes upon. Use that photo to prompt a story. What’s the history behind the faces? If the picture has no people in it, whose eyes are looking on that landscape or building and why? Now write – a random scene, first page of a novel, a character’s deepest thoughts – anything that the photo inspires in you.

Illustrating Exercise  #9/Conference Challenge #5)

Your challenge starts with the word and ends with a picture. Grab a book, open it to a random (or not so random) page and imagine you’ve been commissioned by the publisher to provide an illustration for that page. What do you visualize? Now put that down on paper in any medium you prefer.

Good luck and have fun!

Here are links to the previous challenges. Don’t forget to comment in the corresponding exercises that you have indeed completed them.

Conference Challenge #1

Conference Challenge #2

Conference Challenge #3

Conference Challenge #4

About Susan Mannix

Susan worked as a biomedical research editor for the Department of the Navy for fourteen years and has been a member of SCBWI since 2007. She writes young adult and middle grade novels. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time doing all things horses, including attending her teenaged daughters’ many competitions. Susan lives in Maryland on a small farm with her husband, two children, an adorable black lab, two cats, and three horses.
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25 Responses to Writing Exercise #9/Conference Challenge #5 – A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

  1. Writing Exercise #9/Conference Challenge #5
    Scan your home – walls, shelves, albums. Stop at the first photograph you set eyes upon. Use that photo to prompt a story. What’s the history behind the faces? If the picture has no people in it, whose eyes are looking on that landscape or building and why? Now write – a random scene, first page of a novel, a character’s deepest thoughts – anything that the photo inspires in you.
    PHOTOGRAPH: seaman standing watch on the sail of a submarine with sunset behind him.
    Alone. Standing watch in mid-winter on the sail of a submarine is an excellent definition of ALONE. Home is oceans away. The nearest land may be a thousand miles distant. There’s nobody else on the sail. Just a lone man standing watch. Watching for the enemy. Watching for danger. Watching the sun go down, knowing the even colder night is coming. But he knows his long watch will soon be over as the submarine will dive deep into the dark, cold depths of the sea where he and the rest of the crew will be alone in the darkness with only the ping-ping-ping of the sonar to tell them if the enemy approaches.

  2. Jenny Sokol says:

    Photo: A puppy “pouting”, hands between his paws.

    Friend comes homes when the afternoon shadows hit the couch that smells of his salty chips. The shadows are here, but Friend is not. I watch the door. I gnaw on my bone, but it doesn’t taste like happy. I can’t think of anything to do but watch the front door and wait. Each time I imagine the touch of his hand against my wet nose, my tail wags. Then I remember that Friend isn’t here, and my tail droops. Suddenly, I hear clanging outside. I freeze and listen. Is it the sound of the door openers? My tail lashes back and forth with hope. The knob turns! Friend!

  3. Sue Poduska says:

    Aww. puuuupppyyyyy….

  4. Sue Poduska says:

    Here’s mine.

    Needlepoint time was the one time in her day that allowed Agnes to control her surroundings. The rest of the time, she reacted to her brothers and sisters and their constant noise, to her mother’s demands, to the everyday tasks facing her as the oldest daughter, and even to the demands of her squawking chickens. She was really too exhausted to continue, but the time alone seemed to give her more energy. The rose picture would look great in the dining room. If it survived until it got hung on the wall. Little did she know, it would survive at least another hundred years.
    As the light from the kerosene lamp dimmed, she knew it was time to get some rest.

  5. Miranda McClain says:

    The photo is of my son, 3 at the time, dressed as a ninja.

    The boy could not have been more than five years old yet he knew how to wield his spoon as a deadly weapon and he was working on mastering the art of Kung Fu, though admittedly he had a lot to learn. He was quite possibly the youngest student in the history of this ancient ninja school, but the ninja master had seen something special in him and decided to oversee his training personally. The wise elder was currently having some trouble remembering just what he may have seen however, since his pupil was turning out to be not only the youngest, but perhaps the most, shall we say boisterous, student he had ever trained. Probably it was because of his incredibly young age, but the boy was definitely having difficulty learning some of the fundamental principles to being a ninja. For instance, it seemed impossible for him to sit still for more than a few seconds and he was extremely loud. Not a beneficial trait in a ninja. Still there was something. The master knew that ninja blood ran in the boy’s veins. His ancestors had all been through this prestigious school, but there was something more. A grim determination to succeed and a certain gleam in his eye. Maybe he just reminded the old man of himself ages ago. At any rate, it looked as if they had a long and bumpy road ahead of them.

    • Sue Poduska says:

      Very nice, Miranda! Sort of a layered memory. We see inside your memory, then deeper inside your son’s fantasy. Sounds like the beginning of a novel.

    • Laura Bowers says:

      Ha, fantastic work, Miranda, and I bet your son would love to hear a story with him as a ninja student! Great job. 🙂

  6. Sarah M says:

    Not my best creative attempt, but here it is:

    More still then usual, he sits in his neon green, tie-dyed shirt staring up at his hero. Even though he’s not yet five, he knows his hero can do the impossible. He has seen his hero ride a bike, eat what he wants to, get to stay up late and he has watched him beat Bowser! But soon, fall will end the summer’s fun and laughter. His hero will go back to school. Some place that might be far away, he’s never been. But he’ll wait. For his hero. For his brother.

  7. I should have cheated and tried writing about a different picture. The first picture that caught my eye was from the day I had my brain surgery… and I couldn’t think of anything but that story to tell. I guess this could be considered an exercise in creative non-fiction?

    Alex stared at the man behind the camera.

    “Look at the silly birdie,” the man babbled. “Smile for the birdie. Come on, give me a smile.”

    The man puckered his lips into an odd shape and danced around. Then, he wiggled the oddly-shaped, stuffed bird again. “Come on. Give us a smile,” he pleaded.

    Alex’s cousins, Emily and Rebekah giggled, and even their brother, Ben, copied the crazy man’s smile. But Alex wasn’t fooled. He’d heard his cousin, Katie, crying in the night, and he’d listened to Grandma and Mommy comforting her. His Aunt, Katie’s mom, hadn’t come home last night. She was still trapped in that giant building with the plain, white walls, tied to a bed with wires and tubes sticking out of her. The men and women in white coats wouldn’t let her come home.

    Grandma and Mommy said this picture would make Katie’s mom feel better, but Alex knew a picture wasn’t enough. He would have to find a way to rescue his aunt from that hospital!

    • Laura Bowers says:

      Wonderful job, Veronica! And I’d call it an exercise in reality-based fiction. Whatever it is, great work, and way to pull inspiration from a difficult time in your life! 🙂

  8. OH! perfect. And Alex was right. The picture wouldn’t be enough–for him or for his aunt. However, it would help. And I’m sure it did. I can just see Alex staring at you, then running to hug you when you came home. Also hope he never found a way to break into the hospital by himself. My grandson was born a week before I had to be hospitalized with a serious infection. They snuck him into my room for a few minutes just in case I wouldn’t make it. I did love seeing him, but was afraid he’d catch something as hospitals are great germ factories.

    • Thanks. 🙂 I do love this picture. It was an attempt by my mom & sister to distract the kids (& themselves) from worrying during my surgery. The older 3 kids were all wearing semi-real smiles, my youngest daughter was pouting, & Alex (my nephew – the youngest of the bunch) is staring straight at the camera with a VERY determined look on his face. It was fun to imagine what he must have been thinking 🙂

  9. Pingback: Conference Challenge #8: Preparing for a successful conference! | As the Eraser Burns

  10. Pingback: Writing Exercise #12: Quote it up | As the Eraser Burns

  11. Photo here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150807052764739&set=pb.634509738.-2207520000.1363977680&type=3&theater

    (If that link doesn’t work, it’s a big brother looking suspiciously at a little brother who seems to be trying to throttle the infant that the big brother is holding)

    Josh pushed Sebastian away from their little sister. “It’s not her fault, Sebastian. Leave her alone,” he said.

    “What do you mean, it’s not her fault? She’s the one who pressed the button,” said Sebastian. He reached for her neck again.

    Josh pushed Sebastian’s hand away. “If she’d didn’t you would have. Or I would. Really, it’s Dad’s fault. It’s not like him to leave his experiments out in the living room like that.”

    “Yeah,” Sebastian said. “Cordelia’s only eight. Anything could have happened.”

    Josh tried to arrange his five-year-old face into his sarcastic thirteen-year-old “Duh” face. “You mean like having our bodies unage by eight years while our brains stayed the same.”

    “Yeah,” Sebastian said. “Like that. Except, if our brains are the same, how come Cordelia isn’t talking?”

    They both stared at their suddenly infant sister. “I don’t know,” Josh said.

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