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If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, Here's How to Write Them

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” as the saying so poetically goes.

What happens when you actually need to write those thousand words instead? Creative writers may already know the benefits that come with the use of a picture prompt, but for the non-fiction marketing writer or novice it may not be something you have tried. Along those same lines, it might not be something you even thought was applicable to you. We're here to show you just how much meaning can be derived from one picture, particularly in the world of marketing.

Perhaps images don't immediately inform us with "how" or "why" - answering the more abstract questions might take more time to determine - but that's where writing comes in. If you're wondering how to turn a picture into a thousand words, this guide will help as we elaborate on some of our own writing processes.

The Mind's Eye: Personal Perspective

The necessity in explaining the "how" and "why" behind content in a non-visual format is part of why writing is still such an invaluable tool in digital marketing. Written content has the potential to give us more than an image can. Our audience gets to set the scene inside their own mind, forming the image as they read. This imagined image is often conjured up to form a vision that's in sync with the viewer's own experiences. We know that writing in a descriptive or emotive way can encourage the reader to imagine images or re-live experiences in their mind. This, paired with nostalgia, holds a great deal of opportunity in marketing. It's all based on personal perspective and response to stimuli.

Dream Theory

So, imagination is fuelled by memory and experience. There's evidence to support this. Let's consider the dream theory. There's the idea that as we dream, the faces of people we see are actually the faces of people we have already encountered once before. It doesn't have to be someone we're overly familiar with. Memory recall gives us the ability to dream up the face of a stranger we passed in the street years ago. The reasoning behind why this happens this is simple. It's believed that the human mind isn't capable of pulling together all the individual components of a human face accurately enough to invent a 'brand new' face. It's easier for the brain to just recall a face it's seen previously, than to attempt to create a whole new kind of facial representation. Corrado Callavero, a respected sleep researcher, explained the phenomenon.

"Dreaming is not “creating”, but merely recombining, possibly in original ways, what has been previously stored in long-term memory."

In correspondence with this theory, the images we 'think up' as we read can be pulled from memories we have already gathered and experienced. Through writing, we can prompt visual images in the mind. These images differ depending on our own internal perspective of things. They depend on the individual, their history, even the people they have met - and what their faces looked like. This means each reader's response to your content is unique to them.

So, we know images and written content combined can provide a great deal of value in explaining something. But how do we get one medium to inform the other? If you’re starting with an image, where on earth do you start?


1. Find the Perfect Picture for a Writing Prompt

Gather Your Writing Tools

  • Notebook - Digital or physical. A space to make notes and to let your ideas flow freely. For some, creative thinking is recorded best by quickly typing down ideas; for others, it's easier when scrawling our notes on paper. You know what you prefer.

  • Voice Recording - If you find typing a bore, you can't stay in one place for too long, or you know your desk isn't the most inspiring place to be; sit elsewhere and record your string of thoughts with a voice recording. Then use voice to text tools to transform it all into typed out notes. Voila, the start of your content!

  • Handwriting - If you're a notebook person. Highlighters, markers, biros, pencils. But not Tipex! The ideas you don't like or want to get rid of can influence future content.

  • Cameras - You could go down the route of taking your own photos for inspiration. This one's obviously a lot more complicated. It could require photography skill if you're using a DSLR, which requires a whole new world of understanding.

  • Phone - We're all familiar with using smartphones to capture life's moments. You don't have to go all out with a proper camera if you want to take your own visual photography. Plus, you might already have something intriguing to use saved on your phone already.

Select Keywords

In the case of non-fiction writing or blog posts, the best place to start is by narrowing down the topic you’re going to be writing about. Write a list of keywords that are relevant to your audience and how they would relate to your content. You want to find an image that will resonate with your target audience, so think about their lifestyle, understand their habits. Just like when searching for keywords to boost SEO, looking at related synonyms may be a good idea for this if you’re struggling. For example, finding the accompanying image for this article, the words that we came up with were ‘authorship’, ‘calligraphy’, ‘books’, and ‘typing’.

Narrowing down a particular theme or topic ensures your image remains relevant to your work. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing a completely different topic to the one you set out with. This saves time - so you aren’t scrolling aimlessly through the millions of images we now find ourselves inundated with each day.

Find Your Image

You can then use these selected keywords to search visual-based sites such as Pinterest, Instagram, and so on, to find the picture that captivates you most. It’s worth noting that if you want to use the photo in a piece for publication, then you need to ask the artist or photographer’s permission first. For stock images that are licensed for free use, you can also try sites like Unsplash, Burst, or Canva instead.


2. Study the Image: Question Everything

Once you have your creative writing prompt photo, study it. By scrutinising the image, you can extract an endless number of influences. Relax, remove any distractions, grab a cup of tea, and analyse it. Really try and absorb the details within the photo and decipher what you think it means. Write everything down. Everything. Ask yourself the following:

Tips for Writing Creative Content

  • What is happening here? Does the image inspire any clues as to where your story might lead?

  • How does it make you feel? What kind of emotive language can you use to evoke the same response in your readers?

  • Experience the image and what is happening within it. What can you hear, touch, taste, smell, see? Is it sunny? Raining? The senses are extremely crucial when setting the scene for any creative piece.

  • Who’s in the photo - if anyone? Could they be a character in your writing?

Tips for Writing Marketing Copy

For those leaning more towards marketing or non-fiction content, the same applies - but with extra consideration as to how your readers might respond.

  • List what comes to mind as you look at the photo. Which of these thoughts do you want to concentrate on as you pull together your content?

  • Think about how you want your audience to respond to those same thoughts. Consider how the picture might link in with the call to action within your marketing copywriting.

  • Brainstorm the message the image portrays. Is this the same message you're trying to relay to your reader? What are the key points?

  • Don't skip over the creative ideas. Marketing copy still needs to infuse some element of creativity, at least. Be original. Be descriptive about the image. Making your audience 'experience' or imagine your product or service can be a great incentive for them to purchase. This is where considering the senses comes in. For example, have them taste the food if it's copy for a restaurant, have them experience the warmth of the sun if you're trying to sell a holiday.


3. Derive a Narrative from Your Photo

A woman's hands are writing with pen in a notebook. Next to her is coffee, an iPad, a stack of fiction books, a pair of glasses, some polaroids and a Macbook laptop.

When referring to the image used above, at its bare bones, we can see it depicts someone writing. They are armed with coffee, Polaroid photos, a laptop, a handful of books, and a tablet. We can derive from these objects that the person is searching for inspiration - just like how we're analysing this photo ourselves. Maybe the novels to the left are this writer's source of inspiration. But they do sit next to an assortment of Polaroids on the desk - are these for inspiration instead? Maybe a combination of the two; perhaps the images provide more imagination alongside the novels... Maybe this extra inspiration is necessary because the writer is tired - we can see the coffee next to the notebook. Do they have an impending deadline? Are they in a rush? What's their sleep schedule like? We see in the notebook that it's February, usually a cold winter month. Maybe they're not tired, the coffee is just there for warmth.

As well as this, we can see the person is writing by hand in a notebook, not on the laptop or the tablet. This implies the books and photos are the primary source of inspiration, rather than digital mediums. But is the final copy going to end up in the notebook? If we analyse even further, it looks like the notebook is a diary, filled with the date and some short notes as opposed to a lengthy piece of writing. We can then assume the diary isn't there for final writing purposes, as it also has some writing crossed out. The writer has their laptop beside them, and they'll probably use that to finish their work. This suggests the final copy could be in digital format, perhaps it will end up online. From this, we can take a guess at what the writer does for a living. We can consider where they might go after they have finished their task; we can begin to share their story.

The Freedom of Interpretation

Now, we have no idea what is happening in the above image, or what the photographer’s original intent was. We don't know who the person writing is. From the content within the photo, however, we have already derived a narrative from it. For all we know, this is just someone organising their diary. Perhaps it is - does it really matter? We can take from the image what we want to take from it. Images are open to individual interpretation. That is the essence of photo prompts. The photo is an unchanging and stable point that everyone will perceive differently, so you’re guaranteed to generate original content, unique and individual to you.


4. Write. With or Without the Words.

A woman writes in her leather notebook with a pen in her left hand. Overcoming writer's block with visual prompts for creative writing.

Now comes the part where you have to sit down and write. Look at your image, look at your notes and just write. The picture can only get the creative juices flowing, but it’s your job to make them into something. For creative writing projects, this might be the start of a scene, the creation of a character; and from there you already have the beginning of a story. For non-fiction writers, it might just be a question for which you provide the answer, or the title of your next blog post. This type of freewriting might not provide you with the next bestseller, but it’s a start. A page full of notes is no longer just a blank page for you to stare at, hoping the words form on their own. This is where your inspiration begins.

Don't Overthink it Just Yet

Even if you must go back and edit later, write your stream of conscience. We all know enough words that at least a few, even on an unconscious level, will spring to mind once we really look into an image. If the words themselves aren't coming directly to you, consider how the image makes you feel, and there you have your first word to expand upon. This isn't the time to be generating refined content that's ready to be published - be it online or in print. This note-taking stage is part of the planning process, so think freely and don't get too caught up in thinking about how the content will be pulled together. There's time to do that later.


5. Use the Visual Stimuli to Improve Your Writing

Overcome Writer's Block

It’s easy enough to find an image that matches your content once the writing is done. You already have the keywords, and you know exactly which path your content is guiding the reader down. But this is about how to get that writing work done in the first place. When writer's block strikes, a picture provides that spark of inspiration you need. Images are a source of visual stimulation, often a vital encouragement in getting over writer's block. For those struggling to string even a couple of words together without the fuel to propel ideas into place - the image becomes their fuel.

Photos help set the scene for story prompts, blog post topics, and article ideas. They can evoke an entire snapshot of someone's life with a glance. They can spark a personal memory that kickstarts your creative thinking process. Most significantly, utilising visual inspiration as a writing prompt forces you to think deeper than you normally would. It forces you to think under the surface of what the image implicitly reveals, and figure out the subtle details that are gently alluded to. This inspires original content for marketing and creative copy. All of a sudden, you have a solid basis for your content. Now that you have this base for your writing, you'll find your writer's block has moved on to bother yet another pensive copywriter...

Focus on Your Message

The great thing about using visual prompts is the creativity involved. Anyone who writes in some creative capacity has likely had it drilled into them that they need to 'show and not tell' while writing. It’s easy to just tell someone what’s in the image. Anyone can do that. That's not the point of this task. When the image already tells you what there is, there is little more left to do than to show. Visual writing prompts encourage you to think about what the meaning behind it all is. Show why it's there, not just what is there. A variety of ideas can stem from just one image, and it's your task to show your reader the significance in what these ideas mean. Relate them to the message behind your content. Every piece of content, whether it's for creative fiction or marketing, has a message. Don't overlook this message while you express your creativity.


Creative Copywriting Services by Ohseio

We hope this article helps you in providing some advice on how to begin writing from a visual or creative writing prompt. However, we know just how much the demands of running a business can get in the way of what we would like to spend the time working on for our brand. We also know how these plans often get pushed aside as we work on the bigger picture!

If you're in need of creative copywriting services for your brand, we're here to help. Our digital marketing services and dedicated team of talented copywriters provide all you need to develop a consistent content strategy. The same goes whether you need content for landing pages, regular blog content services, or social media marketing content. We'll dive straight in and deliver content that uplifts your branding efforts across any digital marketing platform. You can get in touch regarding our copywriting services using the on-site chat, or by submitting an enquiry form below. Alternatively, email and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Grace is an English Literature and Creative Writing student based in Manchester, completing an internship as part of the Ohseio training programme. To read more creative writing by Grace, you can visit her website - The Written Worlds Blog.

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