Winter World

A simple image this time, one of stark, monochromatic beauty from But oh, what a world of stories, characters and/or settings you can find here.

It’s the otherwoldly starkness of this image that appeals to my imagination. I can see an intrepid group of explorers landing on a strange new world to encounter a monochromatic environment that is hostile to human life. In the sweeping miles of ice and snow they find a lone tree, the only sign that life once flourished there. Suddenly, the air is full of—what? Snow? Frozen hydrogen? Or are those birds of prey or carnivorous insects flocking to intercept the first living beings they have seen in years?

This tree could be thrusting up through the clouds into the frozen vastness of space. Or perhaps it is a root system thrusting down through the crust of the planet.  Or it might not be a tree at all, but a creature from another world. Or an alien ship that roams between galaxies on an unknown mission. What kind of beings would live in such a ship? What might their mission be?

Or perhaps this ghostly tree stands not on the surface, but in an unexplored cave deep beneath our feet near the center of the earth. A center that science has told us is fiery hot, but that this photo tells us is frigid and sterile. Or is it?

What setting do you see in this photo?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story/setting ideas from this photo…

(Hint from Write It Right, Volume 1—Character: It is people’s quirks or weaknesses—their flaws—that make them interesting. Even your superheros should have feet of clay, or the reader will lost interest in them.)

Purple Heels

Writer Anna Unkovich ( sent me this fabulous photo of a pair of purple shoes. Not only is the photo great for inspiring stories, but the shoes are also my favorite color. No way I could fail to include them in this blog!

There are a multitude of story directions here. First, you could write the story of the shoes themselves. Where have they been? When did they get home? Or are they still out, maybe at a lover’s house or in a hotel room?

What kind of adventure have they been on? Why are they discarded haphazardly on the carpet and not put away neatly in the closet? It appears there is a sliding door at the right. Has the shoes’ owner simply kicked them off and gone outside barefoot? Why? With whom? For what purpose? What is outside that door?

Now broaden your thoughts. Who wore these shoes? What kind of person would be attracted to purple shoes that have marbled brown insets and red soles? And ankle straps, to say nothing of the height of the heels. For what purpose did this woman purchase these shoes? With what would she wear them? Is she a business woman who wears conervative suits and lets her shoes hint at her wilder side? Perhaps she’s a fashion model who wears only the height of fashion. Or she could be a grandmother hoping to recapture the glory of her youth with fanciful footwear. Or a teenager looking to appear older than her years. Or a working girl who does business on street corners, or an employee of an escort service.

Oh, the stories these shoes could tell. Why not try your hand at putting one of them down for others to read? What else are you dong this weekend?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

Word of the Week: Lubricious (Adj. Lat. Lubricus, slippery)

Definition: 1) Offensively displaying or intended to arouse sexual desire; 2) smooth and slippery with oil or similar substance

Synonyms: lustful, salacious, prurient; slick, greasy, unctuous

Usage: His lubricious smile made her wish she hadnt agreed to be alone with him.

The Child In The Pool

Here’s a photo I discovered when I was roaming the net and came across It’s an effective visual to stress safety for backyard pools, but it’s also a great shot that suggests multiple story ideas.

What is actually happening here? Is this a picture of a drowned child? Maybe the child is merely swimming, practicing her floating technique, or in the midst of doing a buttefly stroke. Is she truly alone, or do adults lurk just outside the range of the lens? Are they watching her, or oblivious to the tragdy about to occur?

Did she enter the pool by herself, or was she helped in? Or thrown in? Maybe she has a snorkel that we cannot see, and is she floating along looking at a pattern on the bottom of the pool. Come to think of it, is this indeed a pool, or is it the breakwater at the edge of the sea against which waves are roiling? Is the pattern on the surface merely disturbed water, or a reflection of what is on the bottom of the pool? Is this a tropical location, or a backyard in Michigan in the summer? Or somewhere else altogether?

If we shift perspective outward and create more distance, is this even a child? It could be an adult seen from high up, and this not a pool at all, but the ocean or a lagoon splashing up against cultivated land. Is the water disturbed from her body hitting the surface, or are these swirls actually mini-whirlpools clustered together? Or a disturbance caused by a creature beneath the water?

Once you start really examining the details, you’ll find it amazing how many directions your story could take.

Susan Tuttle

Comment? Your story ideas from this photo…

On Writing: “When I start a book, I always think it’s patently absurd that I can write one. No one, certainly not me, can write a book 500 pages long. But I know I can write 15 pages, and if I write 15 pages every day, eventually I’ll have 500 of them.”  ~John Saul

Using Symbols in Fiction Writing

At the morning session of my “What If? Writing Group” today, we got into an interesting discussion about symbols and the role they play in our stories. One of the students questioned the need for symbols at all, citing that she had never understood what teachers were talking about when she was in English class. Then she added that she never agreed with their interpretation of what the symbols in particular pieces of literature mean, anyway. She didn’t see any reason to mine her writing for possible symbols (See: Lesson #2 in Write It Right, Vol.2: Setting), and was totally resistant to the proposed exercise.

So, we talked about symbols and how they help to deepen our stories, weave inextricable connections, and clarify the underlying meaning to our readers.

Symbols, basically, are everywhere in our lives. One example Richard brought up is the wedding ring, and easily identifiable symbol of love, devotion and commitment. We also talked about the cross, used by today’s Christian society as a symbol of ultimate sacrifice: The giving one’s life for another.

Probably the best known symbol (though we rarely look at it as one) is Sex. It’s the symbol of physical perfection and allure; the symbol of being desirable; the symbol, if you will, of immortality through procreation. Advertisers use scantily-clad sex symbols of both genders to hawk cars, mouthwash, books, magazines, food, clothing, motorboats, vacation retreats—you name it, sex is part of the ads. Because sex sells.

From the time man began to walk upright, long before written records existed, symbols were our most effective form of communication. The caves in both Lascaux and Chauvet in France are filled with symbolic pictures of the story of the inhabitants’ lives. They still speak to us even thousands of years later.

Symbols are part and parcel of who we are as human beings. They touch upon the universal themes of life and impart a deeper understanding of what if means to be alive and human. When we write from our inner truth, from our subconscious mind, symbols will pepper our writing. We can’t help it; it’s how we are made, how we best communicate beneath the words and the syntax and the spelling. When we learn to analyze our writing for symbols, we can then use those symbols during the rewrite phase to strengthen those connections where needed, and add a symbolic thread where it might be missing. Since the symbols are already there, anyway, why not use them to best advantage, to communicate fully with our audience?

When we did the exercise, our protesting student discovered, to her surprise, not only one symbol as she expected, but about 8 of them in a short description of a setting she had done earlier. I don’t know if she has come around or not, but she definitely looked more thoughtful by the time class ended.

Being aware of our symbols and how they interweave through our stories help us to tell more vital and compelling tales. Symbols lift our writing from the ordinary closer to the extraordinary. They help make our writing unforgettable. And isn’t that what we want, as writers?

Here’s a great symbol: A quill pen – the symbol of a writer’s immortality…


Nighttime Cemetery

Here’s a great photo I found on  This one should really get your noir juices flowing. Even if you don’t normally write horror, sci-fi or noir, give this one a try. Stepping outside your comfort zone once in a while is a great way to bring some freshness back to your regular genre.

What a great location for a ghost story this place is. First of all, the grave markers are all ancient, dirty and worn. This obviously is not a new burial ground. It is old, deserted, unkempt—fertile ground for ghosts, spooks, ghouls and all sorts of paranormal phenomena to walk in the dark. Especially considering there already is a ghostly image in the upper left corner. No imagination needed. So, on the surface, this picture looks pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

But look closer. The headstone in the lower left has a blush of color on it. Why? What has caused it? Where did it come from? What does it mean? Why has the place been forgotten, deserted? What happened here to drive the people away? What is the source of the light, or do these stones emanate an inner glow of their own? Why do they cast no shadows?

Now check out the so-called “ghost image.” Are those arms reaching out? Perhaps they are pincers or tentacles of some sort. Or a ghost bird’s open beak, ready to close on—what? Or whom? And is that dark spot in the center of the mist an eye? Perhaps this is the ghost of a restless soul, or maybe some unearthly creature set loose in the dark of night. Or maybe it’s merely innocuous mist drifting over the deserted cemetary. Or not-so-innocuous mist. What might happen to those who encounter this mist?

Where is this cemetery? Near a populated town, isolated in the country or tucked into the mountains? On Earth, or another planet? Or maybe this is the haunted burial ground for a long lost civilization that dwelled far beneath the surface of the Earth.

It’s food for thought, and a whole meal for a story.

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

Word of the Week: Tenebrous. (Adj: Lat. tenebrosus, dark)

Definition: dark and gloomy, shadowy.

Synonyms: dark, obscure, somber, Stygian, black, lightless, murky.

Usage: The tenebrous sky seemed to weigh down on the land, slowing all creatures to a crawl.

Piscene Food Play

Here’s a photo from Roland Portillo of Cambria, California. He’s an extremely talented photographer I located through a friend from church, Midge Lenoue. She works in a dentist’s office and he’s a patient whose talent she admires. She put us in touch and Roland’s graciously allowed me to showcase his work on my blog. Take a look at his amazing photos at: I don’t know how long he spends to get just the right shot, but he certainly has a knack for capturing the quintessential moments of life.


What’s going on here? Is the cormorant catching the fish as it jumps out of the water, or is it playing with its food?  How aware is the fish of what is happening? How difficult is it for the bird to eat such a large catch?

Now take this one step further. If this were a setting, what kind would it be? A room, a building, an outdoor park or a forest? What is the atmosphere? How does it smell, taste, feel? What sounds do you hear in this place? What do the bird, the fish, the water, the act of death symbolize? How are they rendered in this setting? For example, the water could be a bed in a dark, undergound room. The fish could be the slick mossy shale that covers the floor. And so on.

It’s quite enlightening to take a natural act of survival and turn it into a setting for your story. Best of all, it comes with symbolism already built in, which can help you deepen the underlying meaning of your tale, and perhaps take you in directions you wouldn’t normally think of going.

Have fun!

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

(Hint from Write It Right, Volume 2—Settings: When searching for the right details to render your settings, always keep symbolism in mind. That helps you keep extraneous details out and leaves in only those that are most intrinsic to the story.)

The Shrouded Boat

Here’s a picture that I snapped of “The Rock” in Morro Bay, California, a huge rounded mountain of stone that juts up out of the ocean just off the shore. I thought it would be interesting to view this amazing formation through the forest of boat masts. But I got more than I bargained for when I put it up on the computer screen. I got something I hadn’t seen at the time, a mystery to solve through a story.


What fascinates me about this picture is that there is one boat shrouded in green coverings amidst the other fishing boats that are rigged and ready to sail. Why? What has happened to the owner of this boat? Why is this boat covered and deserted? Is it just that this boat is the last to be prepared for sailing in the spring? Or the first to be put to bed for the winter? Is the owner away on an extended vacation, or is something more insidious at work here?

The mystery deepens when you realize that here on the Central Coast of California, sailors don’t fold up for the winter. The Pacific coastal waters in this area are both fished and sailed for pleasure year round. Unless the boats are dry-docked for repairs, they are always ready to depart at a moment’s notice. So, why the shrouding of this boat?

And thereby hangs a tale…

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

(Hint from Write It Right, Volume 2—Setting: “Write what you know” doesn’t mean subject matter, it means emotion. Mine the depths of your life experiences when you write emotions to find those closest to what the characters are feeling.)

Firefighting Story

It’s not hard to imagine the story in this photo, taken by Aaron Kondziela at a night-time fire in Buffalo, New York ( This photo speaks for itself.

The image contains pathos, fear and urgency. For starters, who are the people in the foreground? Are they firefighters resting from the battle, or merely spectators? Or perhaps they are residents of the building, watching their homes or businesses go up in flames. What thoughts and emotions are they experiencing? What will happen once the fire is out?

How did the fire start? Was it arson? How long berfore it came under control? How much damage was there to adjacent buildings or homes? Perhaps one of the watchers is the one who set the fire.

Note the two cranes from which water is streaming. One appears outlined by blue neon lighting. Is that just a trick of the camera lens, or is the crane actually limned in neon? Perhaps this fire is a hundred years or so in the future, where firefighting companies distinguish their equipment with colored lights. They might even be paid by how many cranes they use. Or which company puts the fire out. This could be a battle between firefighting companies. If so, what rests on one comapny attaining victory over the flames before another one does?

And you thought it was just a picture of a fire, didn’t you?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this photo…

On Writing: “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” ~William Faulkner

The Cave Monster Character

Here’s a fabulous photo of a natural cave formation that I found on a travel website. (Check it out on—they have great location pictures that will spark all kinds of setting ideas.)

This picture holds a goldmine of ideas for stories and characters. I couldn’t believe it was an actual rock formation when I first saw it. What came through clearly to me was a fantastic monster head on a narrow stalk of a neck, with fags glistening in the light and scowling brows that overshadow slanted beady eyes. Instantly my sci-fi genes started shrieking in my metaphorical ear, “Oh! Oh! Character! Story!”

Could you ever dream up a better monster on your own? The lines, folds and fringes of rock suggest not only a fiend ready to devour someone, but also a whole planet somewhere far off in another galaxy. Or perhaps deep beneath our own Earth.

Ask yourself: Is this monster truly made of rock, or is what we see hard, scaly skin dripping with fur and stiff bristly hair? Does this creature eat people, or merely kill them? Is it intelligent, or does it act on pure instinct? Perhaps it is guarding a sacred space, a buried treasure, the secret entry to another dimension or world, or merely protecting its own lair. Is it someone’s twisted pet? What does the rest of its body look like? How big is it?

What if this monster were human, a mutation of some kind? Or what if this were the alter-ego of someone who looks and acts normally most of the time? What would trigger the appearance of his monster side? How would someone who loved him react? How would he react while in his monster persona to someone his human incarnation loved?

As you can see, sometimes photos give you not a story idea, but a fascinating character whose story you can tell. Our world is filled with unbelievable wonders that photographers capture on film and that offer writers fodder for a multitude of characters, settings and stories. But we have to learn how to look.

I’ve got lots more… stay tuned.

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this picture…

Word of the Week: Apotheosis (N. Lat. apo, change + theos [god])

Definition: Elevation to divine status; the perfect example

Synonyms: Acme, epitome, exemplar, ideal, paragon, perfection, role model

Usage: According to author Jay Asher, The Monster At The End Of The Book is the apotheosis of an unforgettable three-dimensional suspense story.

Athletes Down

I got this picture from Anna Unkovich, a great writer in her own right. She’s in my “What If? Writing Group” and has a unique perspective on life. She also takes fabulous pictures. This one really spoke to me. (Check Anna out at:


What is happening here? Is there a runner down, hidden behind the two we can see? Or is one of these two injured? Perhaps they’re just taking a break from their strenuous activity. Or maybe they’ve found something interesting or dangerous at the side of the track. It’s also possible they are praying in preparation for the meet.

Or is something more sinister going on? (Oh! My suspense/mystery roots are showing again!) Is something dead, or have they killed something or someone? If so, they do not seem to be worried about being seen by those beyond the fence. Or perhaps they are into dark magic and are conducting an arcane ritual of some kind.

It could be that they are not athletes at all, but simply workers fixing the track. The certainly are not dressed for running. But whoever they are, something has drawn them to this spot. What is hidden between them that they are contemplating with such concentration? Or is one of them sick and the other lending his support?

Lots of possibilities. Have fun with this one!

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this picture…

(I Recommend: Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. Not only a well-written, tightly-plotted romp into fun and danger, but also one of the most clever treatments I’ve ever read. Should be on everyone’s “Must Read” list! You’ll never look at amusement parks the same again.)