Firing the imagination

I was reading some of the entries to the photo prompt that I run here on the blog every week. many of them are short poems or flash fiction…none of them are longer than a short story and all are economical with words, given the constraint of time and space.

It has often struck me how varied and individual the responses are to the photo prompt. What I have seen as suggestive of horror has produced humour and romance. Where I have seen beauty and mystery, others have been prompted to write horror. It is interesting to see what comes to the surface of a writer’s mind, particularly when you have come to know them, at least a little. Like ink-blots, a psychologist could have a field day with the variety of the entries, including my own. They would probably come to the wrong conclusions though, as the writer’s mind is a strange place and a law unto itself. The gentlest home-maker can write the most horrifying tale, while the real-life action hero is just as likely to be writing romances as thrillers.

What is even more interesting though is that, with each piece that you read, no matter how different from your own perception of the image, you can see exactly why the writer has written their story. Your preconceptions are suspended for a moment and, although your own perception may not ultimately change, you see through other eyes than your own and with a different understanding of the world while you are reading the tale. You may disagree with the interpretation. You may see something you have missed and have a lightbulb moment. You may simply enjoy the story. Whatever the effects, the shift in perspective is a literary mile walked in the shoes of the writer.

Poetry can cover everything from humour to abstract concepts. Short stories have time to give a fair bit of detail and background. You get the chance to explore characters and situations with a little depth, building a sense of place and atmosphere, little by little. With flash fiction, though, you have few words with which to tell a tale and, while for a reader that may or may not seem like a good idea, for a writer practicing brevity is always good discipline.

Wikipedia defines flash fiction as a “fictional work of extreme brevity, including the Six-Word Story, 140-character stories, also known as twitterature, the dribble (50 words), the drabble (100 words), and sudden fiction (750 words).” It goes on to cite the surprising antiquity of the technique as well as citing the idea that these very short pieces should imply a greater story behind the words. This last is, I think, what is so appealing about reading flash fiction when it is well done.

You get no more than a glimpse of a longer story, yet that glimpse tells you all that you need to know in order to construct that story for yourself. You have the main character, a hint of their personality and background, an idea of the problems they face and often, how they are going to solve them…or not. What amazes me is the mind’s ability to extract all these details from just a few meagre words and fill in the blanks, even as you are reading. By the time you have read, say, a hundred words, they have multiplied, in your imagination, into a novel.

I wonder how many books have been born from reading such snippets of stories? They are a rich source of inspiration and far too short to come close to plagiarism when their minimalist ideas are spun into a longer tale. Even stranger…just like the differing interpretations of an image, the backstories we each weave for these stories is uniquely our own. We lack the insight into the writer’s mind and may never know whether our own vision comes close to theirs.

I know that some of my own pieces of flash fiction have been read from vastly different points of view from the ones I intended. Does it mean I didn’t tell the story well enough to impose my own perspective or does it mean I left enough space for imagination to play and fill the gaps with your own fears and feelings? Does it matter?

For me, the job of a storyteller, no matter how long or short the tale, is to spark the imagination. As long as the reader is left thinking or feeling… the job is done.

All the images in this post have been used as photo prompts for the weekly #writephoto challenge, published on Thursdays. Do come along and join in!

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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68 Responses to Firing the imagination

  1. I have probably the equivalent of a very long book consisting of pieces of first chapters of books never written. I love fiction, all fiction, but I don’t write it well. Every once in a blue moon, I get an idea, but mostly, I write about what I know or what interests me. I think i must suffer from excessive pragmatism. I’m sure no one will know what that means because I don’t know what it means, either.

    Yet I love everyone else’s fiction. That probably means something, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I admire anyone with the imagination to write a book…or the honesty to write memoirs… or humour…or…
      I don’t think most of us value our imaginations enough. The best readers have an imagination that can create those stories and live them, yet we still doubt our ceative abilities 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Erik says:

      Writing itself is worthwhile, Marilyn, whether you “finish” or not. And, ironically, you could probably compile those “first chapters” into a book (called, for instance, First Chapters), publish it — and you’d likely have an audience for it!

      Keep writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael says:

    This is a great post Sue. You are right the variety of responses to the photos is always fascinating. Many years ago I learned that each person’s response comes from within the context of their lives. At the time I had poetry published in a few local journals. I attended a conference during which an esteemed Professor of English gave his response to one of my poems. I was blown away because what he saw was nothing like what I had in mind at the time of writing and I struggled to understand his meaning. Years later I learned about context from an even more esteemed Professor. He taught me to listen to other’s interpretations and to marvel that my words had elicited such a response.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I learned the same through painting, Michael. Most of my pictures held a story symbolic for me… when people asked me what I meant by it, instead of answering, I asked them what it said to them. Not only were their responses uniquely personal, but I also learned an awful lot from them babout human nature.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I love the piece about poetry oh my word it’s good writing

    Liked by 1 person

  4. TanGental says:

    So true Sue. People see so much in simple imagery.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You have put into words exactly what I have been thinking. You will be happy to know that my Michael has come up with an idea for this week’s prompt.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ritu says:

    I totally agree Sue, all our different takes can spark so much within us!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. willowdot21 says:

    I do love the photo prompt Sue and your photos have got me thinking always. As you know I am doing a mini saga in the form stream of consciousness . I use my characters as the photo prompts. Yet reading what you have said i am wondering if I am doing the wrong thing. What you say makes so much sense , brevity ! I just wander am i being selfish and rambling.
    Like you i am always enthralled by all the different takes on the themes​ you set us. Then your entries too which are always brilliant and thought provocing. 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sangbad says:

    Sue, I’m here in WP for near to six months…out of these for last four or five months I follow your Photo Prompt…I might have missed one or none in these months and everytime every Thursday I look for your prompt…what you say I agree on that…yes many a time a simple picture had given a lot of different interpretation…another point I agree on and that is the novel part…my novella Captive, that I serialized in my blog, had its seed sown after I wrote a 100-words for aa photo prompts of yours…thanks Sue for organizing this Prompt and giving all of us a moment to stretch our imagination….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post. I do wonder if any of the prompt responses I see around the blogs have turned into longer works. People have made stories from less like a single phrase or just one word that births an idea. Never know what will be the trigger.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. memadtwo says:

    Your photos always have a lot to say, as the varied responses show. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. trentpmcd says:

    It is fun reading the stories from the challenges I do. The other big one i do is more fiction, while yours seems to get a lot of poetry. I used to follow a music forum. We had challenges where someone would put up a single melodic phrase and everyone wrote music using that phrase. Nobody came up with anything at all similar! (The piece i posted on my music recap (not the prelude) was from one of those challenges. All of the challenges make us stretch to do them and then stretch again as we see how others interpreted the challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      That sounds like a great idea, Trent. I used to be part of a poetry challenge where we each added two lines…that thew up some wonderful things too.


    • Erik says:

      You’ve made me miss the “old days” when I had lots of musical friends in the area and songwriting collaboration was on the regular. There was also a site, getting on 20 years ago, called TONOS where various musical collaborators were given such lyrical prompts, a theme, a song track, etc., and then asked to singly or collaboratively submit new works based on those. Lots of fun. Nothing I know of quite like it anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love to read some of the different takes your prompts provoke. As you said Sue, they say different things to different people! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Rae Longest says:

    This was very informative and interesting to me. I learned some new terms thanks to your Wikipedia search. I never thought of looking them up, although I’d heard of them more than once. TY for the new/old resource.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jennie says:

    I read this, then reread it slowly. Your thought process is spot on. Writing can be understood in different ways by readers. But, as long as the imagination is fired, that’s what matters. Now, can you understand what happens when I tell stories and read-aloud in the classrooms? It’s really no different.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I LOVE to do these! I just don’t get to do them often enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Writing Links 4/17/17 – Where Genres Collide

  17. Erik says:

    From your post::”What is even more interesting though is that, with each piece that you read, no matter how different from your own perception of the image, you can see exactly why the writer has written their story. Your preconceptions are suspended for a moment and, although your own perception may not ultimately change, you see through other eyes than your own and with a different understanding of the world while you are reading the tale. You may disagree with the interpretation. You may see something you have missed and have a lightbulb moment. You may simply enjoy the story.”

    In keeping with your insights, Sue, I saw something completely different in this than perhaps was intended. Especially in light of my two most recent posts, I found myself thinking, “If only we as humans could take this approach with each other — viewing one another as artists, our differences as wonderful expressions of creativity and nuance — or, at the very least, could read others lives and ‘simply enjoy the story.'”


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