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Do you like Old stuff? #Inspiration

Inspirring photographs for fiction

Pictures for Fiction Inspiration

One of the most fascinating pieces of news for me last week was the New York Public Library releasing 180,000 copyright-free material. I’ve been looking at some of it when I’ve had time, and have had the most bizarre dreams!

I have often written stories based on visual writing prompts and phrases, but this is an incredible treasure. I lost a good hour yesterday to this Egyptian collection.

Lately, I find that the visual inspires the literal in me like nothing else.Β  I’ve become a fan of Pinterest and Instagram, because sometimes pieces of flash fiction come to me in a flash. Nostalgia can be a big source of inspiration.

What inspires you? Do you ever get lost in old pictures, albums, books?

Do you look at pictures and wonder at the stories behind them? Can you link me to interesting pictures that I could use as writing prompts?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Rob40 says:

    Inspiration comes from single pictures or mental images yes, but when you put two random ones together, then you can have some bizarre and amazing ideas. Try picking out two random images from that big pile and see what you can work with putting those together. Could be impossible or the greatest idea in history. Like discovering plutonium at home.

  • I know it pretty much doesn’t matter that way when one follower gets added to the huge pile you possess…Yet as a token this goes out for you..I nominate you for the blogging award…

  • Ha! It’s amazing how a picture, passing phrase, ad. on TV can bring on a literary creative deluge! Great article. Thank you!

  • I love old stuff, because whenever I saw them there’s always a memory which is hidden there, a good or bad memory. By seeing old stuff, I can remember who I really am

  • sonorasam says:

    I find my inspiration comes in flashes. Those flashes are based on what I’m reading as well as situations I find myself in.

  • Going backwards here: I found an old painting that was the perfect cover for my novel A Place in the World. I feel it tells the reader what the story is about before you even open the book. (I use it as my logo at left). If I had found it first it WOULD have inspired me to write!

  • dgkaye says:

    Ooh, I love nostalgia, old photos, historical landmarks, and more! Yes, they are like blatant word prompts in our faces, begging for a new story to be told. πŸ™‚

  • Ooh yes well Celtic Iron Age Wales has got me in its grips at the mo am loving doing the research! Funny how when you focus on a topic it appears everywhere!

  • macjam47 says:

    Old objects. diners in historic places are very inspiring.

  • I love digging through my family’s old pictures. They are from as far back as the turn of the century.

    If you haven’t seen the virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel, it’s gorgeous–

  • Good article, and music inspires me. Feeling and getting lost in each song. πŸ™‚

  • Trinity says:

    Good article! What inspires me? It might be easier to answer if you were to ask, “What doesn’t inspire me”! Inspiration can be found literally everywhere, from the colour or shape of a flower, a building, a news article, history, a piece of clothing caught in the breeze, a mood, a song, to a dozen other minute details seen all around us… all we need do is stop and look! πŸ™‚

  • John says:

    Music fuels my writing, but I have on occasion looked at a photo and went, “Well, now I have an idea for a story.”

  • How strange, I was with my family at the weekend and we were looking through old family items. We found a bowl given to my grandmother in Kota Bharu when my grandfather retired from the civil service there. The date is in arabic, but the writing is Malayan (I have a dish with the same inscription) – it may only be a written form of the date, but we would love to read it. I wondered if maybe you could help. I don’t know how to upload a picture here… I will email to your stories email address.

  • Oh dear! Tell me about losing hours on Pinterest and other photo sites! Will keep a look out for sites for you, Damyanti.

  • LOL I spent several hours this past weekend on that site. I also like looking at old film on the British Pathe site. I set out to write something, do a little research, and end up spending hours poring over archives.

  • I find a good blog post or article to be inspiring. Somehow, Pinterest and Instagram fail to do it for me.

    Who was it who said that males are motivated more by the visual LOL.

  • Grandtrines says:

    Reblogged this on Still Another Writer's Blog.

  • I’m right there with you. The right visual prompt works wonders. I have a dual screen monitor system–one for visual prompts and research notes, and the other for the story I’m writing. It’s an especially effective system to keep me working and attentive to my inspiration.

  • marypamela says:

    I am also inspired by pictures or newspaper articles. An overheard phrase will also get me going and wondering how I can use that character in a story. πŸ™‚

  • Maliny Mohan says:

    I am also inspired by visuals. A particular news on T.V or something I read on newspaper. Images too ignite the itch in me to write. Good post as always:)

  • Paul J. Stam says:

    I just wanted to thank you for letting know you liked my post, excerpt 4 from Murder Sets Sail.
    Again, thank you and Aloha -pjs/

  • hi Damyanti,
    Yes Pinterest has become a favorite spot to not only stimulate my imagination but to also find images to share with students πŸ™‚
    Plus it is fun to rummage around a library’s worth of material without having to journey there directly.
    See you on twitter too!

  • lgwhite67 says:

    I hate to admit that bleak urban landscapes seem to push me to write more. I just returned from Cleveland yesterday, and I have been looking over photos I took and the words are just coming and coming.

  • emaginette says:

    I do, but mostly on Facebook. Pinterest is something I need to learn more about. πŸ™‚

  • I like Japanese woodblock art, especially landscapes with people in them, for inspiration for story/pov poems. Hokusai and Hiroshige are best.

  • ccyager says:

    I’ve used old postcards for inspiration. Photographs of people move me more than of places or things. Another source of inspiration is simply watching people on a daily basis. The NYPL treasure trove will keep lots of writers busy for a while, I imagine! Cinda

  • That’s a wonderful way to get inspired. I do not necessarily get inspired by seeing things online, unfortunately. Rather when I sit at a cafe, look at the interior, something may catch my eye. That’s why I like to go to different places.

  • I love looking at old pictures and thinking of stories behind them, if they are not mine.

  • No I find visuals to fit the story I’ve already written not the other way around. πŸ™‚ I may go for a week focused on things other than writing but one day there’ll be a sudden influx of memory events I’ve experienced in the past which have to come out, or I may suddenly have the outline of a fictional story in my mind which is not based on past experience. When that happens I have no interest in anything but writing no matter how long it takes to get it all out of my head.

  • Birgit says:

    Oh I love looking at old pictures and albums. I love looking at old pictures that end up at flea markets and wonder who these people were. I love old postcards too. Of course, I love old movies especially the Silents. Actually, when I visit my mom at the long term care home, there are many old people who just lie there and can no longer speak. They are in between worlds and I wonder who these people were when they were young. My mom’s roommate is 103 but she is lying in bed probably wishing she could be free…who was she? I know she was born in 1912, the year the Titanic sunk and 2 years before the First World war began. She was 20 in 1932…Makes me think

  • Love old pictures and picture prompts. I’ll have to check out that free material.

  • chunyue says:

    The Old is definitely a huge source of inspiration for me, though I love the shock of energy from the New πŸ™‚ As for images, I agree with that too – will never forget the effect Steve McCurry’s portrait book had on me. I also find that scents can be extremely evocative, although much less often.

  • I can imagine diving into all those old works would be very inspiring! Yes, nostalgia is a great source of creative inspiration.


  • RSGullett says:

    Every old object has a story to tell about a person(s). The best are the untold stories about ordinary people.

  • Dan Antion says:

    Antiques, particularly antique tools are always inspiring. I can’t recommend specific photos but if you find something you like in my Flickr photos, you’re welcome to use it

  • Old, antique, unusual, yup, I inspires me.

  • rxena77 says:

    Music inspires me which makes helpful to me. I was writing a scene in my new Opus about a man experiencing being in the first dirigible airship as it rises to the skies — when Bach’s Cello Suite No.1-The Prelude (made popular by One Republic’s SECRETS) played — and the scene unfolded in my mind.. Here is Jennifer Thomas playing it (2:06) — As always an intriguing post. πŸ™‚

  • Nostalgia is a WONDERFUL tool for creative inspiration. Being in that transition between childhood and adulthood, I’ve found most of my thoughts stem from a sentimental, wistful place–a place that longs for the past. I find it interesting to explore those feelings, because they say a lot about me as a human being. I often wonder if I’m not as alone as I think in that regard…

  • Yes! I love old objects and photographs. I get a lot of inspiration from images. I always have Pinterest boards for my stories to help me with ideas. πŸ™‚

  • TanGental says:

    I just posted about visual inspiration. I wrote 30 stories in November and about 25 were visually inspired. So yep I’m like you Damyanti

  • Ofcourse! i am a dreamer. Always lost in the past. Old books, albums, gifts, broken toys anything

  • Some of the greatest writers inspire me: Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf, and Maya Angelou–just to name a few. The instances and scenarios in my life spark my brain as well. I inspire myself a lot with various activities that I participate in on a daily basis as well.

  • While I love to pore over old photos, I can’t say that I’ve ever been inspired by a picture. I think the closest I’ve come was via the muse of photography. It was a photo of a black family in a farm wagon pulled by a mule. It was in a pre-1950 National Geographic Magazine. The woman in the wagon is looking directly at the photographer, and if looks could kill, that picture would never have been taken.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – I love looking at old pictures etc … but my inspiration seems to come from something that interests me and I want to find out more – then that leads me to something else .. or I tie similar ‘stories’/ articles together and post – then I search for photos to match my post subjects …

    But I can easily lose myself in Museums, at talks etc .. inspiration I can glean all the time – guess I’m lucky that way .. cheers Hilary

  • here place for have fun in finding many thing in digital collection of new york public library.

  • Shailaja V says:

    One of the best weekly photo prompt sites i Friday Fictioneers. Another is Sunday Photo Blog, I think. Visuals are my best triggers for flash fiction. Absolutely love them!

  • Sometimes pictures will inspire. More often the images in a movie will give me ideas. Or music. Since I’m a musician, that’s probably my greatest source.

  • This is like totally awesome. I definitely could lose myself in these images. Just quickly checking it out, I just randomly pulled up a letter — Letter to Dr. [William] Gordon [Roxbury, Mass.]. Have no idea who this is, what the letter about (have to download it in order to read the handwriting), but just seeing this communication from another time gets the gears in the mind going.

    I can understand why your dreams have gotten bizarre. πŸ™‚

    I used to have a Tumblr site that I collected images from other Tumblr accounts (some original works sits, some reblogs sites) for enjoyment and inspiration. Yet in order to keep me focused on my blog and the WP community I’ve made a sort of vow to avoid Tumblr (inc. deleting my site) because I could just spend hours checking out the images and reblogging them.

    I’d have to say right now that the key place I go to find inspiration for writing is WP, from the blogs I follow and who follow me. Sometimes commenting on someone’s post or reading a comment on a post of mine can provide an inspirational spark.

    I also have my own photographs to provide inspiration. Regardless of how “good” of a photographer one believes one’s self to be, not only can the images be inspirational, but the (aimless) wandering looking for something to photograph, the way it makes one see the landscape differently (even one’s own neighborhood block), the way it lets the mind wander and giving the subconscious a chance to bubble up to the surface.

  • shoreacres says:

    I just received my copy of “The Devil’s In The Cows,” written by one of my longtime blog friends in 2011. He picked random photos from the Library of Congress, and then wrote flash fiction pieces about them. You can see more about it here. It really is a fine book, and he’d be a fine blog for you to follow. You’ll not find an ounce of received wisdom about writing there, which I find quite refreshing.

  • The scent of nostalgia found in old pictures, books and stories of history has its own appeal. A no of my posts are inspired by the 19th century. πŸ™‚

  • bdaiken says:

    My current novel was promoted by sitting in a cafe watching two people talk and wondering what they were talking about.

  • rileyjfroud says:

    I love looking at old pictures, but I’ve never written from them. It’s something I’d like to try.

  • Arlee Bird says:

    I love looking at old stuff. I can spend hours in museums. I’m fascinated by old houses and buildings and abandoned pieces of the past. Since my mother’s death I’ve found myself engrossed by the boxes of memorabilia that I’ve sifted through. About 60% of the movies I watch these days are older black and white films pre-1960.

    Arlee Bird