It is a difficult process being able to build a story from your own mind and imaginings, but if you struggle to visualise how a scene will play out or the details on your character’s face, your reader will also struggle.

Using visual aids such as photographs, maps, household items, and even YouTube videos give you the ability to hold and investigate what it is you’re writing about. Not only does this make it fun for you, but it also develops your writing, making it stronger and more realistic.

Below is only a short list of ideas, some of which we will be exploring further on our blog.

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Henry Frank said “When people look at my pictures I want them to feel the way they do when they want to read a line of a poem twice.” As a reader, you know exactly what Henry describes; to be so inspired and connected to a piece of writing is something we, as writers, continuously strive for. Here, Henry says that this exact feeling can be recreated when looking at a photograph. When you study a photo, not only does it capture a moment in time that can never be recreated, it also holds secrets that are waiting for writers to discover.

To put this into action when writing, choose a certain section where you have written about an object, a setting, or a person. Find a photo relating to this- break out the family photo album, skim through a magazine, or even take to Google. Study the photograph, noting down the main features of the image. Write down questions about what’s happening in the scene. Note the mood of the people present. Use the colours of a landscape or sunset to write your setting description.

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Readers and writers are natural adventurers. To hear of a faraway island or a remote cove only the locals know the name of opens our minds and makes us inquisitive. J.R.R Tolkein uses this to his advantage. The Lord of the Rings trilogy begins with a map and the entire journey is based around the possibilities of where one map (and one ring, of course) could take a restless Hobbit from the Shire. In fact, a lot of adventures start with a map. When Robert Louis Stevenson and his father drew a map of a fictional Caribbean island, he sparked a legendary tale of pirates and adventure in Treasure Island, not to mention the tale of a group of lost boys and one eternally young boy and his trips to Neverland.

If opening a map sparks questions, flip this to create questions for your reader. Plan the city you have unleashed your characters into; draw the building your protagonist (your main character) works in. Seeing this on the page makes your story clearer for you, but at the same time allows you to conceal details from your readers- making the big reveal (great for mysteries) or the victory of finding the missing murder weapon (perfect for horrors) even more shocking.

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One of the most inspiring moments in a Creative Writing class started with a box. The box, brown in colour and around 200cm high, was passed around the class for each person to take in identical details. There was nothing special about the box, nothing distinguishing it from any other box we had ever seen before. The only question written on the board and answered one-by-one was this: What is this? Laughing, and mildly offended, the class responded with the obvious answer: A box.

Of course, this was true but it wasn’t the only answer. You see, if you forget that you are aware of the box’s initial identity, you begin to consider its alternate uses: a container, a hideaway, part of a spaceship, a doorway to a new dimension, a box full of memories your character doesn’t have the heart to throw away. In real life, an object is just an object, but when you write, you open up a world where an object can transform into anything or be used for any purpose. It’s up to you to change the question from what is this? to what can I do with this?

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In recent years, technology has been accused of taking over our lives. For writers however, technology has opened up a door, a window and a roof so we can explore and create to our heart’s content. One of the best ways to spend time online if you’re in need of a visual aid for your writing is through videos on YouTube. They are instant snippets which you can view whenever you need an extra hand.

Let’s say that you’ve created a character who visits Paris on a school trip and your character overhears information from a man planning on using their classmates as accomplices in a robbery. The man brags that it will take place in the Louvre when the children arrive in front of the Mona Lisa. However, you have never been to the Louvre and you have no idea what the room looks like. Without this knowledge, you cannot plan your character’s escape route or a plan to fool the robber. An image of the floor plan in the gallery may work but instead, how about watching a virtual tour? A quick search on YouTube and Louvre virtual videos (243,000 of them to be exact) are at your disposal.

Other videos we love for building great writing:

  • Accents and dialects.
  • Tutorials in skills: hair, card tricks, dancing, instruments.
  • Social experiments- see how people react in different situations.

If you have another fun way of using visual aids to help you write, please get in touch!