Use stock photos to generate story ideas

Love at the deskI once signed up for Bigstock’s five images per day plan at a special price that would save me money on stock photos I use for my social media sites. Five images a day seemed a little crazy, but the price was good and I figured I’d make use of them.

For a few weeks, it was easy: I started on holidays and special occasions and collected images to use throughout the year. I downloaded images to use for my Twitter and Facebook pages, as well as backgrounds and ornamental swirl vectors for my website. I also browsed photos of things I love: farm houses with big front porches, home offices, gardens, ancient doors, and home libraries. I downloaded those photos that resonate with me and make me happy.

I then started thinking about images I might want to use in blog posts. In order to find images, however, I had to make a list of future posts, something I’d put off for awhile. In studying stock photos and making my list, I found that my blogging interests tend to run toward relationship issues, emotions, recipes, and what I know about writing. Who knew that looking at stock images would lead to planning blog posts?

However, within the first month, I had run dry on post ideas and stock photos to use with them. I missed a day or two downloading, which bothered me because I had paid for the service up front.

As another morning arrived and I stared at the search bar and categories, I spotted a photo of a dark-haired woman in a white dress on the beach, staring off at the horizon. Who was she waiting for? Or had he left her? Another photo showed a woman, similar in looks to the first one, in a medieval gown hiding in the woods. I then spotted a dungeon-like scene with another female, same dark hair and looks, chained up. Other pictures had similar depictions, but these women had blonde hair.

Then I saw a slew of strange-looking people who looked like they might engage in dark, evil activities, and photos of fairy-like, magical scenes with orbs and fairy dust and stuff.


A story began to take shape: a historical fantasy involving two sisters, princesses set to marry princes from countries far, far away. The wedding day comes for the sisters but the princes have never shown up, and the ocean horizon grows ominous with black shadows. Soon the kingdom is sacked by evil enemies. Their parents die but the sisters flee through the forest, only to be captured and thrown in a dungeon. They almost succumb to the dark shadowy lifestyle of a sorceress and her daughters, but they escape, and, barely alive, find a magical lake that brings them strength and power.

The two princesses learn to fight and become skilled warriors who gather an army (of hot guys) to defeat the sorceress and take back their kingdom.

What fun! I selected photos that coincided with my storyline, or perhaps the storyline developed as I perused the photos. Either way, I spent three days searching and downloading pictures for a future novel.

I write in several different genres, so I pondered over a contemporary romance story idea. How about a secret baby plot? A broken and lonely soldier returns from war and finds the woman he still loves and thought he’d lost, and meets his child. Together the family can build a secure, love-filled life and live happily ever after. Stock photos of men holding infants abounded, and I had my pick for a cover or inside picture.

Family In Camouflage UniformI also like to write horror stories, so I browsed for horror photos. So came an idea for a fun-sexy-scary series called Perfect, which will be short stories about a seemingly perfect situation or person. I found cover photos for Perfect Escort, Perfect Mechanic, Perfect Housewife I and Perfect Housewife II, Perfect Camping Trip, Perfect Girlfriend, and Perfect Boyfriend.

Hit The Showers

Just when I think I’m used up on finding photos to generate story ideas, I see one and the trigger clicks. Invariably, I come across a standard, regular-looking stock photo that could be something sinister, a possible backdrop for a horror story. Like this photo of the man with the white towel. What’s under the towel? (Remember this is a horror story for Perfect Boyfriend.)

So that’s how it’s been working for me. I browse photos, a story idea pops up, and I write the tagline into Scrivener with the photo that triggered it. Later I’ll expand on the plot and build the story.

At the end of the plan, I canceled. The websites are up, I have plenty of make-me-happy photos to look at, and I really need to get to work writing the stories that all these photos generated.