What a Photograph Can Teach You About Writing Success

writing success

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Whether you are trying to improve your prose, pad out those one dimensional characters or simply keep your ever expanding plot together, you can learn a lot about writing success from studying a good photo. Any great image, like a memorable piece of writing, needs to be well composed, create a mood and illicit the right emotion in the viewer.

Great photos stand out, get shared, make news, get made into posters and adorn walls. They get people talking and can even change the way we look at the world.

All the main components that make a brilliant image can be also be found in the memorable books that adorn our shelves. From To Kill a Mockingbird and Ulysses to The Great Gatsby, these seminal works all have certain characteristics in common.


The difference between an ordinary image and a truly inspiring one is undoubtedly found in its composition. It’s all about how the different elements are glued together and provide a feast for the eyes and brain. A book or short story, even a news article or opinion piece, is no different. In writing you might call this structure or plot but it’s a lot more nuanced than that. Just as the composition of a photo is about the overall effect, the small elements within the image and how they hang together are also important. In books, it’s not just the plot but the paragraphs and the sentences, even individual words.

The Difference Light Makes

Nowhere is the impact of light more important than in photography. Take a picture of a landscape iwhen the sun is high and you’ll probably end up with something fairly ordinary. Visit that same scene at dusk or dawn when the contrasts and colours are so much deeper and you could end up with a photograph that lives long in the memory. In writing too, the different shades of your prose are important. It’s the difference between bland, uninteresting text and words that come alive on the page. Writing success here is all about choosing the right words, the correct length length of sentences, the depths of descriptions, and the colour of the language.

Creating Mood

All the great photographs create mood. It can be seen in a piece of photojournalism that elicits a response such as fear, anger, anxiety. You find it in landscapes which leave you in awe or feeling at peace with the world and personal images that make you smile, laugh or cry. Photographs can give the impression of great distances, speed, energy and stillness. The same is true in writing. Your words are supposed to deliver a certain mood, make your readers feel scared, invigorated, worried, combative, joyous, even perplexed.

Right Place, Right Time

To take a good photo you have to be in the right place at the right time. You have to click that shutter button at exactly the right moment. Miss it and that perfect image is lost for all time. In writing it’s making sure that you choose the right devices for your plot to move forward, you pick the best characters to tell your story and you choose the right beginnings and ends.

Writing Success, Photography and Focus

Most great images will have one strong focal point, a part of the photo from which everything else seems to flow or is drawn into. Take this away and the image is nothing but an average snap of the world. Take any great piece of writing and there is a central focus around which everything else revolves. It’s an event, a location or a particular character or set of characters. To make your book or short story successful it needs to be clear, strong, vibrant, memorable. It can’t be watered down, veiled and weakened by unnecessary content.

It’s easy to snap a photo. Just look on Instagram if you want proof. It’s also pretty easy nowadays to write a book too. Is the image you’ve taken and posted online a great one? Are the words you write and the books or stories you publish going to inspire your readers? Have you done everything you can to make it stand out from the crowd?

I’ll leave you with an inspiring quote from F Scott Fitzgerald:

“You don’t write because you want to say something. You write because you have something to say.”


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