Photo Writing Prompt: Find Your Story in a Painting

by Monica M. Clark | 13 comments

Have you heard of Girl With a Pearl Earring?

Photo Writing Prompt: Find Your Story in a Painting

It's a painting by a 17th Century Dutch painter named Johannes Vermeer. Author Tracy Chevalier first saw it when she was 19 and couldn't stop thinking about it. Who was the girl in the painting? How did she get there?

Painting to Novel to Movie

Tracy was so inspired, she wrote a whole novel about the painting called Girl With a Pearl Earring. Ultimately, it was turned into a movie starring Scarlett Johansson.

If you haven't listened to Tracy's TED Talk “Finding the story inside the painting,” go listen to it now! It's a great reminder about why we do these writing prompts and the fact that inspiration is everywhere.

And of course, here's your writing prompt:

Photo by Dystopos

What photos and paintings have inspired you? Let us know in the comments.


Take fifteen minutes to tell the story of what you see in the photo, which includes an image of the famous Girl With a Pearl Earring in the background. Share in the comments section, and don't forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

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Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).


  1. Saul Marchant

    I was talking about this exact thing with my partner at the weekend. She’s an artist and I often find myself looking at her work, wondering about the story in the painting.

  2. P. Earls

    The others push against me as I stand at the edge of the road. Men in strange suits and women wearing pants with short-unbound hair push me onto the road. I fight to get back to the familiar sights behind me but get swept forward.

  3. Renette Steele

    Several years ago when i started looking for writing groups there was a guy who about twice a month would post a photo for us to write about, The first thing that came to mind. I loved these exercises and miss them they are such fun.

    Being placed on this corner, she know not by who or why, but she began to notice the activity of those who went by, So often they were so busy scurrying here and there they paid her little if any attention.Once in a great while one would stop and stair. She so wanted to tell them her story. How she once was happy and full of life. How that life took a sudden turn with out warring. From fancy balls and every convenience to hiding and running for her very life and that of her unborn child. The one destine to be Queen.
    But there was an evil in the land who did not want to see that happen in this life time or hers. We ran in the dead of night and are running still. I must give this sweet child up the minute she is born that she may have a chance to live. Oh, she won’t know the finery, I have known but she will also not know this fear.
    The person watching me as i watch them, can they hear my tail? Can they know my sorrow? Have they seen my child? does she live?

  4. Cathy Ryan

    I enjoyed the TED talk. Thank you for the suggestion. I’d not considered story and art the way she does. Here’s my effort:

    They hurry, mother and daughter, in step, not speaking to
    one another, not even glancing at each other lest one or the other begins to
    weep and then they both will – again. Grateful for the headwind that distracts
    them with coats that must be clutched, that buffets and blows, its blows more
    easily borne than that they must face together. Grateful for the racket of
    hammer-drill and machinery that tears the ground as their hearts have been torn
    and makes conversation impossible. They ignore the temptation to glance aside
    at the painting, a mask to cover ugliness of a sidewalk rent asunder, lest even
    that small distraction might weaken their resolve. Too long they have looked
    aside. Now, it must be done. It must. Quick marching toward one more, one last
    visit. Quickly now. Quick.

  5. Christine

    I actually just wrote a story based on a picture I downloaded from Pixabay. I find some neat writing prompts going through their offerings. I’ll tweak it and post it here as my response to your photo:

    “Are you sure?” Tammy stared at the older man sitting the sidewalk café across the street.

    I’m positive” Angie whispered as she and her friend hurried to catch the WALK light. “I got a good look at him when I came past before. That is indeed Rock-Conner, our teen idol!”

    “But that old guy’s bald and wrinkled! Rock-Conner was gorgeous — and had a thick mop of hair.”

    Angie snorted. “Back when we were twelve, twenty-five years ago. I saw an article about him recently; apparently he still does some concerts.”

    “Remember how the girls all screamed and swooned over him. My cousin Janet vowed she’d marry Rock-Conner someday. I loved his wild psychedelic outfits!” Tammy eyed the man’s grey slacks and pale shirt. “Can’t be the same guy.”

    “Have you looked in a mirror lately, friend? We’ve toned down a lot, too.” Angie laughed. “And remember when my nickname was Twiggy?”

    Tammy sighed. “Yeah. I guess middle age catches up with all of us — even our teen idols.”

  6. anoush abroumian

    She looked straight at the scene emerging in front of her, enveloped in brightness and slowly acquiring the visage of life. Though she could follow the patterns of new lines sprouting and intersecting with adjacent ones to form the shapes of buildings divided by streets and cars parked near pavements, she was faintly aware of other scenes in different locations, numerous ones that seemed to exist simultaneously in her mind. It was her consciousness that was divided into portions that each inhabited every recreation of her painting, whether on screen or paper. She was the Girl With a Pearl Earring famously painted by Johannes Vermeer. He had captured her countenance so acutely that since the time the painting had been completed, through its long lasting admiration in the art community and subsequent multiple recreations, her consciousness lived on and viewed the world in its ever-turning cycle of evolution.

  7. Cassie Landrum

    She stared over her shoulder, heart broken. Lives lay waste without even knowing, but she could see. She could see everything. Desperation hidden behind things. Loneliness disguised by the surrounding throng. Hopelessness in the guise of bravado. Sadness. Emptiness. Longing. There was only one path to take and she knew it. One path away from the pain. If she cried out would anyone listen? Would anyone see?

    Will future generations finally understand, or continue their trek to oblivion?

  8. Beth Schmelzer

    Great prompt idea, Monica. I live not far from you in Annapolis, MD. Another author who uses paintings and art in her literary fiction is Susan Vreeland. Each member of my book club has loved her novels. My favorite is “The Forest Lover” about Emily Carr who lived in Canada and Alaska, where she was inspired in her art and poetry by Totem Poles! I cannot let a day pass without recommending at least one book or author. Thanks for your inspiration!

  9. Velana

    “She blinked.” Jamie said to her best friend, Honesti. “I swear.” Honesty just rolled her eyes. “Seriously J, if you’re trying to creep me out again, I swear i’m going to-” “There! See! Did you see that?!? That painting is alive!” Honesty rolled her eyes so far back into her head, Jamie was certain she could see the couple behind them. “Stop it Jamie. Seriously.” Then she stopped. “Honesti?” Her friend didn’t move a muscle. “Honesti. Earth to Honesti!” “Look.” Honesti hissed. The painting was gone. Jamie shuddered. The day was getting weirder and weirder. “L-l-look. Let’s just get to the concert, and it’ll all be over right? Right?” “Right.” Honesti huffed. “Totally.” “Taxi!” Jamie called. “Taxi!” a taxi rolled by. Jamie could have sworn she heard someone whisper, “Help me.”

  10. TerriblyTerrific

    I saw that movie. It was good. And, I just never knew! Thank you.

  11. Marta Garcia

    Thanks for this post!
    I’m currently in a writing challenge of 365 days: one story a day and drawings and paintings are my constant source of inspiration. Mostly from pinterest and usually digital concept art. It’s vague and misterious!

  12. Kairo Haney

    I really like this,article because it remind me of time I took Art history one semester back. One of
    the course’s assignment was attend a art gallery,study and write about the painting that inspire,
    you. At first I thought it was a waste of time,now I understand how it can help you with writing exercising. Off course I enjoyed the TED Talk. Thank you for this article bring back memories.

  13. Victoriana

    You could say that my position here today is a case of my nose being out of joint – literally and figuratively.

    Fancy putting me on the side of a noisy building site. Where is the dignity in that?

    Yes, I know I am just on a poster advertising the film and perhaps I should be grateful someone wrote about me and their writing was made into a film. I am certainly famous, so that is welcome given I came into being in an artist’s imagination hundreds of years ago but still- a bit of consideration for my position and status please.

    Apart from anything else it is cold and windy here and when the sun does decide to come out, once a day for about half an hour, it shines so brightly I squint. That is not a good look when I am meant to be wide eyed and attractive now is it?

    IT is also pretty obvious that the bill poster has no sense of photographic expertise. Just take a look at that pole sticking out of the top of my head.

    I am not happy. What with the construction bangs and crashes that are very unsettling to my nerves, as well as the dreadful whining noises, said by one passer by to be electric drills, electric, whatever is that?

    Then there is the wind, the rain and sometimes even snow. Add the horrible smell of the petrol that another walker complained about as they turned the corner. Petrol? Again, what on earth is that? Is it some sort of essence, a perfume? Surely no perfume could ever smell so disgusting.

    I have been in this position before though, pasted up with a big brush at the back of me. Sticky and wet until the paper dries out and then often becoming itchy, either from dryness or for heaven’s sake from insects eating the stuff for their dinner.

    I know the discomfort won’t last more than a few weeks before I either fall into tatters piece by piece or someone suddenly looms up and rips me down.

    One thing I do not want to contemplate is the lazy bill posters who have the nerve to cover me over, me, a famous woman, with that sticky paste, slapping it all over my face, my hair and the jewel, my pearl, and then sticking another poster right on top of me.

    In cases like that I will then bemoan the loss of the daylight, wind and the sun and the ability to watch the people hurry by. It is like being covered, suffocated by a blanket and hidden from the view of all the passers-by that I really I do enjoy. Even those impertinent ones who makes foolish remarks about my headdress, my flowing scarf and even my brown velvet coat.

    I must regard the happier side. it could be worse. No one so far has come up with the idea of printing me onto a dormant. To be stood on for eternity by dirty, heavy feet, now that would be something to complain about!


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