Pareidolia and Writing


One of my most vivid memories of primary school here in New Zealand is of the ‘creative writing’ period; an hour in the day wherein we’d do nothing but write. Perhaps that’s a little bit of an exaggeration; this was at a time when we were earning our ‘pen licence’ (you were only given permission to write in pen if you were ‘neat’ enough) and essentially learning how to properly form letters.

Thankfully, having lived and gone to school for a couple years in Europe, I had very neat and tidy handwriting and as such was not subjected to the writing ‘tests’, instead I was to either do more creative writing or learn to touch-type; I chose the former.

I was given a photo, one with a rather ambiguous subject or weird distortion and asked to write a story about it. One of the first ones I was given, I clearly remember, was of bubbles that, in the light of the sun, appeared bright purpled. I can’t quite remember what I wrote about but I suspect there was an alien or two involved.

One day I was given a photo of clouds; nothing but a blue sky filled with two mammoth puffs, like exhalations from a giant on a cold day, of white candy-floss. As I gazed into those two white clouds I began to see shapes, people mostly but animals too, and so I spun my story.

It’s quite fascinating how the mind can create shapes, images and stories from completely ambiguous images. Pareidolia, the phenomena is called; the ability to perceive patterns where there are none.


Photos, of any sort (whether they’re ambiguous or not), are fantastic prompts for us visual writers. They let our imagination run amok; free of the potentially constrictive nature of our words. Our imagination doesn’t need words to work, it just needs ideas, concepts, images and perhaps the occasional thought.

The best thing I did for my writing in 2013 (or so) was signing up for a Pinterest account. There I created ‘boards’ (collections of photos or images) for many things but primarily for inspiration. But it’s been a long time that I’ve dragged a story from a picture instead of using them as an aid, a visual crutch. Perhaps I ought to try it again.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 17.34.31

Have you ever pulled a story from a photo?

Thanks for reading,


Photos from (in order of appearance) Bella at ArtClubBlogtheaucitron, Other Wordly and my Pinterest profile.


5 thoughts on “Pareidolia and Writing

  1. fictionalpenguin says:

    I’ve found I’m more inspired by music and objects, or ideas/concepts of objects, than I am by images. A lot of the fun with creativity and different types of creative people comes from how varied their sources of inspiration can be, especially when more than one person working in the same genre can have such different inspirations (and, alternatively, how people working in two very different genres can find themselves inspired by the same things to different ends).


    • jannakaixer says:

      That’s really interesting to me, what do you mean by ideas/concepts of objects? I totally agree with you; inspiration is a curious thing, it’s very varied and entirely subjective. I’d never really thought about how people working in the same genre can find inspiration in different things whilst those working in different genres could find it in the same thing; it’s a really interesting idea.

      Thank you for the comment! You’ve given me a tonne to think about.


      Liked by 1 person

      • fictionalpenguin says:

        Here’s the best way I can elaborate on ideas/concepts of objects. Joshua Harkin and the Wicked Nightmare King began as follows: I found myself thinking about how I always place my glasses, cell phone, and other objects on my nightstand in a very particular arrangement. I figured that it’s safe to assume most people have similar, pre-sleep rituals the go through. This stewed in my head until I came up with the idea for an object placed on someone’s nightstand to draw out all of the nightmares as a sort of prison.

        And then it turned into a novel.


  2. Marcelle Liemant (@MarcelleLiemant) says:

    Hey, this was lovely. I’m definitely a visual writer as well. I especially love pictures of people who are so intriguing that I have to write about them. It has been a while since I’ve used an image as a prompt though so maybe i need to give that a try again. Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s