When most of us glance at a picture, we see the main subject we’re looking at: a person we know, ourselves, the new house our friend just bought, the bride and groom at our cousin’s wedding. Most of the time we don’t really examine the full photo. All those details in the background hidden in plain sight. As I’ve embarked on my writing career, I’ve come to see pictures as worlds of their own, crammed full of inspiration. Each piece of the photo can be a story in itself.
My short story, Aboard the Aquitania, is set on the HMS Aquitania in the Roaring Twenties as part of a steamy anthology called Flappers, Jazz, and Valentino. In doing research for the story, I found old pictures of the luxury liner on the internet, and one of the pictures really stuck with me. It is the shot of the main dining room. While my main characters Penny, Mikey, and Johnny sat at one of the tables with their smart tuxedos and black bow ties, the other tables held heartbreak, consternation, joy, you name it. Did Lillian Gish enjoy dinner at that very table on the prior crossing? Did Charlie Chaplin stand on the balcony overlooking the room with his signature cane? Did a waiter get fired for spilling soup on a New York socialite at the second to last table on the left?
The background of a picture can be a fascinating place to look for inspiration. As I examined this photo for details to describe, I thought about the stewards who came in to tidy the room before it opened to the passengers. Maybe one took a drag off a cigarette as he straightened a tablecloth while another of his fellow crew watched from behind a pillar longing to touch him. The artwork on the ceiling had to be painted with scaffolding and a lot of precision. Perhaps the artist had a lover waiting in one of the cabins while he worked. This photo alone holds far more than a thousand words worth of stories, each a potential short story or novel.
So next time you look at a picture, peruse the background. Who is sitting at the back table in the distance smiling happily at the couple in the foreground? Who is the lady on the bench shading her eyes from the sun behind your cousin catching his Frisbee at the park? Find the story lurking behind the main subject and see how many words it’s worth.
You can read about Johnny, Mikey, and Penny’s adventure Aboard the Aquitania here in House of Erotica’s Flappers, Jazz, and Valentino edited by Jillian Boyd.
The three friends strolled along the promenade, and descended the stairs two decks. Entering the First Class Foyer, Johnny noted several couples milling in the spacious room around pillars holding up the artfully painted ceiling.
Mikey looked around. “Terrif.”
Penny nodded. “Indeed.”
Johnny led them though the throng, and opened the door to the Louis XVI Restaurant. Round-backed wooden chairs surrounded small, round tables. Greek pillars supported an upper level balcony overlooking the dining room. The ceilings sported glittering chandeliers and a large, ornate painting over the center of the room.
“Good evening, gentlemen. A table?”
Johnny turned his attention to the maître d’. The middle-aged gentleman standing before them gestured to a table by a window.
“Thank you, yes.”
He pulled out the chair for Johnny. “Your waiter will be with you shortly.”
“Cheers.” Mikey pulled out his own chair while the waiter pushed the chair under Johnny as he sat. He walked away with a backward glance and a smile.
Mikey chuckled. “He’s a bit of a vamp, isn’t he?”
Penny laughed. “Sure enough.”
Johnny cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
The other two men at the table exchanged glances.
“Is nobody home? He’s keen on you.”
Johnny took the menu. “No he’s not.” He studied it, ignoring the taunts of his friends.
A young dark-haired man in a white shirt, bowtie, and black slacks approached them. “May I get you something from the bar?”
Johnny admired his kissable lips and slender form. “Rum and coke.”
Mikey put down his menu. “Screwdriver.”
“Nothing for me.”
Johnny and Mikey turned to Penny. “You what?”
“I’ll have something after dinner.”
Johnny rolled his eyes. “Our friend will have a Highball.”
The waiter nodded and left them. Johnny turned to Penny.
“No drink? What’s eating you?”
“Nothing. I just want a clear head for later.”
Mikey’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”
A faint smiled formed on Penny’s lips. “Mind your own beeswax.”
Brent Archer began writing in 2011 at the nudging of his cousins. His first story sold, and he was hooked! Stay tuned for the May 8th release of his first novel, The Bastard’s Key, the first installment of his Golden Scepter series.
Visit his website to keep up on upcoming releases, and follow him on Twitter: @brentarcherwrit.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful insight, Brent! I’m going to start looking at photos from a much deeper POV. What a treasure trove, right under our noses. I’d say this can help when the dreaded writers block strikes, or the muse abandons us for a few days, weeks, months…
Congrats on your release, cuz! I hope you get tons of wonderful reviews.