How Many Words is This Photo Worth?

I’ve had a series of stories rattling around in my brain where I’d take an Old Masters painting and tell the story behind it. You know, like Mona Lisa is smiling because she just fed poison to the crooked chariot salesman who convinced her she needed to buy the extended warranty.

Back when I used to write for kids, I’d do school visits where we’d do this same exercise, but with photos I pulled from magazines. I’d cut off the caption and it would turn into a writing prompt for them.

I think it’s a great exercise for the imagination and the pen. A photo, as they say, is worth a thousand words.

I stumbled on this gem of me from around ninth grade, I think. I moved a few times as a kid, so I can’t quite place that bedroom to date the photo definitively.

**high school Becky

There’s a lot going on here. If you want to play “writing prompt,” you can stop reading now and formulate a few sentences about this “Old Master.” Then continue reading and I’ll point out some of the highlights.

Okay …

you’re thinking …

you’re thinking …

you’re thinking …

you’re thinking …

And now you’ve decided what you want to say about this photograph extraordinaire.

There are some things I know to be fact.

In the center of my floor is the entire reason I’m there. You’ll see my radio. The microphone of the cassette recorder is pointing directly at the speaker. I know this means it’s Saturday morning between 9am and noon when Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 counted down. I would sit, finger hovering above the “record” button until I heard the dulcet tones of any of these songs. When one of my favorites came on, I’d press that button with all my might, sit back, and keep my fingers crossed nobody would interrupt for three minutes or so. If I was really lucky, Casey would go right into the next song so I wouldn’t miss the first three seconds of it. Maybe he’d even add a sweet or intriguing bit of information about the artist. It was the dawn of music piracy.

I don’t know what I’m reading in the photo, but I know I spent an ungodly amount of time sitting on that very beanbag chair in that very corner. (I can see my purple copy of “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” on my desk. If I had more time, I bet I could recreate that run of books on my desk. A million dollars says they’re all still in my house at this very moment.)

I know it’s not summer. The hot rollers in front of the mirror show where I sat every morning before school to curl my locks and tresses. An hour of effort for about eight minutes of curl. On a good day. When I didn’t have gym class.

The phone wasn’t mine, didn’t live in my room. But it had a cord that was approximately seventeen miles long. I could encircle the house with it twice and still be able to carry it into a closet for privacy.

But some of these tidbits are lost to the ages and better left to the imagination. Just like Mona Lisa’s smile.

Like, what’s with the plaster cobra? I remember it being very heavy, but beyond that, the provenance and history eludes me.

What was I reading?

Why was it so cool to split your pant leg at the ankle?

What was the purpose of the scissors on the corner of the desk? Had it been used already or was it waiting for action? And what kind of action? (Also, I’m fairly certain that pair is forty years older and now resides in my junk drawer. Don’t judge me.)

Who took that photo? And why? Did they think I’d look back on it, lo, these many years later and consider it an historical document?

What say you? Any writing prompts jump out at you? Any stories you want to tell about what you’re seeing? What do you think happened to my black plaster cobra?


Author: Becky Clark

I write mysteries with humor and spend my free time attempting to rid my clothing of dog hair and doling out treats to the adorable Nala. I'm the author of the Mystery Writer's Mystery series, which so far includes FICTION CAN BE MURDER and FOUL PLAY ON WORDS. I'm thrilled to be working on another cozy series set in the world of crossword puzzles, with PUZZLING INK launching in November 2020. And, yes, I'm learning to create my own puzzles, which will be included, but you don't need to be a crossword fan to enjoy the mysteries. Subscribe to my mailing list at and join us on Facebook at BeckysBookBuddies. Be the first to hear news and chances to win cool prizes!

16 thoughts on “How Many Words is This Photo Worth?”

  1. “You know, like Mona Lisa is smiling because she just fed poison to the crooked chariot salesman who convinced her she needed to buy the extended warranty.” – Ha!

    I used to do the same exact thing with the radio, microphone, and tape recorder. And I had that copy of ARE YOU THERE GOD? too.

    Me, I’m thinking you’re thinking, “Take the stupid picture and leave me alone. Can’t you see I’m busy here?” LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Liz … I bet we can tell exactly how old a woman is by the cover of her copy of “Are You There, God”!

      I can’t quite understand the story behind this photo. My parents took a lot of pictures, but mostly on vacation or doing something, and I’ve never been shy around a camera. Now that I think about it, though, this was waaay back in the days of film cameras. Perhaps Dad wanted to get the roll developed and there was one last shot left. “Hey, Beck, act like I’m not here.” That’s plausible.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The cobra got me – I could do a book on the cobra. It’s like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Then Mom emerged – “Becky, move those scissors, do you want to put your eye out?” Of course you slice your pants leg. That’s what the scissors are for. How else do you get your ankle boots on? Love the book nook.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. LOL! Never had ankle boots, and I distinctly remember using a seam ripper on all my pants, two inches up from the hem. Quite fetching, eh? I’d love to know where that cobra lives now, and don’t tell me in a dump somewhere because then I’ll cry!


  3. I love the premise of reinventing classic paintings. I also love comics and subscribe to “Go Comics” which daily sends dozens of my favorites right to my e-mail in box. Now, to the point of the discussion “That is Priceless” by Steve Melcher, does exactly what we are discussing — adds funny punchlines to classic paintings. Anyone can check out the funny stuff on, and the annual subscription is well worth the money. Here is a link to one particularity appropriate for writers from a painting in 1874 by Auguste Toulmouche ( ) A new way to enjoy classic art

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Becky, my first thought was that there’s a murder weapon on the corner of the dresser. I had a tape recorder to create my own personal playlist, too! Didn’t the music sound glorious playing back through that tinny little speaker? (BTW, I still sing along every time “Take It To The Limit” comes on the radio (70s on Sirius in the car).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And every song was missing the first little bit! In college I had a friend who made a cassette mixtape with Neil Diamond’s “Hello Again” at the end. I still laugh when I think of it. “Hello, again, hello … Just called to say—” And that’s where the tape ended. What ?? What did you just call to say??

      I also had a Gerry Rafferty 8-track. When I hear “Baker Street” to this day I have to mentally put the track change in there!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Ahh, this photo brings me back to my own high school years. I can almost feel my tourniquet-snug pegged jeans cutting off the circulation to my feet and hear the glorious click of the rotary dial phone. (My mom didn’t get the fancy push button type until just before I left for college.)

    Love the prompt idea and SO much fodder here! All I can think of is a murder play list mix tape. Mine would feature Scorpions and White Snake.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Ha ha! Do IT.

        Okay, this technology trip down memory lane reminds me. The other night we were watching First Man about the moon landing. There’s a scene where a family watches a newscast of this historic event. My daughter turns to me, her eyes wide, and says, “Why are they watching TV on their microwave.” Ooch, my side!

        Liked by 3 people

  6. I was tall before anyone acknowledged there was such a thing as tall. I never split my jeans. WHAT??? Instead I’d have to sew on anywhere from 3-5″ of fabric just to make them long enough.

    Loving the print on the bean bag, and imagining the pillow you’re back up against. Sort of thinking they’re in a direct contrast to whatever you’re reading.


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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.