Inspiration for creative writing

Images from the State Library's collections to inspire your creative writing

From penguins to picnics, floods to feasts, explore a range of thought-provoking stimuli and embark on your creative writing journey.  

For more creative writing workshops and activities, check out the Library's Atlas program!


Item 01: Closing the gap, 1995 / painted by Jane Bennett
Item 01: Closing the gap, 1995 / painted by Jane Bennett

Imagine that you are standing at the top of this bridge under constructions. 

Write your inner monologue about how you feel standing in this dangerous place. Can your character begin by experiencing one emotion and end by feeling another? 

Man, woman and child in a row boat
Sailing Palm Beach, 5 January 1939

This family is off on an adventure, the sun is out and they’re excited to be heading off in their little boat - but it is not all smooth sailing.  

Write a diary entry from the perspective of one of the people in the picture about your day out on the water and the problems you encounter along the way. 

Beach shack surrounded by greenery
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Courtesy Dean Saffron

Imagine that you lived in this shack, surrounded by National Park. What would it sound like? Smell like? Taste like?  

Write a sensory description of this place in three different kinds of weather. What stays the same and what will change? 

Women standing and turning in giant wheels along Bondi Beach
Chorus girls in "Rhonrad" wheels

The women in this picture have chosen an unusual method of transport – they are using “Rhonrad” wheels to spin themselves elegantly across the sand. 

Create an imaginary new method of transport – just as strange, if not more, than the Rhonrad wheels. Write a detailed, scientific description of your invention as if you were applying for a patent to copyright it.  

Image of silverware on blue background
Silver tea & coffee service presented to Edward Hargraves in 1853 by the inhabitants of Bathurst

This tea set is very fancy indeed! What kind of person might serve afternoon tea with this silverware? And what would happen if part of the set disappeared? 

Write a story which takes place during a very fancy afternoon tea party, but one of the pieces of the silver tea set has gone missing! Who took it? Will the piece ever be returned? 

Man playing with dollhouse
East Sydney Tech College, March 1948

This tiny room is decorated with fashionable 1940s furniture, but why? Who is this man? Does a tiny person live there? Or perhaps a mouse who thinks that they’re a human? Is it a set for a puppet play? Or perhaps the man is a giant? 

What do you think this photograph is about? Make up a story! 

Three logie award trophies
Maggie Tabberer award trophies

These logie awards were won by Australian actress Maggie Tabberer... but imagine if they were yours instead! 

Write an acceptance speech for an award you received at a big awards ceremony. Make sure you include a description of what you have won the award for, and make sure you thank your family and teachers! 

File 079: Girl with birthday cake, ca. 1953 / photographed by Max Dupain

Yum! This cake looks delicious!  It is picture of a scrumptious birthday cake. What flavour do you think it is?  

Write your own recipe for a cake with a twist. What unusual ingredients would you use? What is your unique flavour combination? 

© The Northcott Society and Cerebral Palsy Alliance.

This magical underwater world was created by May Gibbs for a book that was never published. 

What sort of magic can happen under the sea? Write a story about the characters in this picture.  

Building a sand castle at Mick Simmons' Radio Club picnic

Summer is coming! These children are working together to build the biggest sandcastle.   

Describe the most incredible sandcastle you can imagine. What rooms would be inside it? Who would live in it?  

Box 72: Myles Dunphy lantern slides of Ireland and England, Glamis, Scotland, ca. 1910-1930

This quaint English cottage almost looks too whimsical to be real! 

Write a story about the magical creatures who live in this house. What type of creature are they? What special powers do they have?  

Atlas pour servir à la relation du voyage à la Recherche de La Pérouse fait par ordre de l'Assemblée Constituante, pendant les années 1791, 1792, et pendant la 1ère. et 2ème. année de la République Française

Picture this swan gliding through the water. Imagine how its feathers shine in the sunlight and the little splash as it changes direction in the water. Its long neck arches as it notices you watching from the shore.   

 Write a poem about a graceful swan and publish your poem in the shape of a swan.  

Sketches made during a voyage on the sailing ship Paramatta, 1873-1874 / by George Sydney Waterlow

Land hoy! George Sydney Waterlow was sketching his view from the porthole of a ship when he painted this picture. What did he see outside? The surprising sight of land! 

Write a story about an adventure aboard a ship. Describe the excitement you feel when you finally see land on the horizon and write about what happens next.  

Item 0791: Paris Universal, Products of N.S.W., Exhibition medal, 1867

What is missing from this box? It must have been something very valuable and important. 

Write a story about something valuable that has been stolen.   

Challenge: Write the story from the perspective of the hero who finds the missing item, and then write the same story from the perspective of the thief.

Item 08: Postcards and photographs of cities and towns in China, S-Z, ca. 191-? / from the papers of George Ernest Morrison

Ernest George Morrison collected postcards from different places across the world. This postcard came from China.  What do you think is written on the back? 

Use a piece of paper to make your own postcard. Draw a picture on the front of somewhere you would like to travel to. On the back, write a message to someone about the adventure you would like to go on. 

Ice-caked Adelie penguins after a blizzard; Cape Denison

Brr, it's cold out there! 

If penguins could talk, what do you think these ones would say? What will they do next?

Write a conversation between the penguins.

Challenge: Use script format to turn your conversation into a play.

Gold diggings, Ararat, c.1855, by Edward Roper

Look closely - there's a lot happening in this painting.

During the mid-1800s, gold rush towns popped up around the country, and people flocked to these areas in the hopes of striking it rich.

Based on this image, what do you think life was like for these gold miners?

Choose a character from this painting and write a diary entry from their perspective.

Bingle family : baby shoes, ca. 1865-1885

Over 100 years ago, these shoes belonged to a little girl named Sarah Bingle, and they were so special that the family kept them. They are made of leather and have ribbons instead of shoelaces. Shoes made in the 1880s were designed so that it didn’t matter which foot you put them on!

Write a description of your own favourite pair of shoes. What do they look, sound and feel like? What makes them special for you?

Al fresco

Does this scene of a family lunch look familiar? The artist Herbert Badham loved to paint everyday scenes like this one to make them so bright and vivid that the ordinary became extraordinary! 

Write a description of an ordinary scene from your everyday life. Zoom in on the details and describe the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of one ordinary moment in your home or school life. 

Class 1A percussion band

Imagine that one morning you wake up, eat your breakfast and go off to school. Everything is the same as it is every day — until you walk through the door. Suddenly, your classroom dissolves and you find yourself standing in the classroom in the photograph.

Write a letter to your parents or friends describing your day in this classroom. What did you do? How did you feel? What was different to your normal life?

f.152 Independent Theatre/ “Insect Play” / 1941/ Iris/ Pegg Legge – Wallis. 1941. [Signed] Thelma. [on sheet with] Independent Theatre/ “Insect Play” 1941/ Victor/ Ewen Mason. 1941. [Signed] Thelma. [on reverse] Thelma Afford.

These crazy costume designs were for a play called Insect Play in Sydney in 1941.

What do you think it was about?

Give these characters a name and write a script for a play that these costumes could be used in.

Flooded streets during wet weather

In 1956, these children put on their raincoats and gumboots and enjoyed splashing around in the flooded streets of Newcastle. 
Imagine you woke up this morning to find it had been pouring all night and your street was flooded. Write a story about the flood at your place. 

A day's picnic on Clark Island

'Terribly sorry Sir, I've dropped your luncheon in the dog's mouth!'  Every single person is busy doing something; looking for oysters, serving food or chatting with someone they are not supposed to.

Choose your favourite character and write down what you think they're saying.

Illustration of a dragon in an old book.
Serpentum et draconum historiae, 1640by Ulysses Aldrovandipublished in Bologna, Italy, by Apud Clementem Ferronium

How would you describe this dragon?

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote: ‘The form of the serpent is like that of the water-snake; but he has wings without feathers, and as like as possible to the wings of a bat.’

Can you write a description of this dragon that sounds scarier than this example?

Challenge: Write a story about what you would do if this dragon came to school one day.