Spilling Ink Story Starters: Every Picture Tells a Story


Get ready for more Spilling Ink Story Starters! This week, we're using pictures as a way to rev up your storytelling mind. As usual, it's a collaboration: the pictures are by Anne Mazer; the story ideas are by Ellen Potter. Try one out and see what happens! - Anne and Ellen


Clayton, NY photo by Anne Mazer

Story Starter for Clayton, NY: A joyous leap into the river? Maybe, maybe not. Try imagining a different scenario, one that is grim and sinister.


Frog, Staring, by Anne Mazer

Story Starter for Frog, Staring: Not long ago this frog was an orthodontist. What the heck happened? You tell us.

Peacock by Anne Mazer

Story Starter for Peacock: Try your hand at creating a legend that explains why it is unlucky to have peacock feathers in the home.

 Man on a Bicycle by Anne Mazer

Story Starter for Man on a Bicycle: Zero in on a piece of this photo and start writing about it. Then let your view widen as your story progresses.


Spilling Ink Story Starters: The Weird and The Wonderful



We are fascinated by New York Times profiles. When a person’s life is condensed into a few hundred words, you can really see how remarkable—and often weird—we all are.  

Below are sentences from articles in the New York Times that we thought would make intriguing story starters. Have fun using them, or find story starters of your own in books, newspapers or magazines. Happy writing! - Ellen and Anne


1. “I like gluing things to other things,” Mr. Hart said.

   (from A Las Vegas Mansion, Glue-Gunned to Perfection by Joyce



2.  How Mr. Carbone came to see himself as royalty is fuzzy, but the process had clearly started when he took up a horse and carriage.

(from  The Prince of Seborga by Rocky Smith)


3. The hen house and the rooster house have radios tuned to a classical music station, and framed chicken portraits decorate the walls.

(from Nest for a Children’s Author by Julia Lawler)


4. When he asked if he was black or white, she said, “You’re a human being.”

(from Ruth McBride Jordan, 88, A Son’s Heroine by Dennis Hevesi)


5. “It’s nice on the tootsies,” he said.

      (from The Sultan is In by Joyce Wadler)


6. If you ever buy them as a pet, you don’t want to play rap music around them. It drives them crazy.

    (from The Sultan is In by Joyce Wadler)


Congratulations to our Winners!!

Thanks to our very first Spilling Ink Short Story Contest, Anne and I just spent a delightful two weeks reading about inventions mostly gone wrong. From The Jacket Packet (a weather adjusting coat) to a teleporting pencil with laser eyes, to a car that fits on a key chain, our contestants’ inventions were outrageously original and imaginative. There were so many wonderful stories that it was very difficult to choose the winning entries (we know that contest judges always say that, but trust us, it’s true!*).  We owe a HUGE thank you to all the young writers who entered this contest. - Ellen 
   *Really, really true. We had at least a dozen or more finalists. And I'm hoping to see one or more of those inventions come true in the future. Flying shoes, anyone? -Anne
And now, without further ado . . . the winners of January 2011’s Spilling Ink Short Story Contest are:

First Prize


 by Mariana C., 11 years old

At that moment I was only thinking about two things: If I had either seriously hit my head against the floor or I was dreaming. Maybe I was dreaming, but who can tell. No one who I’ve told this story to has believed me, but I want to give it another shot in case something of this sort ever happens to you.

I was rushing home from school crying because everybody had made fun of my huge pimple. I locked myself in my room and cried for hours and hours hating my pimple. It went on like that till I couldn’t stand it anymore. I picked up a rock that was lying on the floor and threw it as hard as I could to my mirror. Broken glass showered all over the floor, and I was thrown to the ground as if someone had pushed me. And that is when the world changed, at least for me. In front of me was me. I was lying in the floor staring at me. It was a perfect replica of me that breathed and blinked. I stood up slowly never leaving her, I mean my, I mean her eyes. She only smiled and said Hi.

“Hi!?” I answered a little too loud. “Who, who are you, me ,you , me, you who looks like me??”

“I’m your conscience.” She broke out a huge smile.

I didn’t know I was capable of doing. “Okay... conscience. And...what exactly are you doing here?” I asked quietly, fighting my throat not to let out a scream or a squeal.

“I’m here to teach you a lesson. You have obviously not learned patience, like the way you almost exploded at school today because of your pimple.”

Patience. Patience? I’m patient. She’s crazy. “Or is she?” I thought. “ She is my conscience, so she must know everything about me.” I got a brilliant idea. A horrible idea. I got a brilliant yet horrible idea. “She wants me to learn patience, doesn’t she? But how can I with all the kids at school calling me pimple Jane? Maybe if I stayed home all day and let her do all the work for me I can learn to be patient,” I thought.

I took a deep breath and said, “You’re right conscience, I should be more patient. I will be, but you have to do me a favor. You have to go to school for me, so I can stay home and think about everything calmly, and by the end of the week I’ll be the most patient girl in the world!” I ended with a brilliant smile that sure got her.

“I’m so happy you’ve decided to learn. I will go to school for you until you learn.” She jumped up and down and began to do a little dance while I smiled, evilly thinking of the wonderful weeks yet to come.

 12 weeks later...

Everything was heaven. Everything. Every day was vacation. Since my parents work all day and didn’t come back until dinner, I could do anything. And the best part was my parents believed it was really me that went to school, did homework, went to soccer on Wednesdays. And what was even better was my conscience got me perfect grades, wonderful compliments by all the teachers, and she made me the most popular girl in the 6th grade. It was the best life ever.

Since I became popular I got lots of invites to classmate’s houses, so I went. My conscience was very different from me. She was sweeter, funnier, and somehow prettier. Those times I was invited, I was myself, and they really hated myself. But I was always loved in school because Conscience was there. My parents loved the new me (Conscience). She was the one who usually had dinner with them and she only brought up the food to me when it was over. She had become me, everybody loved her but not me, and I was not going to accept it.

One day she came home from school and did homework, as usual. I sat next to her at the dinner table and waited for the right moment.

“Conscience?” She looked up. “I...I’m really confident I have learned patience and I would like to go to school tomorrow.”  

She frowned. It was the first time I saw her frown. “You...want to...go tomorrow?”

I nodded slowly.

She grinned. “Well, I’m afraid that is impossible. Tomorrow I have an important report do, and it’s my turn to sit with Olivia and Rosie, and you don’t know any of the stuff we’re working on.”

“I can hand in your report, I’ve been studying about everything you’re seeing at school right now. I’ll be fine.”

She turned madly red. “You don’t understand. I’m popular, have perfect grades, now everybody likes ME not YOU! YOU CAN’T GO!”

“I am the real Jane Willick. You are just my conscience!” I shouted.

“Please! You don’t do anything anymore. I live your life now! And guess what? Since I do everything you once did, I’m now  officially Jane Willick and you are left as my conscience!” She picked up her books stormed out.

“I hate you! I wish I never threw that rock in the mirror! I wish you never appeared!”

And like a wave of a wand, my wish came true. The room began to spin and spin and spin. I could see my parents and Conscience walking and talking, but the room was spinning so fast I could only see their faces. It kept spinning and spinning until it magically stopped and I was alone in my room holding a rock in my hand and facing a mirror.

“Wow,” I whispered. For a second there I had no idea where I was, no idea where I came from.

 The End.

Second Prize


by Casey S., Age 12


They were finally done. The glasses that would change the face of humanity. And they were undoubtedly, completely, hers. The glasses that read minds were very inconspicuous except for one minor detail: her logo on the side, an ancient  Greek letter that her father had taught her.


 She put them on and could hear her mother’s thoughts from the kitchen downstairs. Chicken or Pork? Her mother thought. She turned her focus towards her brother’s room. Barely anything, blurred images. He was sleeping. How predictable.


 She then took the glasses off and wrote down an entry in the notebook titled Casey’s Notebook.  What an exciting day for science it had been! Time for her to get some rest.


 The next day, she brought the glasses into her classroom, but didn’t tell anyone what they were. Instead of crawling by like it usually would, all old knowledge, she discovered a treasure trove of new things in that day. Things that people would never say aloud to her, never. She smiled with contentment at her invention and kicked back her heels. Someday, she would be famous and rich; then people would tell her things.


 Her mind was exhausted from all the hard work, so she collapsed on her bed and started to snore gently right when she came home from basketball practice. But she forgot to take off the mind-reading glasses! When she woke up in the morning, she was shocked to find them there, sitting crooked on her nose. But she thought it would be fine, in the end. She shoved them in their case and ran to board the school bus.


 That whole day she didn’t think about the mind-reading glasses sitting at the bottom of her back pack. But when she got off the school bus, she ran up to her room, locked the door, and pushed them on. Instead of hearing her mom’s thoughts like she was hoping to, she heard nothing.


 Hello? She thought, cautiously.


 “Hello,” came the startling return. “We’ve waiting for you.” A twining, doubled, snake-like voice answered her. Inside her own mind. Something had gone horribly wrong the night she had slept with them on: they were no longer mind-reading glasses. They were mind-controlling glasses.


 She tried to lift her arm to take them off, but found her arm feeling as if it was glued to the table.


 “Now, Casey,” it whispered. “Let’s not do anything brash.”


 GET OUT OF MY MIND!  She wanted to scream, but her voice was locked in her lungs, unable to come out. So she thought hard.


 “Casey, we can’t get get out of your mind!” It hissed, slyly. “When you’re wearing our glasses, we are your mind. Now sit up.”


 Casey’s body fought hard against this command, but in the end the glasses won. She sat straight as a board, motionless. But inside her head, thoughts seethed like a pot about to boil over.  


 What can I do? I’ll have to fight it. What is it? How can I fight my own mind? What if I lose? Will someone find me? Maybe they’ll think I’m in a coma. She thought rapidly, as the glasses presence hummed like background music. Then ideas began to form in her head, but she quickly stifled them. What if I haven’t thought everything? What if there are things it doesn’t know about me? She smiled with grim anticipation. She’s my last hope.


 As if on cue, a knock resounded through the silent house. A door was opened, and a familiar voice drifted up to her:


 “Is Casey here?” asked Casey’s best friend, Gwen.


 “Up in her room, the hermit,” her mom answered loudly, probably hoping that she would hear her and come down.


Casey did hear her, but she couldn’t move. Gwen bounced up the stairs knocked their special knock on the door. Experimentally, Casey tried tapping her fingers gently on the table. She could!  --.  .--  .  -.  ..--.   She tapped out on the table. Long tap, long tap, short tap. It was Morse code, one of their just-for-fun experiments.  Gwen! she had tapped.  -.--  .  … ..--..  Gwen tapped back- Yes?   ….  .  .-..  .--.  ..--.  Casey  tapped- Help!


Gwen yelled in, “Casey? Are you O.K.? Can you hear me?”  


 Yes. I can hear you. We don’t have much time before it finds out and ends this form of communication. Casey tapped, as quickly as possible. Gwen, pick the lock, and when you come in, take off the glasses. Please. You are my last hope . . .


 Gwen quickly, with years of skill behind her, picked the lock. She ran in and found her frozen there. She thought she was saved, but her mind-controlling glasses still had a few tricks on her.


 Casey found herself being forced to stand up and smile.


 “Hi, Gwen. I was just playing with you there,” she heard herself say, but her voice was rough and strangled. She looked Gwen in the eyes through the glasses and tried to force as much fear and desperation as she could into the look. She tried to tap her fingers, but found them frozen. So she gave one last effort. She began to breathe as shaky and unevenly as she could. Those loud, panicked breaths were enough to throw Gwen off.


 “Casey, what the heck? This is weird!” she said, and finally did what she had been waiting for the whole time—she tore off the glasses. Casey could hear it being sucked out of her mind. It was like a drain emptying. Then when she could control her limbs again, she grabbed for the nearest object. It was a Harry Potter book.


 “Casey?” Gwen said worriedly. But it was too late. She picked up the Harry Potter book and smashed the glasses to pieces. There they sat, mangled and broken. That was the last thing Casey remembered seeing before she blacked out.


Fifteen minutes later, Casey woke up crying. But the fight was over, and she was safe.





Third Prize


By Brandon D.


“Uggg, what should I do for my invention?” I said. I needed an invention for a school project.

“What’s the matter?” my sister asked.

“I need an idea for a project at school,” I said.

“ Well, you could do a toaster,” she said.

“What? That’s already invented,” I said.

“No, no, no.  I mean one that pops out from the bottom.  You press a button that says ‘jelly’ or ‘butter’.  Whichever one you want splatters on your plate,” she said.

I got the supplies and got to work.  I put wires, nails, bolts and even a little wood in my toaster. I put it on my kitchen counter. I put the bread in the toaster and it popped out in ten seconds. I put it on my plate. Then I pressed the jelly button.  In a split second, jelly fell on my toast.  I bit into it and it tasted like heaven. This was perfect. The next day I made toast again. I heard a crunchy noise. I looked over my shoulder.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I yelled. “The toaster is alive,” I said and picked up a bat.

“Please don’t hurt me.  I’m your friend,” said the toaster.  

I put down the bat.

“How did you come to life?” I asked.

“You put wood in me.  Wood comes from trees and trees are living things,” he said.

“Wow,” I said, reaching for cereal.  When I turned around, the toaster had a fork and knife.

“I tricked you,” the toaster said with a devious look.

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh,” I screamed. I ran for my life.


The toaster chased me.  He spit out burning hot toast.  He even spit out jelly and butter.  I ran in my room and locked my door, but he was so strong he knocked down my door.  I panicked and almost jumped out my window.  The toaster was about to spit another piece of burning toast when I picked up a bat.  I hit that toaster so hard I heard an explosion.  I looked down and saw a piece of toast on a destroyed toaster.  Jelly was smeared all over the toaster like blood. I took the toaster apart so I knew for certain it was dead.

I took it to a dumpster.  I knew I wasn’t ever going to invent a toaster again.



Honorable Mentions

The Bracelet by Madelynne R.

Not The Touch by Emma B.

To Fly by Isadora L.



The Creativity Tool Belt: A Writer's Secret Weapon 

A warm welcome to our friend, Suzanne Santillan! She was born and raised in Los Angeles and always dreamed of writing a children’s book. She currently works as a freelance graphic artist and has illustrated charts and graphs for over 100 library reference books. Grandma’s Pear Tree is her first picture book, and a realization of her childhood dream. It was a recent recipient of the Golden Moonbeam Award for picture books ages 4-8. Suzanne enjoys cooking, sewing, doing crafts, and reading. She is a member of the SCBWI. When not writing, reading, or working on her blog Writing on the Sidewalk, you’ll find Suzanne walking the beaches and canyons of San Diego with her husband Ken, two sons and writing partner/sidekick, Buddy. We're sure you'll find some inspiration in Sue's creativity blog below. -Ellen and Anne 

The Creativity Tool Belt: A Writer’s Secret Weapon

by Suzanne Santillan 

 One of my favorite superheroes is Batman. He doesn’t have the super strength of Superman or the swinging and climbing skills of Spiderman. Batman has no special powers, only a tool belt. With the help of his faithful sidekick, and armed with his belt and a really nifty car, he does a great job keeping Gotham City safe. 

While I may not be a superhero and drive a nifty car, I do have a sidekick and a secret weapon - The Creativity Tool Belt. Each tool is highly specialized to help me when my creativity starts to wane. 

 Here are the items in my tool belt:

 -Bubble Bath

 If your life is like mine, you are constantly coming and going. Taking the time to soak in a tub filled with bubbles helps you find your inner child and is a great way to relax. I like to use my niece’s bubble bath, because it’s hard to take life seriously when you are sitting in a tub of watermelon-scented bubbles. 

 Here’s another handy tip- make sure that you have a note pad by the side of the tub to write down any ideas (you’ll thank me for this). 

-My iPod

Music can get your blood pumping and your brain thinking. I find listening to country music a great creativity stimulator. Listening to songs about trains, dogs and love gone wrong really helps generate new ideas. Classical music is great for working out those tricky plot problems and good old fashioned pop is great for jump starting my ideas and perking me up if the country music starts to get me down. 

-A Bottle of Glue

 Getting lost in a repetitive craft often helps to spark creativity. I choose to do mosaics. The process of gluing several small pieces of tile in a pattern is just the type of repetitive project that allows my mind to wander. It is during that wandering that the ideas ping pong back and forth and usually lead to some great insights. Not into mosaics? You can try knitting, scrap booking, basketball or rowing, or anything repetitive.  

A Garden Trowel

Digging in the soil and working with nature is a great way to spark creativity. I like to look the at the flowers: how are they made? How do they smell? Taste a strawberry. Listen to the wind or birds. I try to open my mind and use all of my senses. This usually sparks a memory, which can sometimes lead to a whole story.

-A Dog Leash

I like to joke that my favorite writing partner/sidekick is my dog Buddy. More supportive than a writer’s group, he doesn’t criticize my writing, sits at my feet while I work and most importantly is always willing to go for a walk. 

 For me, walking is the best way to unleash creativity. When I am stuck for a plot idea or working on a tough section of dialog, I grab the leash and my writing partner/sidekick and I are off. That’s better than anything Robin could ever do for Batman. Maybe Batman should get a dog. It’s just a thought. 


That’s my creativity tool belt. What’s in yours? Is there something that helps you when your creativity begins to ebb?



Announcing: all-new Spilling Ink Writer's Club Page!

Dear Spilling Ink readers and writers: We've been inspired by YOU to create an all new Spilling Ink Writer's Club page. We're hoping it will be a resource for those of you who want to start their own writing clubs. Please let us know what else you might like to see on our page. And let us know what you think!

Love, Anne and Ellen



Here's a letter we recently received from a fifth grade teacher in Texas who started her own Spilling Ink Writer's Club. It has a lot of helpful hints for starting your own club.

Irene Kistler, teacher: After I read Spilling Ink, I just knew I needed to start a writer's club for our students…. (We) welcome anyone who's interested in getting feedback and learning to write better….The kids tell me the "I Dare You" challenges they really want to try and we incorporate them into the meetings.  On their own, several kids found the writer's contracts at the end of the book and found Spilling Ink writing partners in their grade or neighborhood.  (I was making partnerships a goal for next year, but they took the initiative...I was so excited!)

At the meetings, I share opportunities for kids to get published.  In October, there was a Halloween poetry contest sponsored by a web site and a Spilling Ink member won the contest. … Kidsville News (has) published book reviews by several (club) members.  In December, a local auto group sponsored a contest on "What You Are Thankful For" and a Spilling Ink member won a four-pack season pass bundle to Fiesta Texas, a theme park in San Antonio. 

 At our last meeting, I shared the writing contest posted on your site and the kids had an amazing brainstorming session for writing ideas...I'm continually amazed at their imagination and talent.  When we return from break, our priority is finishing our drafts and then sharing them in critique circles for revision.  

 I share my writing process with them… so they realize that it's a journey and even adults follow the same process.  It's been such a wonderful collaboration for the kids and I've learned so much, too. 

I'm hoping to initiate more clubs at other schools. I would (also) love to have other club sponsors to visit with and share ideas.

--Irene Kistler


 We also received a letter from Kinsey, a sixth grader, telling us that she had started her own writing club for grades 4-6. We asked her to share about it:

Kinsey: Hi. My name is Kinsey, and I was asked to share about how I started a writing club, and a little about me. So, here goes.

 I love to write. I’ve been writing since a very young age, when I would write little stories about witches and bugs and stuff like that. I think my parents had a lot to do with my love of reading and writing. They would sit and read to me book after book when I was a little girl, and I think that’s why I love reading so much. One thing that I really like to read and write about is magic and fantasy. In fantasy, anything can happen. That’s probably why I like it so much.

The idea for the writing club started in June, 2010, when I was attending a writing camp at NC State University, in Raleigh, North Carolina. I had a really good time, and at the end, everyone who wanted to, shared what they had written. One of the exercises that one fiction class did was to take a funky photo and write whatever came to mind with that photo. That got me thinking: it would be really cool to do that with a group and see what different stories we came up with. It was then that I started reading Spilling Ink, and looking at the "I Dare You's" made the idea take shape even more.

 I e-mailed a couple of my friends from the aforementioned writing camp, and some other friends who I knew loved to write, to find out if they'd be interested in attending a writing club, and everyone wrote back with an enthusiastic "YES!"

 It was originally going to be where everyone would meet at the library for an hour, and we'd write, but getting around everyone's schedules was tricky, so now it's an online club. Although the group is very small currently, I’m hoping that it will grow and blossom into a community of creative and thoughtful writers.



And finally, a wonderful poem by ten-year-old Georgia VanDerwater, who is a student at the Aurora Waldorf School, to inspire all writers, young and old . . .


Who Would Write?

Who would write

Instead of read?

The writers have written for you.

They've got all the ideas.

They've got all the plots.

They have all the stuff

that I haven't got.


But why would I read?

Why couldn't I write

my own?

They don't have to write for me.

I've got ideas too.

I also have plots.

So why write?

Why not?