Inspiration from NatGeo

National Geographic’s been a source of inspiration for a long time for me when it comes to creating new worlds! Their photos are amazing, and this year’s photo contest is no different. I encourage you to go and check out all of the galleries (they’re separated by weeks) and let the photos inspire you :D

These are my favorites, with little bits about what the pictures made me think:

“Ocean Monster”

The caption for this image mentions the monster waves in the distance, but all I saw was the fisherman and thought, he’d walking on the water, come from the sea itself, up on dry land. Is he a shape shifter? Is he a god? Is he cursed? Blessed? Why is he coming–possibly returning–to land? So many questions!


In my head, this is a family of shape-shifters, who live in the water as much as they live on land. Who know the joy of swimming, of spending the night in the water, and who look nice but have barbs. What are the barbs? I don’t know. I’d have to write it to find out.


As someone who loves kayaking, I look at this picture and wonder, “Could I get the kayak over those trees?”, “How near could I get to the waterfall?”, and “What gorgeous, clear water.”

As a writer, I look at this and think: my characters would have fun swimming in that. It would be a place that they’d grown up with, with water as shallow as it is in some areas–somewhere that they’d played or even bathed when they were knee high to a fly. So I wonder, then, Did they have halting, awkward sex for the first time on the pebbles with the roar of the water in the background? Has that tree hanging off the cliff been their for their whole lives? Do they talk about it? Is there some saying that involves hanging off a cliff?

Or was this a new discovery? The vegetation suggests that there’s been very little disturbing this little scene, so maybe it’s new. A secret to keep between them, when they went farther afield than they were supposed to. They treasure it, as boys, as men, keeping it as the place that only the two of them ever go.

It’s a picture that inspires romanticism in me :)

“Landscape in the Rain”

In the last few bingo cards I’ve gotten, I’ve had “caught in the rain” as a prompt. I fell in love with the prompt the first time I wrote it, and the second, and the third, and even the fourth! So when I saw this picture, I fell in love with it.

I can just imagine poor travelers getting caught on the road in the middle of the rain, with no civilization in sight and no sheltering trees anywhere near. By the time they got to the trees in the distance, they’d be soaked, even if they ran. Would they try anyway? Would they continue on? How long does it rain for? Does it turn the road to slosh? Are they forced to camp for the night?

“Basalt Waterfall”

It’s common for basalt to dry in columnar patterns. This sort of thing happens, if I recall correctly, when the lava isn’t cooled quickly, so like the basalt in the middle will have this conformation while the basalt on the edges will have a rounder appearance. … Yes, I loved that geology class, thanks for asking. I still use it when making up worlds.

But what if the people who’ve come to inhabit the land around the waterfall didn’t know the cause of the rock formation? What sort of myths would they make up to explain the rocks? What sort of cultural beliefs would form around rocks, if these geometric shapes were sacred?

Also, it just looks cool and it makes my inner geologist cream her pants. Science!

“Lone Tree Yellowstone”

What’s interesting to me about this picture isn’t the lone tree, actually, thigh that’s a fun idea: why is everything else covered in white, but the tree not?

No, the fun part of this picture are the way the clouds are so low and so similar to the landscape. It makes me think that the clouds are trees themselves, and wonder about a world where clouds were trees–how would they grow? What would cause them to die? Could they be harvested, not for wood, but for water? There’s so many cool places to go with this.

“Power and Beauty”

The boy (I will assume it is a boy, because of the body language and the length of their hair, but it could just as easily be a girl) is really the most interesting part of this picture. He seems intimately connected to the lightning, which is a fun path to walk down all on its own: what does the lightning mean to him? What is he thinking of as he watches? Is he frightened? Defensive?

But there’s another path to wander down, too: maybe his connection is be beyond a human who’s been enthralled by a storm–maybe he’s controlling it. Which begs the question: what’s at the end of that bolt? Does he know? Does he care?

“Ghost from the Earth”

Any fantasy writer worth their salt can come up with at least five ideas for this picture. Here are mine:

  1. Summoning spell for some kind of rock/sand spirit
  2. Spirit of the Earth itself coming up for a chat. A good chat? A bad chat? A man-I’m-bored chat?
  3. A magician at the center of that miniature maelstrom; there is an issue of scale in this picture, because there’s nothing for us to judge how large things are.
  4. Someone drawing power from the Earth to fuel whatever spell they’re working.
  5. Creation myths for a civilization that lives in the desert, anyone?

“Trees cocooned in spiders webs after flooding in Pakistan”

What if it wasn’t just Pakstan? What if it was the entire world? The water levels in the oceans will rise, as a result of sudden long-term climate change, after all. People can and have lived solely on what they can catch in the water, but what would that mean for the land animals that must vie for precious space? Would humans try and live on the water, on boats or floating cities, or would they be forced to fight with the animals for the little bits of land that are left?

What would a world without insects be like? Who would eat the carrion? This picture just raises soooo many awesome questions, and I think each question in itself is a story.

Huh, something I just realized: nearly all of these pictures involve water. I’ve always known I loved water, but I guess I’m proving it, with the sort of ideas that call to me!

At any rate, I have no idea how many of these wisps of ideas I’ll end up writing, but it’s fun to think about ideas. (And, for the record, if you want to write one of the things here… go right ahead. I fully believe that two, four, even eight people can take the same base idea/event and come up with completely different stories.)


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