Postcard Prompts

We’ve all done those writing exercises with postcards, where you use the picture to provide stimulation for a story or a poem. Last week at my writers’ group we took a different angle on this well-worn activity.

Back of a postcard postmarked 1908; old postcard.

Back of a postcard postmarked 1908; old postcard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frances ran an interesting workshop which got us looking at the writing on the back of the card instead of the photo on the front. She provided us with a selection of postcards which were from and to people we didn’t know. Then she broke the activity down into 3 steps:

  • Create a pen portrait of the sender of the card by analysing what he/she has written, the handwriting style and the picture they chose.
  • Create a pen portrait of the recipient of the card by looking at what information the sender chose to tell them, the manner in which the recipient was addressed etc.
  • Create a short scene of what might happen when the sender returns from holiday and meets up with the recipient.

I found this a difficult exercise but it certainly gets the brain cells working when the only clues to your main characters and their relationship with each other, are a few brief, scribbled words. So Frances, thanks for getting the old grey matter working!

In coming years it may get more and more difficult to use postcards as prompts. According to a piece in the Daily Mail, forty years ago one-third of Britons sent a card home from holiday but now only 3% of us pick up a pen whilst we’re on the beach. Instead we tweet, text and Facebook.

When I go away I like to cut all links with ‘reality’ and the fast pace of electronic communication so I send postcards. I like to receive them too – they brighten up my kitchen wall.

What about anyone else?


  1. #1 by shirleyelmokadem on June 14, 2012 - 11:56 am

    I collect postcards and enjoy reading what people have written and imagining what their lives were like.

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on June 14, 2012 - 12:20 pm

      … and that could give you the basis for a story, Shirley.

  2. #3 by Tracy Fells on June 14, 2012 - 2:46 pm

    Heaven knows what your writing group would have made of a recent postcard I received from my mum on holiday in Cumbria. It was a very (and I mean very) detailed description of the interior of their holiday cottage. No mention of what they did or visited, but then in her defence it was probably the wettest week of the year!
    I love getting postcards, mainly for sticking up on the white board. Sadly this is a dying art and I’m just as guilty of not sending them when on hols. Though I still buy loads to stick up when I get home – and they can then be good story prompts.

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on June 14, 2012 - 5:28 pm

      Tracy, that would make me think of a character who is very houseproud or into interior design. Or someone who’s gone on holiday & their cottage is much nicer or much worse than they expected. Or, as you say, may be it was just too rainy to go outside!

  3. #5 by Julia on June 14, 2012 - 3:08 pm

    I have a very delapidated postcard album that belonged to a sort of cousin of my grandfather. Most of the cards are postmarked 1906ish. Many are views of Staffordshire – including Alton Towers when it was just gardens, with not a rollercoaster in sight – but there are others: images of anthropomorphosised cats, silent movie stars and some oddities relating to music hall songs. I don’t know what to do with them. Every now and then and have a look through and tell myself there must be something useful I could do, but I don’t know what.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on June 14, 2012 - 5:31 pm

      It would be a shame to get rid of a treasure like that, Julia. Maybe you could come up with a fictionalised character based on your grandfather’s cousin and his travels/the travels of his friends. But it would probably need a lot of work…

  4. #7 by susanjanejones on June 14, 2012 - 4:31 pm

    Hi Sally, I sometimes send postcards, but more often, buy a nice card with an envelope and send that. I still write with pen and paper, and use stamps. Someone has to…

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on June 14, 2012 - 5:33 pm

      Glad to hear you’re keeping the stationers and post office in business, Susan. And the benefit of an envelope is that you can write a private message that won’t be read by every Tom, Dick & Harry in the household that receives it!

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