A Picture is Worth 420 Words.

Repost of an article I wrote last year using a picture prompt.

Vaudeville Act, Destined for Dump, Saved by Descendant of Jerry Mahoney.

The demise of Vaudeville began soon after the debut of the Feckless Five, as they appeared in their first performance pose in the below archival print.

Sid (top left)

Lenny (top right)
Willie (center)
Miriam (bottom left)
Felice (bottom right)

Feckless Five Back Story

The Feckless Five specialized in stand-up performance posing, which bored audiences, yet delighted photographers. Despite their unpopularity, the Feckless Five were trailblazers in Vaudeville, as stand-up portrait posing was a precursor to stand-up comedy.

Since stand-up performance posing never caught on, the Feckless Five were never seated at the best tables in restaurants; instead, they sat in the back by the bathroom. The singers, dancers, and ventriloquists  got the best tables, even the ventriloquist dummies.

Each of the Feckless Five had a unique characteristic:

Sad Sid
was always down in the dumps because his chair abutted the bathroom door. He never had time to eat since he had to let patrons in and out of the bathroom. However, they did leave pretty good tips.

Loser Lenny always had a “sour lemon lip” look on his face. Apparently, he was weaned on citrus fruit and had been fermenting since.

What the? Willie was perpetually surprised, which frankly surprised him.

Moping Miriam carried the weight of the world and the failure of the Feckless Five on her shoulders. She never liked sitting by the bathroom and always voiced her disgust when the maître d led them to the back while ignoring her protests, which both infuriated and depressed her.

Frivolous Felice didn’t care much about anything. She always sat at the table smiling while Sid, Lenny, and Miriam bickered about not being able to read the menu because of the poor lighting. The fluorescent sign that hung above the restroom door was never bright enough, either was Willie. He couldn’t tell the difference between a table and a booth unless there was a phone involved.

If only the Feckless Five bickered on stage instead of posing, they might have gotten top billing and sat at the best tables in the front next to the ventriloquist dummies.

Due to the efforts of Jerry Mahoney’s great, great, really great grandson, Kenny Kindling Mahoney, the famous portrait pose, as seen above, currently hangs in the Vaudeville Museum in the back room by the bathroom.


I found this picture on the Internet and began writing stream of consciously.

Jump-starting your writing from a picture or word is a great way to get going on a writing romp.

I don’t know where my head was when I wrote this on Sunday, August 20, 2009. I can only imagine. I was unemployed at the time. The job situation appeared scarier than usual. In fact, someone should write a horror film about looking for a job in this economy – Jobs from the Crypt or Jobless Bloody Monday.

Have you ever written something using a picture prompt?

14 Comments A Picture is Worth 420 Words.

  1. Murr Brewster

    It's a great idea. I haven't tried using a picture prompt, unless you count using my own old photographs. I forget everything I ever did or said and my entire memory is based on what I think might have happened when I see a photograph of it. That makes it all True.

  2. Jack

    The first time I had an assignment to write from a picture was senior year high school class with Mr. Pavlak, who showed us a print of a Van Gogh self portrait. I had no idea who the old guy was (Van Gogh, I mean — Not Pavlak), so my essay was titled "Portrait of a Wino," because the image looked like an old drunk. As I recall, it was also written in iambic pentameter, because that's sort of how it came to me. It was a story of how this old guy had a secret stash of booze in a dark room, and as he was sneaking a sip, his wife popped her head in and caught him imbibing. She slammed the door, leaving him alone in dark shame. Mr. Pavlak loved the essay and read it to the class. Years later, we met in a store and he said, "Do you remember 'Portrait of a Wino'? I still read that to my students." Made me feel good. Wish I still had the essay.

  3. Julie from Momspective

    I base about 80% of my posts on a picture. Usually of me. I'll see something and it'll trigger a funny story. It might be totally unrelated but I start every post with a picture.

  4. Lauren

    Julie: That's really incredible, a great idea for people who are blocked. Obviously, it works great for you. You're such a prolific writer.


    Hi Lauren,
    I'm reeling/really feeling the absurdity of the feckless five. Interestingly, many of my breaking news stories develop from one of the pics…the words feed off the picture and the picture is inspired from the words…

  6. Lauren

    Snee: I didn't realize that other bloggers used picture prompts. Julie mentioned that she does, too. I don't usually write from a picture. Headlines or ideas pop into my head, and I go from there. Sometimes I'll read or hear something that gets me going. I'm always picking up pieces of ideas from the debris in my head.

  7. Snuggle Wasteland

    I never have. I've tried but my creativity isn't sparked that way. I should try again though. It sounds like a great writing exercise.

  8. Lauren

    Tracie: You've got plenty of creative sparks flying in every direction. Writing from a picture prompt is a great exercise. Lots of fun.

  9. Ethel Grace

    Yes. I tried. Good article 😉

    Merry Christmas!

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