The use of visual aids

I was wondering what others think about using pictures in their stories.

For me, I sometimes like it but normally don’t because it might not match the image you have in your head and kind of ruins it. It is like when you read a book and then watch the movie adaption, and you are usually disappointed by the portrayal.

However, when I was using Tumblr (which I understand is more visual), I got a better response on stories where I provided pictures of guys who look similar to those in the stories. It might just be because my character descriptions are too weak. What have your experiences been?


Welcome, allabouttheeyes.

Everyone’s different in their receptivity of verbal and visual stimuli. I tend to side on the purist side of the issue, so my question is:

Why do you need a visual aid and what is its purpose that can not be accomplished with words?

There is one prolific author on this site who often links to images found on Tumblr. Sometimes I think his stories have been inspired by those images. When I first started reading his stories, the verbal picture he built always seemed at odds with the pictures to which he had linked. For example, he would describe an ordinary person in some situation, and link to an image of an obvious model, carefully posed to be sexually suggestive. The dichtomy annoyed me so much that I stopped looking at the visual links altogether. I’m not sure why he links to the images because the stories don’t need the images - they work fine by themselves. In fact they are better without resorting to distracting images which suggest many things not present in the stories.

The one reason I can think of to justify inclusion of images in a story is when you have an idea so complex that it can not be explained in words when an image can do it more simply. Maybe that’s good for a kid or teenager, but the beauty and magic of writing is finding ways to express things verbally. There are so many good passages in literature that are far better than any image could possibly express (the first one that comes to mind is when the dog Argos recognizes his master Odysseus who he’s not seen in 20 years). (Similarly, there are so many fantastic images that convey a multitude of thoughts and feelings that words can not express, e.g. Mona Lisa.)

(To me this is only tangentially related to graphic novels whose main import is the visual. But I consider that a different medium, so it operates with different fundamentals.)

I suspect the different reception you received on Tumblr is due to the different kind of website. GSS is about writing. Tumblr is nearly always about images, even when there is writing, people want to read the images (the nature of the blog format favors images over text).

Of course there are filmmakers who make films entirely comprised of “found footage” (images they did not photograph). But film is an entirely different medium. Similarly there are Tumblr bloggers who create stories out of an assortment of images they find. But it’s not a story in the literary sense.

In conclusion, I urge you to work on your writing skills so that you can create a scene that will have nearly all readers in awe of your abilities - abilities that could not be replicated by visual means. :slight_smile:


I enjoy writing and graphic design, so I approach this from both directions.

I’ve written plenty of stories inspired by photos I’ve found online, some of which I’ve posted here, but especially for longer stories, I prefer text alone because it allows my imagination to take the story in directions that aren’t limited by the photos I find.

When I’ve gotten particularly ambitious and have found enough photos of the same people to make it work, I have done full-blown photocomic stories. (Spreading Ink might be one that GSS readers would enjoy.) I still try my best to have a fully fleshed-out storyline, but the visuals carry most of the load.

But for the most part, I’ve stuck with simple visual sequences which depict a transformation:

Muscle Growth Sequences

I agree with nycboot that, when someone posts a story here that has links to visuals, I don’t click through. It interrupts the flow of reading and, if the writer has done their job well, is unnecessary.


Speaking as one of the authors on the site who commonly links to images of a suggested cast, I largely concur with nycboot. Images, if used, should be an adjunct to your story, but the story should still read fine without them.

In my stories, I post images of the guys I imagine in different roles for the story to avoid a lot of awkward description. Description can certainly be done well enough, but it tends to fall into one of two categories: you do a data dump, which reads as such, or you do it slowly, by which time people have already made up some of their own details which may conflict with what you’re describing. I personally don’t like either approach, so I use images. But even if you don’t look at the images, you can still read the story as written, it just might be a bit lacking in physical descriptors.

On the flip side, another time I’ve seen links used was to link to a specific piece of clothing that was, admittedly, a bit hard to describe. The text gave me a general idea, but having a link to the image gave me a much clearer picture (literally).

I would definitely suggest avoiding embedded images (as in, they actually appear in the story rather than just being a link), at least here on GSS. I personally find them more of a distraction, and as nycboot mentioned, if they don’t match what you were imagining, or worse don’t match the actual description, they can be a bit jarring.


I was always inspired by images but in the beginning I would never publish them with my stories. Eventually, I decided to share the montages I did for myself as inspiration. I got great feedback about them. Being a bit OCD however, for a while when I was inactive, I would spend hours hunting down series of pictures, and never actually get to writing. It may be that being sick I didn’t have enough energy to write, but still it made no sense.

First, as was mentioned by others, images should never be a necessary aspect, the text has to stand alone. There is a whole history of illustrations in literary books, but it must be something that complements and enhances the experience, not something required. They can inspire your descriptions, but those descriptions must be sufficient to evoke the character’s looks without them.

Second, if you go the way of images, make sure they fit the text as closely as possible. I too have been put off by images that ruined my experience of the story, in a way that @nycboot describes. In my case, I am turned off by posed seductive pictures of heavily muscled men, especially when the story does not describe the character as such. It’s always a big risk: you can easily alienate your readers.

Third, I don’t believe that images accompanying text is necessarily a violation of the pure medium of text stories. We live in non-binary times, anything is possible. When you write stories you want to stimulate your readers, and each of them have their unique way of being affected by verbal and visual stimuli.

Fourth, on the other hand, never feel that you absolutely need to have images to “compete” or that your story is incomplete without them. I put them because I like them and they’ve become a part of my style. Still, I’m always taking a risk, I’m sure i may have lost some readers because of them.

In any case, I think the priority should always be the words. If your descriptions can be improved by spending one more hour on the words, don’t spend that hour making an image montage instead.


Thank you for sharing. I agree with you about how distracting some images can be, especially when they don’t match the description. Also, I think that by omitting the image, you allow the reader to mold their own image based their preferences.

I suppose there are different ways of looking at it. Some people are inspired by images and create a story around them, which doesn’t actually sound too bad for me. What I find difficult is the fact that I have a very specific character in my own head and I would be trying to find matching photos on line to fit the profile, like @Mafisto.

I think that for now I will leave the images behind and work on building better mental images. But like @RobinHood70 mentioned, overly long and detailed descriptions can conflict with the reader’s image sometimes. Does anyone have tips on how you should physically describe someone? I mean, do you have a method? Do you start with the face, physique or smaller specific features?

1 Like

I confess that I feel many descriptions I read in stories on this site usually feel like pandering to a gay male audience.

In my opinion, you should use only as much description that will fit the nature of your story and the context of your character. In other words, use description only as a means establishing the character, not as a way to arouse an audience. Some impromptu examples:

  • He felt the light breeze brushing against his untrained body, the wind gently caressing his innocent locks.

  • As he turned around, his deep red hair betrayed a devilish intention that only a malevolent person would possess.

  • *His carefully chiseled face and pronounced pectorals could not help but proclaim his narcissistic self-absorption.

There’s another aspect about too much description that I think most writers forget. The vast majority of these stories are about white people. Of course, it rarely says “white” in any of the prose, but other descriptors (such as “blonde hair”) give it away. We should be more aware and sensitive to indirect or unintentional racism by having characters who could function either as white or black (or other color/ethnic group).


Writers here have varied purposes to their writing, and typical creative writing advice has to be adapted to your own specific purposes. The main reason for most of the stories on this site is to arouse their audience, in the same way that horror stories would be to scare them. That being said, nothing prevents you from trying to infuse some literary quality to your writing as well.

I have a Joint English Literature & Creative Writing degree (a bold choice since my first language is French). I do not write my erotic stories at all like I write my literary short stories and novels. My erotica stories are meant as guilty pleasures. Yet, I like my characters to be a bit more well rounded than just token sex objects, I want them to have personalities because to me that’s what makes them attractive as much as their appearance.

Writing is both a craft and an art. At university level, they assume you know the craft (there’s a plethora of great creative writing books around). They don’t teach any rules at all because they want to make sure you understand that there aren’t any rules, and they especially don’t want workshops critiques to turn into comments like: “You didn’t use the active voice here, it’s bad.” Yes, it is better to use the active instead of the passive one in most cases, but it’s not a crime not to. The critiques instead concentrate on reader feedback, to make you conscious of the impact your choices had.

  • In erotica, your characters’ attractiveness is usually crucial, contrary to any other genre. (Of course, there are lots of erotica stories where attractiveness is not important, or that explore non-traditional forms of attractiveness). That unfortunately constrains your descriptions, or, more positively, challenges you to be more creative. You can’t just have a hot guy, a sexy guy, a handsome guy, and a gorgeous guy. Any major flaw in the looks can turn off your audience (again, there are lots of exceptions but in general).

  • Using description to establish character is one good technique, yet even there you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of telling instead of showing. Character is shown mostly through action. Yet telling is not necessarily a bad thing, for example, if it comes through your main character’s voice, it can be that character’s personal analysis, which could be unreliable.

  • Being deliberately vague to let the reader project their own characteristics is usually a bad idea. You need to create real people, not blurry ones, and for that you need precise, telling, details. Having characters that function either as black or white makes them too vague in my opinion. (In movie adaptations, changing the race of a minor character works because it’s a unique variant of that character that is as precise as the original.) You’d be better off just having a more diverse cast from the get go. Although I don’t see it as racist to have all white stories, I do think that a diverse cast can enrich a story.

  • Being precise does not mean describing every physical aspect of the character, that creates too much noise for the reader. You must find the most important details, and if you can wrap them up within a unique theme, that’s even better. Using @nycboot’s examples, giving a few telling details that suggest innocence in describing one character, malevolence in another, and self-absorption in a third one, is a great way to go about it.

  • Develop personalities as carefully as you develop appearance: we are attracted to real people. When I choose an image (or series of), I want to know who that guy is, what he wants, how he acts, why he’s there – the images inspire each character’s story, and it is that story, more than the image, that makes it work.

Sorry, this is getting long. Hope it is useful.


Recommended Books (not sponsored of course): [3 books on descriptions]


That was fantastic, Mafisto! My writing has developed almost entirely by instinct, with no more formal training than reading the occasional thing here and there on the internet. I imagine that a lot of other writers on the site are in the same boat. It might be useful to have a thread or topic area with writing tips, both general ones and those specific to our genre.

It could potentially even expand to story-specific advice, if the author is open to it, although I can see that going south in a hurry if people aren’t careful about how they word their advice/critique, so maybe not. :stuck_out_tongue:

1 Like

You learn how to be a good fiction writer by reading great fiction books, not through formal training. Most writers don’t have formal training. It is complementary, not required at all. I got my degree in 2004-2007, so a few years after I had written most of my stories posted here, and 20 years after my first degree, which was in Science, of all things. Not surprisingly, it is the Science degree, not the English one, that pays the bills.


I’m with you, I tend to not like stories with linked or embedded character images because they are usually 1) not aligned with my initial mental impressions, and 2) a crutch for a writer to use in lieu of describing their characters. As you’ve said, Tumblr is a more image-focused forum than Gay Spiral Stories, so it makes sense that the user base there is more visually oriented and responds in kind.

So true. 1) no rules (see e e cummings) and 2) to write good fiction you need to READ good fiction.

1 Like