When the decisive moment creates a story

Mom and Dad with baby

An example of a decisive moment worthy of a backstory — the father’s hand and the mother’s kiss show the tenderness they feel towards their baby. Ok, so it’s a posed photo, but you get the idea. Image courtesy of pressto44, Morguefile.

Have you ever witnessed one of those moments in real life that fired up your writer’s imagination and made you yearn to write a backstory for it? It’s funny how those moments appear out of nowhere, just when you’re least expecting them.

Years ago, I was walking through Heathrow Airport on my way back home, when I spotted a young Asian couple hugging each other. I don’t know exactly what it was about these two that captured my attention, but I still remember that moment after all this time. Maybe it was their absolute stillness since the other travelers were too busy to dawdle and intent on getting somewhere else. Perhaps it was the tightness of the hug or the fact that their eyes were shut as if they were both undergoing strong feelings. For some reason, there was an atmosphere of intense emotion about this couple who appeared to be in their early twenties.

I often wonder what their backstory was. Were they reuniting after a long period of being apart? Was one of them going back home, never to be seen by the other again? Maybe they were brother and sister; maybe they were boyfriend and girlfriend. I’ll never know. But something compelled me to watch them for a moment, even though I only gave them a quick look before I passed by on my way to catch my plane.

French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism, called a moment like this “the decisive moment”. ┬áHe specialized in capturing these real-life moments, because these moments are how someone defines their true character.

As a writer, I like to witness these great moments whenever I see them. Give me long enough, and I could probably work up an entire book of short stories based on them. But for now, I’m just doing a blog post.

With social media, it’s now become easier for people to share these moments with one another. A friend of mine shared this fun video from Coca-Cola from her Facebook page. Yes, it’s advertising a product (and no, neither one of us works for that company), but it goes a step further in showing some of the best moments of humanity all over the world: compassion, friendship, love, affection, goofiness, caring and more.

Enjoy it, people, and have a good Thanksgiving.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “When the decisive moment creates a story

  1. I have an airport backstory as well. I like the term decisive moment.

  2. Okay . . . LOVED that video. Why the heck did it make me tear up?

    Your airport story is timely. I was in the Seattle airport yesterday. When I was standing in line at security, I noticed a woman standing next to the security line all by herself. She was crying and her eyes were an angry shade of red. I longed for her back story. I looked around at the people in line with me to figure out who she just said goodbye to. The anguish on her face was heartbreaking and I wanted to give her a hug.

  3. A million stories are out there – most willing to be caught – don’t even try to elude the net….but the problem is where and how to store them until ready.

  4. Yes, it’s funny, we witness interactions and snippets of other people’s conversations and things all the time and don’t think anything of it. But occasionally we witness something that really stays with us, and like you say, as a writer, fires our imagination.

    I was on a train once, at least 15 years ago, and there was a guy, around mid-40s, dressed smartly in a suit. With him was a pretty girl, around 20 yrs. old, also dressed quite “officey”. The guy had a look of absolute shock on his face, not bad shock, more happy shock, and every so often, he kept saying “I just can’t believe this has happened.” and she kept giving him little kisses and saying things like, “Don’t worry, just be happy that it’s happened.” I just couldn’t stop looking at them and wondering what the story was! And whenever I’m on a train, I remember it, I think it was the look on his face that mostly stayed with me!

  5. My fiance is wonderful at observing people and asking, “I wonder what his/her/their story is?” I love that about him. I’ve been so wrapped up in telling my story that it’s good to get out of my story and conjecture about someone else’s…

    • Isn’t it fun to people-watch sometimes? Airports and shopping malls provide an endless source of entertainment that way. I like to guess people’s nationalities, jobs, etc. It alleviates the tedium of waiting in line.

  6. Great post and something I do all the time. I find myself looking at strangers’ facial expressions and wondering: What’s going on behind their eyes? What’s the story there? Definitely gets the imagination going!

  7. Sometimes I think that all life is story, but we’re usually too preoccupied or busy to realize that the “decisive moment” is right in front of us. In these days of my blogging break, I keep seeing one story after another share itself. A trip to the mailbox in the inky black of night, a bat with *almost* one wing, a chickadee flying inside through the open window.

    But what generates enough energy to actually prompt us to sit at the computer, writing down the stories? Like the airport story you shared, it sounds like emotion may be the major prompter. Happy Thanksgiving, Editor!

  8. This is an excellent thought and so true too.

    I once saw a girl across a restaurant. She was sitting absolutely still, her face was young, pale and turned slightly aside. No movement on her face except for tears running down her cheeks and into her neck. When I shifted slightly in my chair (we were being serenaded by a troupe of Mexican musicians at the time), I could see her partner at the table. A larger and slightly older man. He was talking nonstop, gesticulating with his hands.. haranguing was the word that came to mind then. I could not hear them above the mandolin and jubilant song right at my table. My husband clapping in time. The man must have been talking loudly, lecturing, breaking her heart. The tables close by were hunched away from them. We were right over the other side by the windows. Far from her.

    This must have been twenty-odd years ago. I always wondered what her story was. In fact, that scene is written into the work I have on the screen now. I never forgot it. Lovely post.. thank you.. Celi

  9. Triple E – I find myself doing this all the time, especially during the 45-minute drive home from work in the afternoon. If I were to complete all these I might be able to publish and make that my full-time profession!

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