As a writer I thought this was interesting, but not a story. Yet.

train platformTravelling on the train last week, we pulled into a station. A few people got on, a few got off. Some stayed on the platform and, while the train tarried for a few moments, I noticed all of them were intent on their mobile phones, scrolling, staring into the screens, thumbing a message.

As a writer, I thought this was interesting, but not a story. Yet.

After we pulled out of the station and the fields on either side began to blur, I thought how mobile phones are a little like the Tardis from Doctor Who. They look small enough to fit in the hand, but look into them and you can see a whole world, the beauty of it and the bilious corrosion.

Again, as a writer, I thought this was interesting, but not a story. Yet.

Sitting on that warm train, I looked at the people around me. There was a couple sitting in the seats in front, she was clearly older than him and grateful for something. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you. It means a lot to me.” In the aisle were two noisy children, sitting on its each others laps while their mother looked on, concerned enough to care in case they were being a nuisance, but clearly too tired to keep them in check.

There was a ticket collector, a man who kept checking his pockets as if he had lost something, a young woman smiling as she stared at the window, thinking about someone or something that had made her happy that day. Here was real life, I thought, life that I could smell and hear, that was fleeting and could never be replayed. Something that wasn’t in binary code.

As a writer, I thought this was interesting, but not a story. Yet.

And then I went back to thinking about the people at the station with their mobile phones, and I thought how somehow it was a little like looking out at the world through a letterbox in a dark hallway, when what we should really do is simply open the door and step outside. How the whole mobile world gives us instant connection and gently, quietly pulls us apart.

Interesting. Story. Not yet.

The train reached my station and I got off. It was cold and the platform was crowded. I began to think about getting home and how the nights were so sudden and early at this time of year.

On my way home, I thought about the phones, the platform, the people on the train. And I thought about how images like that are great elements of a story. And how the emotions and feelings that they produce are elements of a  story. And how the thoughts and ideas they stimulate are also elements of story.

But they are just that – elements. As a writer we need to recognise when these moments of insight occur and store them somewhere in that bit of the brain that keeps these things safe, because some time, sooner or later, they will form a bond with a character and a voice.

And it will be at that point, as a writer, when the real story will emerge.