This is an old story idea that I have been sitting on for a long time, perhaps since I was 18 or so, and thinking of writing my ‘one big story’ that everyone aspires to write, but never gets around to! However, I did not think that I could spin it into a big story, or even a short story, so it was never written.
I like ‘plays on time’, where one timeline can punch through into another, and drastically change the perspectives, or even change events. I also believe that the strongest stories start with very simple devices or assumptions, and the complexity emerges naturally from that which is assumed different for the purposes of the story.
Tragedy as Impact
In this case we have a portal, and two fairly ordinary characters. Perhaps I have not written the strongest possible story; I have kept the show-stopping drama to a minimum. This might disappoint some, but I don’t believe in pushing plot events as a means of reaching points that are implausibly dramatic, jaw-dropping, one-hit extremities, unless it’s necessary to telling the story. Given the premise of a portal, and the way that it works, I think it a plausible description of some of the times that two unknown people would have, given their limitations of contact and time together. We don’t have time paradoxes, multiple messy deaths, explosions, destruction, gratuitous sex, nor many other elements that some would say are missing from a tragic story like this.
The tragedy is the unchangeable nature of one’s time having been spent, as expressed by Olivia at the end, and of David’s visits seeing her seemingly leapfrogging through age. Conversely, there is hope for David, for the times he will have with Olivia. There is also pain for him: he will know that she will sacrifice a part of herself every time she will visit, and there are things he has seen that he must not tell. He must also wonder how much he has lost by visiting her. On the surface, this does not seem to be anything other than a story of crossing timelines, but the more you look into their arrangement, the more you appreciate how much consideration and tough judgement one character exercises for the other. I could have written many encounters to make the story richer and more complete, but alas I ran out of time. I might improve it for a second edition.
The closest story I have seen to this one is “The Girl in the Fireplace”, an episode of Doctor Who written by the talented Steven Moffat. It involved the lead character visiting a woman at various points in her life – I will refrain from describing more, because it might spoil your appreciation of it, should you ever decide to watch it for the first time.
My story, now called “A Lightness of Touch”, does this from the perspective of two characters visiting each other. The rule is that no matter what the age of the visitor in real life, they take on the age and appearance of the person who is being visited. It means that the host does not know the age of the visitor, but they seem perfectly matched (an aspect I eventually didn’t use meaningfully in the plot, but would be part of the discovery process in a longer version of the story).
Of course, there are gaps that are left for the reader’s imagination to fill: questions unanswered. What happened to David that Olivia can’t reveal? Why was she so ill at various points in her life? Why does the portal only work at certain times of the characters’ lives, and what determines the point in the visited character’s life that the visitor lands in?
The cover image was devised after writing the plot outline. The fusion of the two cards seemed a fitting image for the story. I created it by manually splicing two public-domain images of playing cards, along with some drawing to create a derived work. Although I think it’s a neat job, I’m thinking that it sits too seemlessly and comfortably to have as much impact as I would like for a book cover. Again, I might revisit this in future.
I’ll wrap this Author Insight up by saying that it was a challenge and a pleasure to write, in stolen opportunities at the keyboard, and in my head when I was away from the keyboard, all during difficult times.