Archive for March 22, 2024

In Another Life

I had another one of those “this is a thing I like!” experiences with something I was watching last week, so I’ve got a new plot element to add to my list. I’m not sure if I’d call it a trope because it’s pretty specific. I’m calling it “in another life.”

This is a situation in which two characters have known each other and maybe even were in love, but then meet again in different circumstances and one or both doesn’t remember, or else they’re different people, so things have changed. It really only works in a science fiction or fantasy story because you need something that doesn’t generally exist in reality to create the situation — things like time travel, alternate universes, memory spells, clones, etc. The only thing that might make it work in a non-SF story is amnesia, and real-world amnesia doesn’t really work that way.

Some examples:
Farscape had one of the best TV romance stories ever, possibly because they made use of this trope to extend the “will they/won’t they” phase while also still having a relationship. Spoilers ahead. The main relationship started as enemies, then they became reluctant allies, then allies, then friends, and then they spent a long time in what I call “affection” (another reason I think this relationship worked — it was a slow burn, and most of the “Moonlighting syndrome” relationships go from animosity straight to bed without passing through a transitional phase). While they were hanging out and having long talks while snuggled against each other but weren’t yet lovers, some science fictiony thing happened that made a duplicate of him. One version went off to have other adventures while one stayed on the ship, where the relationship continued to progress, and they eventually became lovers. Then he died heroically and tragically, and then the other version returned and it was weird for them because he wasn’t the same person she’d fallen in love with. He was the same up to the point of the duplication, but he hadn’t had the experience of becoming her lover and had gone off and had a lot of other experiences. He was someone she could fall in love with, but it was painful for her to see this person who was just like the man she lost, so it reset their relationship. Eventually, they did end up together.

The series Haven had something like this. We learned later in the series that she kept getting a new personality and memories and getting sent back to this town. Thanks to time travel, he kept getting sent back and meeting her past identities, and they always fell in love. So by the time they met, she’d already fallen in love with him a couple of times in her past, but that was still in his future. She didn’t remember it, but she was drawn to him.

The one that made me realize that I like this sort of thing was a show I won’t name to avoid spoilers (it’s pretty recent). A character found herself in a different timeline where history had gone differently and she was the only one aware of the change. She and a person from that timeline ended up going back in time and had to set things right, stopping another time traveler from trying to change history. They developed feelings during the mission, but they realized that if they were successful, he wouldn’t exist. There would be a version of him, but he would be different because he would be from a different world. After the mission was complete and she was back in her time, which had returned to the timeline she knew, she encountered the version of that person, and of course he didn’t know her and he wasn’t the person she’d fallen for (but maybe he could be …)

I’m less a fan of reincarnation stories, and there usually neither of them is aware of what’s going on, so it’s all on the audience to feel the angst of their past selves, but something like Dead Again also gives some of the same vibe.

I’m trying to figure out why this is a story line that has me going “ooh!” I think part of it is figuring out what aspect of a person makes that person who they are. There’s bound to be some element of their personality that would be the same, no matter what, but then people are also shaped by their experiences. This kind of story with alternate timelines or artificial personalities or memory wipes or duplicates, etc., is like having a control group to study which changes will have which effects and which things remain constant.

But as a fan of slow-burn romances, I think it’s also that it’s fun to have a bit of a reset button. You can have a relationship come to fruition and then send it back to square one to start all over again. It’s a fun way of avoiding that problem in a series of having a relationship work out and then not knowing what to do with it. You can also have a dramatic, tragic death and still have your lovers get together eventually in some form. You get to have both angst and a happy ending, having your cake and eating it, too.

And I think there’s that element of “meant to be” if people keep falling in love with each other in multiple timelines or versions of themselves. You know you’ve got a truly epic romance when these same people fall for each other every time, no matter what’s changed about them.

I haven’t tried using this yet in my work, though I come close in the Rydding Village books. Now I need to see if I can come up with a plot that goes all-out with this.