As Elaine harvested plums, carrying them from the garden to the kitchen, she glanced through the large windows of Barnaby's studio. She could barely see her husband: only a blur as he moved with superhuman rapidity, augmented by the Alipes system. He flitted between three separate canvases, executing portraits simultaneously in watercolours, oils, and pastels. Today's client sat at the far end of the studio, her stillness emphasised by the contrast with Barnaby's whirlwind. Elaine disliked these Alipes-assisted commissions, but many customers appreciated the shorter modelling time.
When Elaine heard the client's car drive away, she began chopping vegetables for a stir-fry dinner. Soon Barnaby bounded into the kitchen with a huge grin on his face. Elaine hated it when Barnaby looked so happy after a session in the studio. From his perspective, depending on his overclock rate, it had been days or weeks since he last spoke to her.
The premise of this story is a science-fictional gadget that distorts time and allows people to live at a faster rate than normal, so they can pack more hours into a day. I got the idea from the world of computing, where "overclocking" means forcing a computer to run faster than it normally does. My working title for the story was "Overclocked", but I decided to change it for publication because it had already been used by Cory Doctorow as the title of a short-story collection; while there's no copyright in titles, I didn't want to cause any confusion or invite any comparisons.
When starting from an idea for an SF gadget, the process of developing a story is one of asking questions such as, "What would it be used for? How far can it go? What are the drawbacks?" In practice, any piece of technology has a wide range of application, but for the purposes of a short story (as opposed to a novel) it's best to focus on a particular field.
I chose the field of art, because the production of art is a time-consuming process, and artists often struggle to find enough time to execute their vision. If you overclock, you gain more time and can increase the quality and quantity of your work.
Yet art needs buyers, and operates according to the laws of supply and demand. Just because artists can produce more stuff, that doesn't mean consumers want to buy more stuff. So overclocking leads to brutal competition as the market is flooded. How to compete? You can go further, and overclock at ever faster rates — but in the process, you isolate yourself from the outside world. In the end, what is the cost? And is it worth paying?
There is a structural similarity between "Fasterpiece" and my "Ormonde and Chase" stories, which I only noticed after I'd written them. In each case the main characters are a romantically involved couple where one person is an artist and the other is their business manager; the story's protagonist is the business manager, whose role is to be the person who deals with practicalities and consequences. (A minor difference is that the genders are flipped between the stories: in "Fasterpiece" the artist is male and the business manager is female; in the "Ormonde and Chase" series it's the other way round.) From a narrative perspective, there are two advantages of the central couple being tied together both professionally and romantically. It keeps the cast small by doubling their roles, as opposed to introducing extra characters; in short fiction it's often helpful to keep the number of characters as small as possible. And it raises the stakes by making any disagreement between the couple (arising from how the artist is affected by the story's science-fictional premise) threaten not only their professional partnership but also their marriage.