Thursday, March 31, 2011

Anatomy of an Idea: First Contact

This story was inspired by the concept of synesthesia - which is experiencing a sensation associated with one sense (ie, sight or hearing) through a different sense. For instance, one might hear color or taste music. It's a genuine clinical condition, but also has broader application.

Back to and their monthly story challenge. This was a prompt I had suggested: first contact. Why should science fiction have all the fun of first encounters? (It doesn't, but that may be a popular perception.) Of course, as the person who came up with the prompt, I wanted to take it one step further, and decided to take the phrase "first contact" literally - the first time a character experiences touch.

This led me into deciding why a character would find themselves in that situation, and I decided this stringent purity had been forced upon the character from infancy. Description and metaphor are generally based in things familiar to us - we don't make comparisons between two foreign objects. Instead, we familiarize the new by comparing it to the known.

So in "First Contact," physical sensations, from passing breezes to fabric against skin, are phrased (back to the first paragraph again! Have faith in me, it's all interconnected) in terms of sight, sound and occasionally smell, the way the narrator would think of them. It was challenging to come up with descriptions in this vein that were evocative, realistic, but seamless enough that they didn't throttle the reader over the head with their cleverness.

I realize that quoting Shakespeare is extra high-falutin', but one line stuck in my head when I started to conceive this story and would not let go, and I finally succumbed to placing it at the beginning:

But then there was a star danced, and under that was I born ...

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