A rare medical condition, synaesthesia is what happens when someone experiences two or more of the senses when, in fact, only one sense or sensation is being experienced. People with this condition ‘taste’ words, ‘see’ sounds or scents, and even ‘hear’ colours.
For these people, the number ‘2’ may always present as ‘red’. Biting into a cheese sandwich, they may hear a Bruckner symphony. For others, Monday may look like a hipster in a black hoodie. It’s not a hallucination but rather an altered way of receiving reality.
Re-imagining The Senses
In writing, we can play with the senses and take some creative license to tease the reader’s imagination. As a device or technique, literary synaesthesia can be used to make our descriptions more vivid and radiant.
We relate one sense – or sensation – to another sense to create imagery and emotion. Colour is attributed to sound, scent to colour and so on. In fact, most of us use little bits of synaesthesia in our speech every day. We say, ‘That’s a cool idea’, ‘Why does she love those loud colours?’ or ‘The silence was icy!’
How Can You Use Synaesthesia?
Well, you would mostly use it for description. Here are some examples that may give you an idea.
Touch as taste
▌Her body was an unrestrained palate for the senses, as Jamie’s fingers licked through the soft honey of her hair, his palm drinking in the smooth almond of her throat, before his mouth feasted, with delicate greed, on strawberry lips.
Sight as smell
▌Jill stood on the pier and looked out at the sea. The crystalline light opened in her mind the lemon-scented lace curtains of her grandmother’s kitchen after laundry day. The restless blue-green waves suddenly filled her senses with the heady bubbled perfume her mother’s long baths before she went out dancing with her father. And the distant sun, hidden behind the clouds, as hypnotically fragrant as a vanilla incense in its smoky scent of hot and glimmering adventure. She closed her eyes, flared out her nostrils, and smelled the anticipation of the fragrant morning.
OK, a bit flowery – and perhaps bordering on simile or metaphor – but you get the idea. Synaesthesia can be fun. Even if you don’t use all the descriptions in your story, it will at least get the creativity flowing and open the imagination up to new ideas.
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