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A couple of my friends are synesthetes, which means that they experience reactions from more than one sense from the same stimulus. For example, letters and numbers might have colors, or names might have a flavor. I remember one saying that lockers tasted like chicken nuggets. Of course, she hadn’t actually licked the lockers, and I guarantee that they wouldn’t taste like fried chicken.

Synesthesia

Creative Commons License Photo by Kevin Dooley (Creative Commons)

Synesthesia in Writing

The term synesthesia can also apply to a writing technique, in which the writer uses words in a figurative way to evoke reader responses from multiple senses.

We use this technique without realizing it on a regular basis.

If you’ve ever talked about cool colors, loud wallpaper, or bitter cold, then you’ve used synesthesia in your language.

Authors Who Have Used Synesthesia

Multiple authors have used synesthesia in their writing. Dante used it in his Divine Comedy when he writes about “the region where the sun is silent”. Clearly the sun does not make noise, but the idea of the sun being silent uses the sense of hearing to evoke a sense of despair.

Keats, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost also use synesthesia in their writing to blend senses and bring out new reactions from their readers. Vladimir Nabokov, the celebrated author of Lolita, was interviewed by the BBC in 1962, and said this about his synesthesia:

The long “a” of the English alphabet has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French “a” evokes polished ebony.

Throwing synesthesia into your writing can lend a deeper meaning to your words, and it can connect your reader to your prose in a way that is creative and unique, leaving a lasting impression.

More resources:

Are you a synesthete? 

PRACTICE

Spend fifteen minutes writing a nature scene, using synesthesia to add new sensory layers in your description.

Post your practice in the comments section and check out what other writers are posting.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.
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