I said something on Twitter yesterday that I stand by, even as it makes me uncomfortable:  “I hope it isn’t belittling the condition to say so, but I’ve always thought it would be fascinating to have that for one day.”

“That” is Synesthesia, a very real mental condition in which the wiring for the various senses gets crossed or confused, and people experience the wrong sorts of sensations for the wrong sort of stimulus.  Which means that shapes may have flavors or sounds may have colors.  Most commonly it results in letters or numbers being associated with specific colors within the mind.  What amazes me about this is the agreement between synesthetes about these letter-color combinations, almost like there’s something very clear that I’m just not getting.

I’m getting uncomfortable again, as though the previous statement makes this sound like something to be jealous of.  Let me stress, I find the condition fascinating not enviable.  Largely because it’s one of those ways where a brain can work so much differently from my own.  On the positive end of the spectrum I’ve seen it described as akin to perfect pitch (which is, from my understanding, a mixed blessing in and of itself) and on the negative end compared to color blindness.  I can’t say where the truth is, I don’t know where it lies.  I do know that some sufferers are just that, suffering.  Which is why I feel so uncomfortable standing behind that statement.

I really do wish I could know what it was like.  Just for one day.

See, as writers, we’re required to create a certain amount of Synesthesia in our work.  We need to be able to convey any amount of sensory experiences in simple words, nearly akin to turning any and all taste, smell, hearing, or touch into a visual experience.  And that’s the part of my writing where I struggle the most.  My beta readers, including the other contributors to this blog, call it my white box syndrome.  I’ll have characters having an interesting interaction in an entirely undefined space.  An empty room, an empty field, a formless void of nothingness.

For the time being, I’m getting around this by cheating.  I’m coauthoring a novel right now with my wife who has every bit of skill I lack in conveying senses of place in a few well chosen words.  I can’t always cheat like that, though, because I can’t force her to tie her entire writing career to me.  So I’ve been doing what I can to learn better use of sensory input.  I played around with a short story where I made a character incapable of seeing, trying to force the use of other senses.  But it still just didn’t quite work.  It’s going to come down to practice, practice, practice.

I’m not sure why I think Synesthesia would help, I really don’t.  But experiencing sensual input differently, having another way to process it through the brain for just a little while.  It certainly couldn’t hurt.

About the author

DLThurston DL Thurston is a writer of novels, screenplays, and the occasional short story. He has short stories due out soon in the Steam Works anthology from Hydra Publications and in The Memory Eater. When he's not writing, he also brews beer and even drinks it sometimes. Check out his exploits either on his blog or on Twitter.