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Synesthesia as a literary device

a walk in to the woodsA writing exercise book I have used for a while touched on synesthesia today. The term refers to a neurological condition where the patient has one or more sensory experiences linked in their minds. Examples might be someone feeling the color blue or describing the sudden darkness of a room by way of the octaves the room had been lowered. I’d equate it to the belief that LSD makes one hear colors and see sounds.

For your reference, here’s the Wikipedia article on Synesthesia in literature page…

Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which one or more sensory modalities become linked. However, for over a century, the term synesthesia has also been used to refer to artistic and poetic devices which attempt to express a linkage between the senses. To better understand the influence of synesthesia in popular culture and the way it is viewed by non-synesthetes, it is informative to examine books in which one of the main characters is portrayed as experiencing synesthesia. In addition to these fictional portrayals, the way in which synesthesia is presented in non-fiction books to non-specialist audiences is instructive. Author and synesthete Patricia Lynne Duffy has described four ways in which synesthete characters have been used in modern fiction.


The exercise I read wanted us to use synesthesia in a short description. It should not be obvious we have used the device, but rather hidden it like a down pillow in a newly washed case.

Here’s my sample for you to ridicule.

Pollock stood on the cradle of straw stacks that lined the edge of the barn. Before him, a long wide beam would carry him to the next loft, where he would scrounge and hide from his brother. A cloud passing over on the summer day softened the cracks in the beam, so it almost seemed sturdy.

Pollock placed both feet on the soil-brown beam. He inched across the great expanse, a sour flavor emerging with each step — the air around him thick and wet with humidity. Each creak of the beam colored his soul blacker and blacker until he felt like he would sink into the abyss, dark as night, lost forever. But he kept on, and on, until he made it.