SAS: The Perils of Being an Author With Synesthesia, by Morgan Bauman

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Morgan Bauman is a YA fantasy author currently in the process of publishing her series “UNTOLD MEMORIES”. You can check out her blog here!

The letter A is a brilliant, apple red. The number 4 is a green so vivid and fresh that grass dreams of it during long hot summers–summers that scorch grass the dry, brittle yellow of the song Hotel California. E is green, too; a frostier green, colder and deeper. My main character’s personality is a dulled, reddish brown that matches the R that begins her name.

Synesthesia is a relatively rare condition in which the sensory wires in the brain overlap and intermingle; one sense involuntarily sets off another sensation (in addition to the sensation it would have triggered on its own in a neurotypical brain). For some people, letters may have personalities; scents may evoke specific textures pressed against one’s hands; tastes may have shapes; the days of the week may each have a poignant flavor. This isn’t something imagined by the synesthete; if tested, the sensations will remain constant over years and decades.

For me, every musical note, letter, number, concept, voice, and character has a color. The color of a word on the page doesn’t always match the color of the word in the air. Just like the tightly packed dots of color in an old-time comic book, the words’ colors change as I string them into sentences and paragraphs, bleeding into each other, warping and fading. Commonly used words tend to fade, color-wise; as a child, I thought this was what people referred to when they said, “That’s my name; don’t wear it out.” If I pack too many vibrant words together, paragraphs begin to clash and look disjointed. My stories have to look good on paper as well as aloud, so I read them to myself as I go.

So far, it probably sounds like a boon, and it is; I wouldn’t trade my synesthesia for a million dollar book deal. But the title of this piece mentions peril. What perils could there be?

If I’m listening to a song with dark brown guitar and yellow-brown vocals–while writing about a character with a green personality interacting with one with a dull red personality–but this particular chapter calls for muted blue in the description, I sometimes stop ten or thirty times and just hold my head in my hands while trying to sort through everything. I get distracted. The words get jammed in my fingers, the tip of my tongue, impossible to dislodge.

Color flow–whether in a mix CD or a chapter–is extremely important to me. I intentionally use jarringly different colors in language for a specific effect; I name characters and their personality blossoms out of the colors of their name (or they get renamed).

Which leads me to the final peril of being an author with synesthesia: sometimes, you write something literal only to have it be taken as metaphor; other times, you realize that your hidden description–the colors coursing underneath the text–are invisible to all of your readers. The hidden, watery themes; the dry touch of the desert in your villains; the bursts of vivid color on the barren landscape of the page–invisible.

Even so, I like to include them. After all, what’s better than secrets hidden in plain sight?


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