Synesthesia and Writing

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines synesthesia as 1.) “a concomitant sensation; especially:  a subjective sensation or image of a sense (as of color) other than the one (as of sound) being stimulated” and 2. “the condition marked by the experience of such sensations”.

To a person with synesthesia, the color yellow might sound like a symphony and the wind might taste like copper.  We find examples of synesthetic language in everyday idioms.  Take for example the phrases “bitter cold”, “actions speak louder than words”, “taste the rainbow”, or “green with envy”.  Frigid air is not literally bitter, yet the association of tactile and gustatory sensation enriches the image.  We, as readers, are urged to physically participate through sensory comprehension.  Synesthesia is a powerful literary device—it brings writing to life through direct expression of the author’s particular imagination.

     Now, I’m sure you are all wondering how synesthesia relates to tutoring writing.  The answer is animation.  Allow us to explain.  Anton Chekov once said:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

As Chekov so aptly demonstrates, the key to “good writing” is to show rather than to tell.  Writing is a medium with which we, as narrators of our own minds, articulate the subjective experience.  At least that is how we would like to imagine it. And more often than not, when we write with this ideal in mind, we write confidently and boldly.

As tutors, we should be careful not to overcomplicate the task of writing. Sure, to write an academic piece is to participate in a conversation, to deftly navigate the rhetorical conventions of the genre, but students shouldn’t cling too closely to structure. In tutoring, we should encourage students to be bold and find their voices as writers. This means trusting the immediate associations that they form, regardless of whether the end result fits perfectly with academic conventions.