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Friday, February 04, 2011

How do you see the words you use when writing?

Someone asked me to elaborate on my ideas about words and their associations.  Is it a form of synesthesia?  They asked.

If I lie in bed and just think about a word – any word at random, I am confronted with a sort of image of that word.  It may contain letters or shapes and colours and often it will have smell and taste as well.  These may or may not be associated with the meaning.  Nouns often do have some sort of representation of the thing itself but many times they do not.  Take the words for colours, for instance:  “Brown” is, indeed, brown coloured but a very particular coffee colour and the shapes are round and tubular like a bundle of sticks, I suppose.  So far so logical.  But then “Green” is more a black dappled colour with only a little green and “Blue” is a definite yellowish wash.  None of these contain any of the letters of the words.

Let me give you another example:   The word “party” is a three dimensional red and yellow spiral like a Belgian bun outlined in black with one side bent towards me to form a sort of lip.  Are you following?  Good.  The interesting thing that follows is that words that rhyme have the same shape but a different colour so that “Tarty” is a bent sprial in a sort of navy blue and purple with an obvious acid taste.  “Arty” is pale green and “farty” is grey.  The name “Marty” is bright red (obviously an association with “tomato”).  In each case the shape is the same and that even extends into completely made up words but which rhym e – “sparty” is silver grey, “clarty” is a dark maroon and so on.

The upshot of all this is that when I’m writing I choose words that fit each other in shape and texture as well as meaning.  And often, when stuck for exactly the right word, I only have to try and picture its shape to get what I want.  

Try it yourself.  When you’re lying away in the small hours and sleep won’t come, picture the opening words or your latest story, play or poem – “tree branch marshmallow sunshine yellow dry grass.....”  “once upon a time....”

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