Tuesday, October 4, 2016

So Your Character Has Synesthesia ... Featuring Liz @ Out of Coffee Out of Mind





The first time I'd heard about synesthesia was actually in a Good Mythical Morning episode. According to wikipedia, synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon "in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway." Basically, this means people with this phenomenon can do things such as hear colors or see sounds. I don't know about you, but that sounds awesome.


So Your Character Is ... is an on going series where I interview or talk about myself about different people groups, countries, etc. for writing more accurate characters. Liz Brooks from Out of Coffee Out of Mind has this phenomenon! I found out about it just a few weeks after hearing about it. You may remember her from her So Your Character Has PTSD ... post.

Let's welcome Liz back!


(Images aren't mine) 

My name is Liz, and I am a full-time, as-of-yet-unpaid writer. Aside from blogging and noveling (that’s totally a word), I drink copious amounts of coffee, research random/useless bits of information, and debate the finer points of punctuation. I am also a martial artist. As a child, I lived in Ivory Coast, West Africa for over two years, and apparently people find that interesting. One day I plan to rule the world. 




How does your synesthesia physically feel? How do you think it compares to those who don’t have this?
My synesthesia consists of seeing music, letters, numbers, stories, shapes, and smells as having color, which doesn’t have any physical effect on me. However, there are other forms of synesthesia that do involve touch—for instance, certain sounds might produce certain sensations in the body. (If you’re confused, think of it this way: if you can think of any sensory pairing, such as taste and color, you will likely find it in some synesthete somewhere, as there are many different types of synesthesia.) 

How do you feel about your synesthesia?
I love it. When I was younger, I mentioned to my mom that I see letters and numbers as having color and she told me that wasn’t normal. We were both a little concerned that this was a sign of some sort of mental illness. So I was really relieved when I found out that I had synesthesia, which is a phenomenon, not a disorder or an illness. It’s a definite artistic advantage—some design fields are friendlier to synesthetes for this very reason. At times it can be a bit of a sensory overload, but other than that, I have only positive feelings about my synesthesia. 

What challenges does your synesthesia pose?
None, really. Sometimes I can be a bit nitpicky about the little things. For instance, when I’m editing, I might change a word in a sentence because its colors don’t match well with the colors in the rest of the sentence. It can also be a little bit frustrating if an album cover is the wrong color for the music inside, but it’s not a big deal. For me, the only real downside is that it can be distracting/overwhelming at times. 

Is there anything you like about your synesthesia?
Basically everything. It’s fun to know that I see a certain side of the world not many other people see. I get to enjoy a more colorful life, so to speak, than your average Joe. I love being a writer, partly because I get to work with colors and make art out of words, even if I know no one else can see the art exactly the way I see it. 

Synesthesia is also a great conversation starter, once you get over the “I’m not insane, I promise” part. I get to have all sorts of inside jokes with myself and I get to use my own private method of symbolism because there are letter and number combinations that mean something extra that only I know about, so my art takes on a whole new meaning for me. It’s also great for when I’m using coloring books, because I can see all the color in the black-and-white pictures, and all I have to do is copy it down. 

Do you think your day differs from others because of your synesthesia?
Not really. I will probably appreciate a bunch of color-related things that no one else will appreciate, because they are distinctly mine. But other than that, I can’t think of any way my day differs. 

Do you have any cultural differences between others who also have your synesthesia and those who do not?
Those without synesthesia are sometimes quick to think they might have it, just because of the power of suggestion, so it can be a little frustrating trying to explain the distinction between when you have actual synesthesia and when you’re, for instance, assigning random colors to letters because you think that’s how it works. 

(Example: If you say the letter “a” is red one day, but then forget and say it’s yellow on another, then that’s a good sign you’re not actually synesthetic. It just means you like the idea of synesthesia. And who can blame you?) The biggest difference I’ve encountered with other synesthetes, my sister included, is that we see things differently. For instance, while “3” is lime green for me, it might be pink for someone else. 

What are some stereotypes about your synesthesia that irk you?
I haven’t encountered any that I can think of, so I can’t really help you on this one. Sorry. :(

What media portrays your synesthesia badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I haven’t encountered much media that portrays synesthesia in any form (although I know it’s out there), and if I’ve encountered any that portrays it badly, I can’t remember. 

What media portrays your synesthesia well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I know that Ratatouille references at least one form of synesthesia, and as far as I can remember, it was accurate. Tangled makes a reference to synesthesia when Flynn and Rapunzel are in the Ugly Duckling Tavern and Flynn says that overall the air in there smells like the color brown. Other than those two, I can’t remember any other references to synesthesia. 

Who are your top three favorite characters who also have synesthesia in books, movies, or shows?
I haven’t encountered enough representation to accurately pick any favorites. Sorry. :( 



Thank you again, Liz! This is such a wealth of information! Thanks for reading!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail.com.

Do you have any characters with synesthesia? Did this inspire you to write a character with synesthesia? Do you have synesthesia and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Liz? Be sure to thank her!

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