Often when I write, I find it very difficult to find the right words to describe how a character is feeling, or how an environment should be described. I see it in my head and feel it in my body, but it’s like trying to find a word to describe it that doesn’t exist in the English language. Some of my favourite words don’t have an English equivalent, such as ‘fernweh’, the German word for a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never visited, ‘tsundoku’, the Japanese word for leaving a new book unread, and (my favorite), ‘kummerspeck’, literally ‘grief bacon’, the German word to describe what happens when you eat while you are sad.
I experience it as a form of synesthesia. People with this rare neurological condition experience one thing through another sense. So they taste shapes and smell colours. They can also associate letters, shapes and numbers with smell, shape and colour. Sometimes, when I think of how a character is feeling, it’s more than just an emotion, a set of physiological responses. I experience it as having a shape, a form, a colour, and these also have their own feelings, so it becomes a prickly, light, fizzing, lemony, fractured, fractalled form, buzzing with adrenaline. And this description still doesn’t give justice to my experiences and what I want the reader to feel.
I do have words that I love in the English language. Provenance, alacrity, and smoulder are three of my favourites, even though none enter my writing or speech as much as swear words. When I write, I often overuse words and have to go back and change or remove them, helped by a thesaurus. But when I find the perfect word for the perfect moment it’s like sinking into a warm bath with a mouthful of chocolate.