Diamond Jubilee at Romance at Random

"The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." Albert Einstein

Friday, April 22, 2011

Colorful Writing

Have you been feeling Blue? Yellow-bellied? Red-faced? Green with envy?

While these examples are cliche, using color to describe characters and the world around them is almost mandatory for a writer. But finding new and innovative ways to use color in writing is a challenge.

One of the most interesting things about color I've learned was through my studies in the theater. There are three primary colors of light -- red, green, blue -- that create every other color in the light spectrum.

Similarly pigment also has three primary colors -- red, yellow, blue -- which create every color in the spectrum.

The major difference between pigment and light is this: In light, all the colors combined create white but in pigment all the colors combine to create black. In light, black is the absence of any color where in pigment white is the absence of any color.

Throughout history, world cultures have linked colors to various emotions and life events. This symbolism can help us paint our pages with imagery. For example, when we’re considering what characters might wear, the colors they prefer might be symbolic of their station in life or the condition of their psyche.

Check out the chart on color symbolism below. Many things in the list won’t come as a surprise, but maybe a few will.

Color Symbolism Chart
Excitement, energy, passion, desire, speed, strength, power, heat, love, aggression, danger, fire, blood, war, violence, aggression, all things intense and passionate.
Joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, gold, philosophy, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard.
Peace, tranquility, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, loyalty, sky, water, cold, technology, depression, appetite suppressant.
Energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, vibrant, expansive, flamboyant, demanding of attention.
Nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, vigor, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy, misfortune.
Royalty, spirituality, nobility, spirituality, ceremony, mysterious, transformation, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, arrogance, mourning.
Security, reliability, intelligence, staid, modesty, dignity, maturity, solid, conservative, practical, old age, sadness, boring
Earth, hearth, home, outdoors, reliability, comfort, endurance, stability, simplicity, and comfort.
Reverence, purity, simplicity, cleanliness, peace, humility, precision, innocence, youth, birth, winter, snow, good, sterility, marriage (Western cultures), death (Eastern cultures), cold, clinical, sterile.

Power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, elegance, wealth, mystery, fear, evil, anonymity, unhappiness, depth, style, evil, sadness, remorse, anger, underground, good technical color, mourning, death (Western cultures).

Which ones surprised you?

Here's a great website with interesting and helpful information. Everything you ever wanted to know about color and more is here.

Tell me -- How do you use color in your writing?


Marguerite Arotin said...

Guess I made the right choice when I had my heroine wear a little black dress for her first date in current WIP :). I do try to work color into garments, flowers, and even physical features like eye color and hair color as much as I can in my stories. Very cool chart and I learned a lot from it tonight :)

Martha Ramirez said...

Awesome post! So colorful and pretty.

a.c. MASON said...

I use color to set the mood or void color to create stark contrasts. It’s always good to mind ourselves of the importance of setting the stage thematically.


Kary said...

Yes - Marguerite I have employed the LBD for my heroine too. They as useful in print as in real life. :-))

Thanks, Martha for stopping by.

Well said, Mason. Setting the stage is right. In theater color plays such an important role but generally muted tones and softer hues are used. In writing, however, the more vivid the color or contrast the stronger the mood or emotion.

Lisa Kumar said...

Love the post, Kary! Color is so important in setting the scene. If characters are happy, the things they notice around them will often reflect that mood--the same for anger, sadness, or any other emotion.

Kary said...

Thanks, Lisa for your help with the post. I think color is one of the best ways to show emotion in a scene too.

Katie M said...

I really liked your post, Kary. Color is like a bridge that helps tie elements together--emotion to a character or description of the setting to the ambience of the story. Thanks for the chart...what a great reminder of how to implement color to help set the stage!

Sheri Fredricks said...

I don't think I've seen anyone blog about the use of color in writing. And I agree that color enhances and exemplifies that which we write. Nice Post!!

Stacy said...

Wow Kary, what an interesting post. I think the cowardice yellow or the reliable brown suprised me the most although they have a nice ring to them. I love color. Even the lack of color or specific colors can trigger thoughts in scenes and get the readers' imaginations working. There's definitely a lot more to it than one would first think.

Kary said...

Thanks, Katie. I agree we need as many things as possible to set an effective scene and color can certainly ties those together.

Kary said...


I hadn't seen a post on color either and thought it might be fun. Ever since that class in lighting design I have been fascinated with colors and how they merge to make other colors. I'm glad you enjoyed.

Kary said...

Stacy -- Thanks for stopping by. Brown being reliable is kind of funny. I think UPS "what can brown do for you?" Probably they knew about this color chart when they picked the color. There is so much more to color than description, for sure.

jennajaxon said...

Very cool post. I remember being amazed in my lighting class when the prof put four or five colored gels into an instrument and the light that came out was clear. Still don't understand that!

I use color in clothing, furnishings, horses (!), eyes and hair, surroundings, just about everywhere I can. It can be so evocative of the characters' moods or affect those moods. I was surprised that blue is an appetite suppressant (I should live in a blue room). Did you know during the Renaissance orange was the color of jealousy?

Again, great post!

Kary said...

Thanks, Jenna. That light thing is really cool. We have a local theater here that does black and white stage productions. It is the most amazing thing to see. Their makeup hair costumes and set are all shades of gray. It makes it look like a black & white movie.