In my own writing, I often use color to describe characters. I have a lot of characters, and color is one way I can help readers keep them straight
In my novel The Truth and Other Strangers, I have several characters with brown eyes. To differentiate, I call some “hazel”, some “dark brown”, and some “almost black”. My main character Junior uses more precise colors for family members because he notices the subtle differences in their eye color.
On the other hand, when Junior runs into members of the Kimmel family, a family of crooks he doesn’t know well, he sees that many of them have pale-colored eyes, but he has never been close enough to discern the exact color.
At the end of my book, the head of the Kimmel family gets in Junior’s face to threaten him. Now Junior can see all too clearly that the man has light green eyes. I use Junior’s ability to discern the color to underline how uncomfortably close he is to the man threatening him.
Junior has a five-year-old sister Angel who has a medical condition called synthesia, an extra connection between senses. One of the most common forms is seeing a color specific to a number or letter when reading. Angel sees people in color. She sees an uncle as chocolate brown. This kind of synthesia is sometimes called seeing “auras”. I use the condition to enhance Angel’s otherworldly personality and to comment on characters’ personalities. Such as she see the sheriff who is threatening her family as puke green.
I need to work on studying scenes to mine them for their colors. In summer, nature wears green, but just describing a setting as green doesn’t begin to touch on all the variations of green that exist in summer. Like I said in the prompt on Monday, I should take time to really study a scene, either in person or in my head.
Following on the advice Mr. Young gave in his post on Almost an Author, go somewhere, inside or out, and study it for a full minute. If you are like me, it might take you awhile to clear your mind of all competing thoughts, but keep focusing until you can study a scene for a full minute with full concentration. Then take notes on what you see. Don’t try to write full sentences. Just write down your impressions as accurately you can. You can even make up words if that helps you capture the scene.
Once you think you have observed all you can, you can use your notes later to flesh out a properly written scene. Your notes are like a sketch an artist uses for a more detailed work.
Most of us write by sight. What kind of writing you do effects your visual descriptions. Novelists can add more detail than a short story writer, but a short story writer may come up with an extraordinarily vivid description because of the constraints of the form.
One area of sight I want to improve is the use of color in my writing. We are so used to seeing color that we take it for granted unless the color is unusual in some way, especially ugly, pretty, vivid, and so on.
G.K. Chesterton used color very effectively in his writing. I discovered him through his Father Brown short stories. I tried reading them at twenty and didn’t understand them at all. But I did remember his descriptions of landscapes. When I went back to the stories years later, I could appreciate them so much more as well as his skill in writing with color like a painter.
“They awoke before it was daylight; for a large lemon moon was only just setting in the forest of high grass above their heads, and the sky was of a vivid violet-blue, nocturnal but bright. ” From “The Sins of Prince Saradine”
Describing a duel : “Everything above them was a dome of virgin gold, and, distant as they were, every detail was picked out. They had cast off their coats, but the yellow waistcoat and white hair of Saradine, the red waistcoat and white trousers of Antonelli, glittered in the level light like the colors of the dancing clockwork dolls.” From “The Sins of Prince Saradine”
“In the cool blue twilight of two steep streets in Camden Town, the shop at the corner, a confectioner’s, glowed like the butt of a cigar. One should rather say, like the butt of a firework, for the light was of many colors and some complexity, broken up by many mirrors and dancing on many gilt and gaily-colored cakes and sweetmeats.” From “The Invisible Man”
My favorite story by Chesterton is “The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse” collected in Thirteen Detectives. The plot hinges on the fact that in the late nineteenth century, army uniforms were based on regiment colors, not the terrain where the army was located. The ending is a tremendous paradox, a speciality of Chesterton’s, and I never saw it coming, but once it arrives, it makes perfect sense.
Tomorrow I have a guest post on a friend’s blog, so I will talk more about colors in my own writing next week.