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.
Since I have only read two stories by Andrew Klavan, I can’t call him a favorite author, but I have enjoyed his YA Christian fiction novel If We Survive and the short story “The Killer Christian”.
If We Survive is told from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Will who, with two other teenagers, a college student, and their pastor, is on a mission trip in a South American country. Right before they are scheduled to leave, a communist coup takes place. In the small village where they were staying, the rebels target them because they are Americans. Their only hope of escape is the ex-Marine who is their pilot.
I like If We Survive for several reasons. It’s one of the few YA Christian fiction novels I have found that has a realistic setting – no fantasy or science fiction elements. It also has a male protagonist. If a YA novel has a contemporary setting, it is usually a romance told from a girl’s point of view. The action sequences held my attention and are very appealing for a teen audience.
Will is written in a way teens can relate to, but I wish the supporting characters were more distinct. I do like the change Nikki goes through. The other female character seems to good to be true, but Will is describing her and he has a crush on her.
I was introduced to Mr. Klavan in the short story collection Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop. The title of Mr. Klavan’s story “The Killer Christian” caught my attention. Then I read the first paragraph:
“A certain portion of my misspent youth was misspent in the profession of journalism. I’m not proud of it, but a man has to make a living and there it is. Most importantly, I learned how to be painstakingly honest and lie at the same time. That’s how the news business works. It’s not that anyone goes around making up facts or anything – not on a regular basis anyway. No, most of them time, newspeople simply learn how to pick and choose which facts to tell, which will heighten your sense that their gormless opinions are reality or at least delay your discovery that everything they believe is provably false. If ever you see a man put his fingers in his ears and whistle Dixie to keep from hearing the truth, you may assume he’s a fool, but if he put his fingers in your ears and starts whistling, then you know you are dealing with a journalist.”
With an opening like that, I had to read more. I won’t tell you any more about the story but if you like to read Christmas stories at Christmas, save this one as a present for yourself. The ending, in keeping with Christian beliefs, is great and always moves me. It’s one of my favorite Christmas stories.
For basic information on nouns, visit this post at Almost an Author. Ms. Toler-Dougherty writes about how specific nouns need capitalized. For example, “church” vs. “Walnut Ridge Presbyterian Church”. But I leared from my editor Sharyn a different kind of specificity when it comes to nouns.
As my characters drive into the West Virginia mountains, I wrote about the shrubs growing close to the road and the trees making a ceiling overhead.
Sharyn said, “Be specific!”
She meant: What kind of trees? Eastern hemlock? Walnut? Coconut? What kinds of shrubs? Mountain laurel? Holly? What?
My characters sit down to a meal of soup and bread.
Sharyn said, “Be specific!”
What kind of soup? Tomato? Chicken noodle? Shark fin? What kind of bread? Whole wheat, white, or rye?
One reason I didn’t make my nouns more specific was because I didn’t think readers wanted that much detail. Another reason was I thought too many details would slow down the narrative.
That’s true if I describe the soup as “chicken noodle soup with lush, homemade noodles and thick chunks of chicken” when those details add nothing to the story. But just adding “chicken noodle” to “soup” helps the reader make a more vivid “work picture”, as Sharyn says.
I didn’t specify the plants and animals of the mountains because I didn’t know them that well. But my narrator would because he has lived in the mountains all his life. So, instead of being lazy, I am doing research and will try to visit the location of my setting so I can get the species right. I won’t dwell on the botany of each plant, but writing “the red oaks and hickories made a canopy over our heads” sounds so much better than “the tall trees made a canopy over our heads.”
As long as I drop in the precise nouns just where they are needed, my story will be richer not slower.
Write a haiku about something happening in nature right. If you aren’t familiar with haiku, it’s a form of poetry from Japan that usually describes nature. It doesn’t rhyme. The first line is five syllables, the second line is seven syllables, and the third line is five syllables. Here’s my contribution, inspired by a heat wave I am currently experiencing. If you are inspired, please send me your poem.