As writers, we often paint a picture with our words. We want readers to be able to see our stories in their mind's eye. We want a movie to play and carry them along as they read our words. This idea applies equally to fiction, non-fiction, poetry and everything in between. We want readers to see what we're saying.
While it may seem like a pun, a useful tool in painting pictures with words is color. Using color in writing can be an excellent way to help your readers create the picture you want them to see.
Color can be used in different ways in writing. Obviously, it can be used as a descriptive adjective. You can write what the color of something is. You can describe clothing, hair, flowers, buildings and many other things using color words. You can stay simple and use colors like red, blue and green or you can be a bit more exotic and use colors like mahogany, indigo and jade.
In chapter two of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, color is used numerous times. It is used to describe a green area by a brook (and contrast it with prairies that were gray in color), the clothing of some of the munchkins (blue), the dress of the good witch (white), the silver color of the shoes, and the brick road of yellow. The colors help paint a picture of the place and people and also appear to contain symbolic elements.
Another important way to use color in writing is through the use of symbolism. In poetry, literary writing, and other types of writing, color can be used to symbolically represent things. A character might be wearing sky blue to convey the idea that they are free in what they do. A person might be wearing green to symbolize the jealously they feel. A room can have dark colors to forebode something tragic that will occur. Color can be used to set tone and convey messages in writing.
In Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, there is a brief scene at the start of the story The Naval Treaty, which shows an example of using color symbolically.
In the scene, Holmes is doing an experiment. He is testing a mixed liquid with litmus paper. He indicates that if the paper stays blue things are fine, but if it turns red it means someone will die. When Holmes tests the paper, it doesn't just turn red, but crimson.
The color blue can be seen as peaceful and calming. This symbolizes the idea that if the paper stays that way things are alright. Red can represent danger and warning. If the paper turns that way it means something bad. To exaggerate the point, the paper does not turn just red, but crimson – the color of blood.
You can also use colors to convey emotion. A character can be red with anger or green with jealously. They can be scared yellow or they can blush pink when they are embarrassed.
As an example, also in The Naval Treaty, towards the end of the story, a character's face turns white with surprise when they see something unexpected.
Depending on the style of writing, a writer might also use actual colors in their work. They might have text of different colors or, if they are printing their work, they might use colored papers. If writing is online, different background colors could be used.
An example of using colored text can be seen in an experimental poetry form on my blog at: msakran.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/experimental-poetry-form-acrostic-colors. The form combines acrostic lines of color words with text in those colors. For example, there is a line where the first letters of the words in the line spell the word "blue". The text of that line is also colored blue. If a poet used the form, and wanted to take it a step further, they could have the meaning in each line relate to the color that the line is.
When using color in writing, it is important to make sure that the colors carry their own weight. The colors you use should help paint the picture of the story and add something to the message you are trying to convey. The colors you use should be able to stand with a purpose.
Here are some ideas for using different colors in your writing. These are just some colors and some ideas, but they can be place for you to start thinking about using color in your writing.
Nouns – roses, a red dress, a red snake, blood, apples
Emotions – anger, romance
Symbolism – danger, allure, being in debt (i.e. "in the red" or "red ink"), mistakes (e.g. markings on reviewed or graded papers)
Text – You could use red text in your writing in a number of ways. As an example, you might have writing that represents something like an essay. It could be a poem or something in a fiction story. If you wanted to use red in your writing, you might have the essay "corrected" with red markings and text. You could correct words, show mistakes, have comments and so forth. The markings could be constructive or critical. They could be honest or biased. In a poem the markings could be used symbolically. In a fictional story they could be used by a character to show how their paper was graded and the implications of that.
Nouns – plants, money, emeralds, eyes, insects
Emotion – envy
Symbolism – jealously, greed, exoticness, hiding (as in camouflage), illness
Text – An idea might be to use green text for noble writing in a fantasy setting. Think, for example, of elves in a fantasy fiction story who send a royal letter on a parchment scroll. The text might be in green. This could be worked physically into a printed story or into something online.
Nouns – sky, water, eyes, blue skin (e.g. a person lacking oxygen or an alien character), blueberries
Emotions – sadness, calm
Symbolism – sorrow, peacefulness, a traditional color for boys, vastness
Text – An instruction that used to be more common was that forms should be completed "in black or blue ink". The use of blue ink might be seen as being different while still conforming. Blue text might also convey this idea. It might also be used for a signature or could be used for links in online content.
Nouns – clothing (e.g. black suit or black dress), obsidian, ink, storm clouds, night sky
Emotions – being formal, depression
Symbolism – seriousness, loss, death, style (e.g. tuxedo or "little black dress"), profit (i.e. "in the black"), nonconformity
Text – This is obviously the standard color for text. It could be altered with text effects such as making the text bold or italicized or through different fonts or font sizes. It could also be paired with different colors of paper. The alterations or pairings can decrease the standardization of the color.
Nouns – the fruit of the same name, sunsets, some animal eyes, reflectors on slow vehicles, fire
Emotion - joy
Symbolism – brightness, extroversion, energy
Text – Orange text might be used in something representing an advertisement. A writer could work an advertisement into a fictional story or even a poem. The idea might be to show the reader what the ad actually looks like, rather than just describing it. The orange text can make the ad stand out.
Nouns – wood, soil, some rocks, some animal fur, wood stain (as in finishing wood like for a floor or furniture)
Emotions – worn out after working, connected to the earth
Symbolism – nature, back to basics, simplicity
Text – An interesting way to use brown text in writing would be to symbolize someone writing with mud. Imagine a person is in a wilderness setting. They need to leave a message on a rock or on a piece of paper, but they have nothing to write with. One solution might be for them to dip their finger in mud and write with that. A writer could symbolize this type of writing by using brown text for what the person writes. They could use a standard font and just say that the person was writing with mud, or they could use a font that more closely resembles a person writing with their finger and use that for an increased effect.
Nouns – some clothing and robes, some makeup, some flowers, some tropical fish, the color of some mountains under certain conditions
Symbolism – royalty, elegance, decadence
Text – Purple text could be used for royal writing, for example in a fiction setting where only royalty can use purple ink.
Nouns – caution signs, the sun, dandelions, gold, school buses
Emotion – scared
Symbolism – cowardice, fear, warning, brightness, positivity
Text – Yellow text can be used to highlight writing. It can, in a contrasting way, be used to have writing that is a bit hidden, as yellow text might look on a white background.
Now that you have some ideas, you might be looking for some writing prompts to give you some practice in using colors in your writing. Here are some below:
M. Sakran is that guy who walks those dogs. He is usually found standing by the side of the road while one of his dogs plays in a ditch and the other wonders why he isn't getting a treat right now. When not catering to canines, he tries to be a writer. He's had over ninety items published, including a collection of poetry called First Try, and has also self-published an eBook called Understanding: poems with explanations. You can find his poetry related blog at msakran.wordpress.com and his website at msakran.com.
A dish of meat and assorted vegetables originally invented by Hungarian cow herders. These herders, or gulyás, were of humble origin and concocted their cauldron cooked meals out of supplies they packed on their long journeys - millet, lard, onions, salt, bacon, chilis, and occasionally cow meat. Over time, as regional travelers were exposed to it, the dish evolved with additional spices and available vegetables, eventually spreading to upper classes. In modern society, it ranges from haute cuisine to a lower class hearty meal based on whatever is in the cabinet.