Color Your Writing


I love color. I love softly glowing rainbows, bright, crimson roses glistening with wet, the deep, dark brown of the cake coming out of the oven, the shining green, blue, tawny eyes of my guests. Writing, I think, should have color, not just the color of hue, but color of sound, color of meaning. Writing can hold even more color than a Van Gogh floral painting because we, as writers, can combine color of hue, sound, and meaning into one. Writing becomes vibrant when it is full of color. There is fun in adding color to writing just as there is vast enjoyment in reading writing that is full of color.


We can color our writing easily enough with hue. There are so many lovely adjectives and adverbs to depict hue that dotting our language with the descriptors of color, yellow, saffron, gold, enriches our writing when we take the time in selection. Nouns, too, can render our writing with color, for many nouns indicate color–  “evergreens,” “lavender,” “wheat,” “rust,” “mosaic.”Huecan also be worked into participles– “greening of the land”; “reddening of her cheeks”;  “browning of the bread.”


Our written language is phonetic, and so the color of sound is intrinsic to it. Sounds that repeat in skilled echo in a sentence color our writing as surely as adjectives and adverbs do. The surprise of rhyme imbedded in prose can make a catchy sound, if used discreetly and with cautious limit.  The lengths of sentences; the many long follow by the short; the many short followed by the single long sentence also add color. Similarly, the pauses and the inflections of voice indicated by the punctuation—commas, semi-colons, exclamation marks and question marks, etc. measure out the sound in such a way that color is created by helping to establish our unique voice. The rhetorical question or its converse, the question given determinedly as a statement, also add to the quality of color.  Then, of course, there are those onomatopoetic words that hum with or even pound out our meanings. When all of these techniques of managing the music of  our writing are united with words that in themselves describe color, then we have united the color of sound with the color of hue. Passages that play with depictors of hue in all the parts of speech set up a pace of visualized color that unfolds in the orchestrated sound.


Color can also be worked into our writing with effects of double entendre. Words and phrases that do not really refer to color are sometimes composed of words that are colors or simply remind us of colors by their nature:  “pinking shears,” “mother of pearl,” “oak planks,” “honey,” “dust,” “garden,” “prism,” “sunrise.”  When we are interested in expressing a special theme in our writing, our words also take on the color of the theme. We can barely imagine a season or holiday without certain colors leaping to our minds. Our states of mind, too, are so often expressed as colors in our words. The stages of our lives are also reflected in an expression of color: the pink and blue assigned to babies; the white of the bridal gown and the blush of the bride; the various colors of professions (hospital greens, the police officer’s black uniform, the fireman’s red helmet, the business man’s starched white shirt, the chef’s checks, the colors of the hometown team).


So we can take the words that mean or imply color, the rhythms of the language and the word sounds that build a phonetic color, and the associations we have of color, and craft them together to create writing melds words, sound, and meaning into a sensation, a tapestry, a music of color. By doing this we are able to tell many stories with one story, to create a spectrum of meaning with one crystal metaphor.


Still, we can create even more color in our writing by juxtaposing one type of image next to another. Consider if you are writing a fantasy. You describe the peaceful farming valley, using the dusky colors of the harvest in your wording, noun and verb choices all akin in imagery to the color of your scene. You use onomatopoetic words such as “thrashing” to depict the work of the farmers, the vigorous sounds that yet end softly. You attend to the complexity and simplicity of your sentences to imply the hues of the fading light of autumnal days. But your fetching description of the pastoral scene is a trick you mean to play on your reader, lulling the reader into a quiet sense of safety when you in the next paragraph break the scene with the attack of the dragon. Your sentences become short and crisp as fire, your words searing like burning brands. From one paragraph to the next all your words, syntax, punctuation changes to give the terrifying image of the dragon attack. Ah, writing is such fun that we can with mere words color a reader’s life!












About Cynthia Clay

I was judged to be a computer program on Shakespeare at the First Loebner Prize Competition of The Turing Test—a truly science fictional experience. I'm an author who likes to write sf, fantasy, updated versions of old myths.
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