Color: A Phenomenon of Light

Red bird 1

A red bird in winter from my Mississippi home.

“A phenomenon of light.” is the first of many definitions for the word “color” listed in my trusty Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary!

What interests me the most about red or blue or green or white or black is the connotative value. What it makes us feel. I am convinced there’s a great deal of suggestive power with the proper use of color in a narrative. Placing “a phenomenon of light” in a story works on several levels, but most importantly, in my humble opinion, it lends depth. It increases an awareness of a scene or a person’s character. Color is evocative. Presented in a thoughtful manner, blue, white, yellow, brown, etc., can elicit a desired response from a reader—that response may be a surge of anger, a touch of comfort, or a deep source of contemplation–it can be that moment where your the writer truly connects with your reader. And of course, isn’t that our purpose?

Here’s a poem from one of my favorite Tang Dynasty poets, Po Chu-i  (772-846)

              A Suggestion to My Friend Liu

There’s a gleam of green in an old bottle,

There’s a stir of red in the quiet stove,

There’s a feeling of snow in the dusk outside—

What about a cup of wine inside?

(translated by Witter Bynner)

The use of color in this amazing poem never ceases to astound me. We have no idea what the interior space “looks” like, but we feel that we do. We don’t see any humans in this poem, but they are there. There’s a perceived intimacy not only in the shared wine and warmth from the stove, but also in the shelter that the room and friendship provide. The fact that it’s “dusk outside” suggests a colorless backdrop which serves to intensify the vibrant, colorful inner world.

Color is something that writers cannot ignore. I don’t think I’ve ever read any advice that discourages the use of color. The young boy doesn’t just kick a ball. He kicks a red ball. The cashier’s finger nails are painted green. Sitting on the blue table is a white bowl. Color introduces life into your narrative, because life is of a color.

How have you used color in your writing? What are your favorite examples?

 

25 thoughts on “Color: A Phenomenon of Light

  1. Tina Williams

    Two of the more famous examples I can think of is The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorn; or The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In one of my own stories, called The Hungry, a little boy deals with some (imaginary?) monsters in his basement. At school, he draws them with great slashes of color, purple and black and yellow, “the color of bruises” (his father is abusive). It’s fun to try to weave in color symbolically, as well as just provide vivid detail.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      I agree. I think the vivid color representation in a narrative stays with the reader, e.g., the purple, black, and yellow not only symbolically the child’s suffering, it also intensifies the reader’s feelings for the child.
      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Sha'Tara

    Those are excellent questions. I don’t think I use a whole lot of colour in my stories but some of my favourite authors can write about colours and shades of colours I’ve never heard of. I wonder if how you’re raised as a child makes a difference on how you perceive colour, or how much importance colour plays in your life. In the north of Canada we had winters that began in October and didn’t end until the end of April as a rule. Over half the year is spent looking at small denuded trees and some fairly large dark spruces and snow… snow… snow. Basically a black and white landscape. Even the wild animals of the open prairies and fields turned white in winter to blend and escape the constant predators, or to blend and become better predators (weasels for example – deadly critters). Of course we did not have TV then, and few movies and many of those were black and white Canadian National Film Board movies. People did not wear colourful clothing and our teachers, the nuns, were black and white. The priest was enrobed in black. I like colourful pictures but I like them on the dark side, if you’ve noticed my pictures tend to be heavily saturated, and I’ve been thinking of experimenting with the monochrome feature on the new camera. I’d say colour isn’t essential to me. But turn my entire world into a black and white landscape and I might change my mind in a hurry! I like this image: the contrast of basically a “black” background and the stark red of the cardinal: what a lovely bird!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Thank you for your terrific reply. And it’s an interesting concept–to what extent one’s upbringing, one’s environment, decides how we perceive color. For me color–in literature, as in life–has always been an intensifier, something that deepens my reaction toward a concrete image. I think though it was Alfred Hitchcock, who did all his movies in b/w, once said, “color gets in the way.” It’s a valid point!
      The red bird or cardinal. Yeah, they are ubiquitous down here in the south. They stay put year round, so I was able to get that shot in winter when the vines were sans leaves. I was in a camouflaged duck-blind at the time, hoping to get pictures of mallards flying in to my pond. I was freezing cold and was on the verge of giving up when I turned to see that red bird. Ah, how beautiful it was!
      Thanks again, 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  3. Rachel McKee

    Paul, this is such an interesting topic. Now I’m thinking I’m not using the power of color nearly enough in my story. Thank you so much for reminding me of the importance of color in descriptive narrative!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  4. robynelliot

    I love this. And thank you for sharing that beautiful poem – I immediately saw the place, the scene, and experienced the cosiness that the poet intended to evoke. You’re so right about colour, Paul; the interior designer of the soul, I always think! And thanks to sepultura13 for asking my question! What a beautiful bird. [the photo, I mean! clarity is all!].

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Thank you for reading!
      I still remember trekking back to my little house and downloading the pictures I had taken that frosty morning. When the cardinal picture came up I just couldn’t believe how “right” it was. No photo shop either! 🙂 It was just the right shot at the right time. whew! Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  5. Mary Job

    Beautiful bird, adding depth to the cold scenery. We can’t do without colours, there’s a colour associated with every feeling and place and people. Even countries have a colour that speaks about them. I guess that’s why pink is for girls, and blue is for boys. I never did have a favourite colour, still don’t, I think that’s weird though. These days I’m more blue 🎵🎼🎯🎭🔭💍💎💦💤with a touch of pink. Funny also because my go to dressing was always black or brown, these days I seek more colourful shoes, shirts, jeans, I’m even considering a white jeans 💨. I guess this is my life telling me its time for more depth! I know I’m craving more depth in all areas of my life 🔝🔝😍

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      I absolutely agree. Color adds depth to our lives. I think sometimes we “feel” color more than “think” about it. For instance, right now I can look out the window of my study here in Alabama and see-past the dark green leaves of a holly shrub-small white clouds and beyond the clouds, blue sky. It all adds to my sense of well-being, to my feelings of contentment.

      Oh, and I’m a blue shirt guy. My favorite casual dressy look would be light brown slacks, blue shirt, cool yellow tie and off-white linen jacket…hey! I’m ready now to step out! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  6. Deb

    First of all that picture is phenomenal….the red of the cardinal just bursts against the gray background. You are so right, reading that poem is an excellent example of what you are conveying. I wrote a story about a dear friend of mine and I used the Rainbow to describe her, all the different colors and what they and she represent. But overall I don’t think I use color enough to create a mood in what I write. I’m going to start, because with this post it is clear to me that it most definitely makes a difference…super post Paul!! Give Cody a treat from me… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      And thank you! Well I was going to use a rainbow for my lead-in picture but I couldn’t resist that cardinal.

      I truly believe we, writers, should always keep the power of color in mind. Plus, it’s something that can be “edited” in at a later date as well.
      And Cody will be soooo happy to get an extra LARGE dog biscuit treat! 🙂

      Like

      Reply
  7. Pingback: OUR DAILY GRATEFUL POST! |

  8. Millie Ho

    Interesting topic, Paul. I agree that colours are evocative and add more depth to a narrative. I use the colour red most often. It’s not my favourite colour, but it works for the mood of the story. Sometimes I use red to contrast something against a bleak environment, other times to heighten it (red as blood, etc). Now that I think about it, one colour can be very versatile depending on how you use it. I’m going to write a post on colour vs. symbols in the coming week or two, once I gather up my thoughts.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s