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?