Colors are often overlooked since they’re more obviously used in things like illustrations or movies. If you write stories, you may not think that colors would be important, but any topic, subject, or experience you learn about will help you grow as a writer.
Learning a bit about color theory could help you convey certain meanings or messages, and could help create a cohesive aesthetic in your stories.
Before I explain how color theory can improve your writing, I’m going to give you a rundown on what different colors mean, from my experience of learning about color theory.
Red is a strong and passionate color, associated frequently with anger, love, romance, and hunger.
Orange is a warm, cheerful, and playful color. It has similar meanings to yellow, but tends to be a bit stronger and more energetic.
Yellow is the color of inspiration, happiness, creativity, and friendliness. Bright yellows can be overwhelming, but darker and warmer tones can create more mature looks, and lighter, softer tones can be cheerful and friendly to the eye.
Green is the color of wealth, luck, and nature, but using a bright green, such as a lime green, can also convey symbols of death and disease. Often lime green or acidic greens are used in Western media to portray villains, especially when paired with black or purple. Many Disney villains fall into that trope.
Blue is an interesting color. It represents calmness, serenity, and reliability, but can also be used to represent sadness and depression.
Purple is associated with wealth, royalty, luxury, and mystery. Paired with greens or blacks, it can convey villainy, which is common in Western Media.
Black is mysterious, strong, commanding, and is sometimes used to represent death or evil forces.
Grey is conservative, reliable, intelligent, and gloomy.
White is clean, bright, and fresh, but can look very industrial and sterile.
Pink is caring, friendly, and gentle, but sometimes has negative connotations associated with its femininity.
Brown is a stable, reliable, and organic color, if a bit conservative and boring.
Create Subtle Messages
Colors have cultural meanings and convey different messages and feelings. You can help enhance or even foreshadow certain events in your stories by using the meanings of colors.
For example, a bright green can convey death, disease, wealth, or luck. If you’re writing a story where someone who is poor slowly becomes richer, you could add more and more green elements as the story progresses.
If a character is slowly getting sicker, you could do the same thing. Maybe have them wear a lime green accessory at the beginning of the story, and then have them wear or see more bright green things as they slowly become more sick.
Yellow is considered to be a happy and friendly color, so associating the color yellow with a friendly and happy character can strengthen that character’s role as an ally or positive force in the readers mind.
You could also subvert common color meanings to add a level of uniqueness and interest to your writing.
For example, in Western media, white is often used as a color of cleanliness, purity, and innocence. Subverting that and using it as a color of severity, death, or sterility can add a layer of creepiness and originality to your work.
Some things that are white but bad are:
- Bleached bones
- Frost on crops
- Lightning strikes
Black is often a mysterious and commanding color, with some connotations of death and evil. When used correctly, the color black, or dark colors similar to black, can show warmth, comfort, and familiarity.
Here are some examples:
- Purring black cat
- Comfortable leather armchair
- Decadent chocolates and dry wines
You can also go really in depth with creating moods or color feelings. For example, there are many different shades of red and pink, and they would normally be grouped under one or two meanings. With roses, those subtle differences in shades can mean very different things. The same thing goes with gemstones.
Experiment with different colors to create different feelings. Just because colors have specific cultural meanings doesn’t mean that you can’t change things up to get others to see things the way you do.
Create Cohesive Images in the Reader’s Mind
Another way that color theory can be used is to create cohesive or interesting images in your readers’ minds.
There are certain color schemes that you can use to create interesting images in the minds of your readers.
For example, you can easily emphasize the contrast between two things by giving them contrasting colors.
If you have a very temperamental character and a very calm character, having them wear contrasting colors or have contrasting hair colors is a subtle way to emphasize that. You could have one be a red-head, and the other could have hair so blue it looks black.
Or you could give one a purple scarf, and the other one can have gold rimmed glasses.
In a trio of main characters, they could each have something in a primary color that is brought up often. Someone could touch their gold necklace, another person can adjust their red glasses, and someone else may have a blue shirt that they like to smooth out.
Split complementary color schemes could work nicely if you have two heroes facing off against a villain, or two villains facing off against a hero, to highlight the differences in forces.
You can also have contrasting warm or cool elements throughout your story, to show places that are good vs bad, or the past vs the present.
In The Matrix, a popular movie trilogy, everything inside the Matrix (a computer simulation) has a slight green tint to it, to further the feelings of being inside a program.
While you wouldn’t be able to go as far as that, having a specific color brought up to show that characters are in a different world or time frame could help show the differences between what is normal and what isn’t.
In flashbacks, the only color that could be described is blue, for example. Or another universe or dimension could be described using only warm colors.
Again, experimentation is the key to success here. We all have different ways of seeing things, and so should your characters, so play around to see what works best.
If you want to, feel free to share how you’ve played around with color in your writing. You can do so by leaving a comment.
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