Friday, January 22, 2016

C is for Colour

Margaret talks about colour in writing

 We tend to think of colour as colours of the rainbow, the clothes we wear, the countryside, sunsets, etc. But I’m talking about colour in language, in the words we use to convey our stories to the reader. In other words, descriptive words.

I could say something like: The conversation took place in the sitting room. Mary sat down on one of the chairs, John on the other. It’s simple, it tells us everything we want to know, but it does not set the scene. We have no idea what the room is like, it tells us nothing except that these characters need to talk. How much better if I said: John led the way into a small, cosy room with chintz covered armchairs and a plain rose carpet. Mary sat timidly on the edge of one chair while John settled comfortably on the other. At once we have a picture in our mind. We don’t quite know what John needs to talk to Mary about, except that she seems nervous. The setting conveyed the scene. Whatever John wanted to say he knew Mary would feel more comfortable in the sitting room than perhaps a more formal one.

Language can also be colourful. As an example, here is a scene from Rachel’s Retribution:
 “Liam took one look at her and a thunderous frown blackened his forehead. Thick, dark brows bristled in surprise. “You!”

All she wanted to do was turn and run, but of course she couldn’t. She had to stand and face him.

“You two know each other?” asked Steve, unaware of the tension pulsing between them.

“Oh, yes, I know her, growled Liam. “And if this woman is part of your business then consider our deal off.”

Steve’s jaw dropped and he asked the inevitable question. “Why? I do not understand. Rachel’s my partner, she’s invaluable – “

“She’s also a thief,” interrupted Liam harshly. “She won’t think twice about stealing from you.”


We’re all familiar with the phrase A picture paints a thousand words. But I think that writing paints words as well. They’re not just words on a page, they’ve been chosen carefully to add colour to the story. What do you think? Do you agree with me?






  1. I agree, Margaret. The right language can turn an average story into a good one!

  2. The word "colors" paint a picture in the reader's mind. Setting details definitely add flavor, texture, mood.
    I have read, however, that some readers prefer not to have too many details about the main characters; that they prefer to conjure their own image about their appearances.

    1. An interesting point of view, Ana. it's not one I've heard but I guess I can see the sense in it.

  3. I'd say writing paints a picture, actually. And it's interesting that you post this today. Two authors I follow on Facebook and Twitter were discussing the use of "colorful" language and whether or not to use it. Apparently, they each had a character who swore a lot (integral to who the character was, not for extraneous reasons)--one author was trying to decide whether to tone down the language even though it really fit the character, the other lost a reader because of it (and had lots of other readers telling her not to worry about it).

    1. All I can say is it's a good job we're not all the same. If writers kept to a set of rules books would be incredibly boring. You make a good point, Jennifer.