Writing In Living Color – With Great Color Lists

Recently someone mentioned they’d read this blog elsewhere and lost the file on their computer. Since this blog hasn’t been posted on my website, I decided to share it again. Enjoy the color lists at the end of this blog.

I’m sharing not one list today, but two. The first one covers shades of the basic color spectrum. The second deals with adjectives describing color and the possible “conditions” of color, that is, how it’s used.

But Writing in living color is more than just knowing and choosing color descriptions. It’s showing the reader the story in living color even when “no” colors are mentioned.

Here’s how Laura Drake did it in her book, The Sweet Spot.  In this excerpt, the focus is not on the color but the “entire” picture the character Belle presents. Only three basic colors are used. Remove the color terms and the reader would still see this scene in living color.

At the end stood a woman perusing a dog-eared catalog – a woman Char had never met, but recognized from the gossip. This was that new Yankee that moved in a few months back.  Just where do you go to get an outfit like that? Red shortie cowgirl boots, a lacy black square-dance miniskirt puffed with petticoats, a white bustier cut down to there, and a black lace bolero jacket. Char swallowed, attempting to focus on the woman’s features. A nimbus of black curls overwhelmed her deathly pale, sharp-boned foxy face. Huge dream-catcher earrings bobbedwith her every move. She looks like Dolly Parton gone Goth. 

If we watched this scene on an old black and white TV, we’d still see that Belle’s getup is extraordinary. But in this written scene we have an added advantage: She looks like Dolly Parton gone Goth. This is a descriptor that is immediately familiar to the reader. Who needs color names with this statement? Dolly Parton “is” the color.

Using color terms however, can be very useful. Color contributes texture and perspective by showing without telling.

Here’s an exaggerated example:

Black & white Movie: The scene opens inside a bedroom. It appears to be just a garden-variety bedroom.

Color Movie: Red velvet drapes at the windows, and bright purple upholstered furniture decorates the room. The reader sees that this is no ordinary bedroom and that the person who decorated it is probably out of the norm too.

Black and White Movie: A woman dressed in an ordinary business suit walks into the room. Again, nothing appears out of the ordinary.

Color Movie: The woman’s cheeks are too red, her suit is gaudy purple (not black) with flaming red trim.

Color gives a different perspective, showing a peek into the character’s personality by using the colors.

Colors aid with scene setting by adding tone and drama, whether it’s the gloom and doom of a storm, a cheerful summer day, a bustling city, or an old Victorian parlor.

This excerpt is from Lyn Horner’s novella, White Witchon the night of the Great Chicago Fire

Bright sheets of fire flapped in the air, frighteningly beautiful in hues of orange, gold and angry red. Flung out by the murderous blaze, burning debris scattered hither and yon, a threat Jessie constantly fought, using a blanket to smother cinders that fell on the wagon.

In the Lyn’s excerpt, I especially like her verb choices of sheets “flapping” in the air and debris being “flung” and “scattered.” Adding the color here gives a bigger than life living color scene but even without the names of the colors, this scene is very colorful. And you can’t argue the drama!

Colors might also reflect drastic contrasts. It’s the old “appearances can be deceiving” rule.

We could use the above excerpt from Laura’s book as a contrast. The heroine, Char spies the woman named Bella in this scene and is shocked by her appearance. But what Char doesn’t know yet, is that the woman on the outside is very different from the woman on the inside.  Contrast.

A generic example:

Jennifer closed up Corrine’s dusty little antique shop, and rode a rickety elevator to the old woman’s apartment. The elevator jolted to a clanging halt at the second floor. The door clanked open into a tiny vestibule hosting wide, bright white double doors with shiny brass handles.

Using the key Corrine had given her, Jennifer opened it, stepped over the threshold and stopped dead.  Vaulted ceilings and a variegated Berber carpet of white and black transformed the warehouse space into a grand open-spaced condo. A huge abstract painting in scarlet, neon blue and jungle green splashed one of the stark white walls where it hung over a licorice-black sectional.

Good Lord, where were the antiques?  The dollies? The dust?

There are many ways to convey color and it’s not necessary to tell readers what they already know.  We know grass is green or that the sky is blue.

Of course, there are times when a familiar normal isn’t normal. It’s often just as affective to use character actions and one of the other five senses to show colors.    

Example: The following is perfectly correct: Dry brown grass crunched beneath her feet.

But we could also write: Dry grass crunched under her feet.

We are “familiar” with the fact that healthy green grass doesn’t crunch. We know if the grass is dry and crunchy, it’s dead and familiarity tells us it’s most likely brown. There’s no need to tell the reader the grass is brown. For that matter, we might dispense with the word dry. Only dry grass would crunch. Some this depends on the writer’s style and the character’s view point.

In Margie Lawson’s blog, Ax Your Clichés: Why and How, we learned to put a twist on cliché descriptions and use more powerful constructions to show character emotions and story tone. The same rules apply with color.

Cliché terms like lobster red, strawberry blond, sky blue, and grass green are boring.  These descriptions don’t really add texture, tone, contrast or drama. They just are.  Sometimes simple is better.The hair is blond; the day is gray etc.  But whenever possible, make colors work harder by showing.

Find new ways of expressing color but don’t make the mistake of using color terms readers have to research. Some examples: Brunswick (a green), Gamboge (tree known for yellow brown resin), Falu Red (a deep red) Ferruginous (rusty iron color) At The Phrontistery you’ll find a few more of these obscure color terms.

As long as clichés are avoided, using common objects, foods, places, animals or even people [Dolly Parton] to describe color is effective.

Below are a few examples but don’t be afraid to make up your own. Mention any of the terms in the list below and a reader automatically knows what color you’re talking about.

 

Albino

Ash

Autumn

Blizzard

Carmel

Cotton Candy

Dove/pigeon

Eggshell

Freckles

Hot rod red

Iron

Lemon sherbet

Maple

Mustard

Nutmeg

Persimmon

Pewter

Quaker gray

Snapdragon

Stardust

Stormy Sea

Writers can create color names that by themselves don’t sound like colors at all.  Let’s take an imaginary trip to any cosmetic counter. We’ll spy color names that have nothing to do with the actual shades of blush, eye shadow or lipstick. What these color names attempt to do instead, is evoke an emotion that appeals to the female buyer– because after all the buyer is buying dreams of beauty, looking sexy, professional or looking like the-girl-next-door.

Any of the colors listed below could prefix almost any cosmetic color or even the color of attire, and we’d totally understand the emotion or mindset the color represented.

Bella Bamba

Crazy For Chic

Dove’s wing

Dusky Nights

First Blush

Glam Girl

Midnight Rendezvous

Naked

Party Girl

Passion’s Kiss

Radiant Kiss

Ra-ra Blue

Riviera Rose Satin

Shy blush

Trend Setter

Virgin Pink

Viva Las Vegas

You Jealous?

Can you make up some names for colors that evoke an emotion? I played around with a few ideas below. Keep in mind that it’s often the “connotation” of the descriptive that counts. What emotions do you associate with some of the following color descriptors?

Pepto-Bismol – Sickening, distasteful.
Jonquil – cheerful, perky
The color of sin – Probably black, meaning sexy or evil
Cocoa – warm & comfortable
Marshmallow – cheery, easygoing person
Moldy (black or green) – the blek factor
Morning mauve – promising, cheerful, relaxing, soft
Pearl – might project wealth, purity
Rabid … – this could prefix almost any color and give it distasteful connotation.
Quaker gray – prim and proper
Rosy  – health, beauty
Stone – cold and hard to read
Sterile – cold, chrome and steel

Below is a list of color names/descriptors. The list is long so I tried to eliminate over used terms and obvious clichés. The second list of terms describes the conditions or state of

REDS

Auburn

Baked Apple –brownish red

Blood

Burgundy

Cardinal

Carmine

Chapped

Chili

Chinese red

Cinnabar

Claret

Clay

Cranberry

 

Crimson

Current

Dahlia

Florid

Gore

Heliotrope

Hellfire

Holly berry

Hooker red

Iron oxide

Lipstick

Maroon

Mineral red – red-brown

 

Murrey- dark redPersimmon

Poinsettia

Rash

Rouge

Rubescent

Scarlet

Sunburned

Terra cotta

Titian

Tomato

Vermilion

Wine

Woodpecker

ORANGE

Alloy orange

Apricot

Autumn leaves

Cantaloupe

Carmine

Copper

Coral

Geranium

Mandarin

Melon

Peach

Poppy

Pumpkin

Rust

Salmon

Sante Fe

Spiced Coral

Shrimp

Tangerine

Terra cotta

Tiger lily

PINK

Azalea

Begonia

Bubble gum

Cameo

Carnation

Damask rose

Dusty rose

Flaming

Flamingo

Fuchsia

Magenta

Misty pink

Petal

Pepto-Bizmol

Salmon

Quartz

Shell

Tea rose

 

BLUES

Air force

Aquamarine

Azure

Beer-can blue

Blue bells

Blue De France

Blue Jay

Blueberry

Capri

Catalina (med. Blue)

Cerulean

Cobalt

Columbine

Cornflower

 

Copenhagen

Cornflower

Delft

Denim

Dresden

Ice

Indigo

Lapis

Nautical

Ocean, marine, gulf, lake

Paris

Peacock

Periwinkle

Persian

Powder

Prussian

Sapphire

Slate

Steel

Swiss

Teal

Turquoise

Tuscany

Ultramarine

Wedgwood

Wisteria

PURPLE

Amethyst

Bruised

Cool violet

Eggplant

English lavender

Fuchsia

Grape

Heliotrope

Imperial

Indigo

Iris

Lavender

Lilac

Magenta

Mauve mist

Mulberry

Orchid

Pansy

Plum

Puce

Snow violets

Vintage grape

Violent purple

 

YELLOW

Amber

Antique

Ashe blonde

Baby chicks

Banana

Beer

Buff

Buttercup

Cadmium

Canary

Chicken fat

Citron

Chartreuse

Corn silk

Daffodil

Daisy

Dandelion

Egg yolk

Flaxen

Gilt

Honey

Ingot

Jaundiced

Jonquil

Lemon

Maize

Marigold

Old gold

Palomino

Primrose

Quince

Saffron

Sandy

Sesame oil

Snapdragon

Solar powered

Squash

Stardust

Straw

Sulfur

Sunflower

Tawny

Tawny sallow

Tiger topaz

Towhead

Whiskey

White wine

Zinc

GREEN

Aqua

Aquamarine

Army

Avocado

Baby poop

Basil

Boogie/snot green

Bottle green

Caterpillar

Celery

Chartreuse

Chlorine

Chlorophyll

Clover

Cucumber

Doctor scrubs

Emerald

Holly leaf

Hunter

Irish/Kelly

Ivy

Jade

Jungle

Kendal

Khaki

Kildare

Kiwi

Lincoln

Loden

Malachite

Meadow

Mold

Money

Moss

Nile

Olive

Pea soup

Pistachio

Pus

Sage

Scum

Sea green

Shamrock

Sickly

Teal

Tender shoots

Toxic

Turf

Turtle

Zinc

 

BROWNS & TANS

Acorn

Adobe

Beaver

Beige

Biscuit

Bone

Brick – rusty brown

Bronze

Brunette

Buckskin

Café’ au lait

Camel

Caramel

Chamois

Champagne

Cedar chest

Chestnut

Cinnamon

Cinnabar (orange Br)

Cocoa

Coffee

Copper

Dishwater

Doeskin

Doggie doo doo

Dun

Fawn

Ginger

Hazel nut

Henna

Khaki

Liver

Mahogany

Maple

Mink

Mahogany

Molasses

Mud

New penny

Nutmeg

Oak

Old hickory

Pecan

Prairie sand

Puce – brown purple

Raisin

Rust

Sandstone

Sienna

Sorrel

Stone

Taupe

Teakwood

Toast

Tobacco

Toffee

Tortoise shell

Umber

Walnut

Weathered wood

Wren

BLACK

Anthracite

Black beans

Black ivory

Blackbird

Blue-black

Carbon

Cinder

Crow

Dirt

Ebony

Grease

Ink

Lampblack

Licorice

Midnight

Motor oil

Obsidian

Onyx

Panther

Pavement

Pitch

Raven

Sable

Shadow

Shoe black

Sin

Sloe-black

Stygian

 

GRAY

Alkaline

Ash

Battle ship

Brindle

Cement

Charcoal

Chrome

Cloud

Dapple

Dime

Dirty pigeon

Dove

Dust storm

Flannel

Flint

Granite

Gravel

Grizzle

Gunmetal

Heather

Iron

Lead

Maltese

Marble

Mist

Moleskin

Mouse

Oxford

Pearl

Pewter

Platinum

Quaker gray

Shale

Silver

Smoke

Soot

Steel

Sweat suit gray

Tin

Tornado

White

Alabaster

Albino

Antique

Blizzard

Chalk

Cloud

Cream

Dirty

Ecru

Eggshell

Ermine

Ivory

Lily

Magnolia

Marshmallow

Milk

Mushroom

Navaho white

Oatmeal

Old lace

Opal

Oyster

Paper

Parchment

Pearl

Pussy willow

Salt

Seashell

Snow

Soapsuds

Swan

Vanilla

Wedding

 

Don’t be afraid to make up your own color names. Paint stores and cosmetic companies do it all the time. Just make sure the descriptions fit your character and the atmosphere of the scene. Beware of sounding slapstick unless that’s your intent.

Adjectives Describing the State of Any Color.

Ablaze

Achromatic – absence of color

Bespangled

Bleached

Blotch

Bold

Brilliance

Checks

Chromatic

Clashing

Colorless

Cool

Dapple

Delicate

Dichromatic – having two colors or varied colors in 2 directions

Discolored

Dotted

Dusky

Dusty

Dye

Fiery

Flamboyant

Fluorescent

Garish

Gaudy

Glaze

Gloss

Glowing

Harmony

Homochromatic – one color hue

Intensity

Iridescence

Jazzy

Kaleidoscope

Marbleized

Medley

Monochromatic-one color

Mosaic

Mottled – spotted, smeared, freckled

Multicolor

Muted

Neutral

Nuance – shade, hint, tinge, degree of

Opalescent

Paint

Pastel

Patchwork

Pied – colors in blotches, varicolored

Pigmentation

Plaid

Polk-a-dot

Polychromatic – variety of color

Primary

Prism rainbow

Psychedelic

Scheme

Shade

Sober

Spackled

Speckles

Spectrum

Splotch

Spotty

Stain

Stellular-star-like spots

Streak

Stripped

Subtle – delicate, slight

Tarnish – dull, discolored, stain

Tartan – plaid, pattern, checked

Tempera

Tinge

Tint

Tone

Trichroic – showing colors in three directions, varicolored

Two-toned

Variegation

Vibrant

Washed-out

Resources:

Color As Emotion

How Color Impacts Emotions and behaviors – An especially good site with a comprehensive explanation of which colors evoke certain emotions.

So, how do you work color into the texture of your writing?

 

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2 Responses to Writing In Living Color – With Great Color Lists

  1. Darleen says:

    Fantastic as usual. The list is beyond helpful.

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