Coloring Outside the Lines

Coloring Outside the Lines

I admit I’m lousy with colors. A touch of blue-green and red-brown blindness, poor night vision – I would never be able to tell the arrival of dawn the old Middle Eastern nomad way by seeing the difference between a white and a gray goat hair. Yet colors play an important part in our everyday life. Red lights, green lights, yellow caution cones, black armbands for mourning. Colors play a key role in our writing as well.

In horror especially, black, red and their varying hues are significant colors for setting and foreshadowing. Crimson blood, fiery red eyes, ebony shadows, charcoal dusk each evoke a specific memory, allowing the reader to better visualize the scene and mood. Other colors elicit similar responses, such as the pure innocence of white, the coolness of blue or aqua, the serene pastoral quality of green and the earthiness of brown.

I also colored outside the lines as a child. I wasn’t spastic. I saw lines as a challenge to my imagination, too confining. By moving outside the lines, I could change the drawn shapes presented in the coloring book, make them different; make them my own. Writers can do that as well.

In some cultures, white is the color of mourning, not black. In Korea, a white wedding would raise eyebrows and maybe a few ancestral spirits. Most people see the devil as red, yet the Pope and Cardinals wear red robes. I’m sure it has something to do with the blood of Christ or a tribute to radishes or something but it still looks scary to me. (My apologies to Catholics.)

Green Slime, the Hulk, the Green Goblin vs. the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern. Same color, different visuals, good and bad. Most ghosts (They say) appear white. I’m not sure why unless ectoplasm is made of tapioca. Why not a black ghost? It sure would be difficult to spot at night. Add a splash of royal purple to a peasant character to hint that he might have visions of grandeur. Build new worlds – brown skies, blue grass, and yellow seas. Remove the usual, expected crutches colors provide the reader and force them to create new ones, to pay closer attention to details. In one of my novels, Oracle of Delphi, there are three suns, each a different color. The interplay of shadows and lighting was difficult to keep straight, but it provides a striking background.

In Moby Dick, the titular whale was white, the color of purity but in this case, was the whale evil or was Ahab. Certainly, it was no ghost whale. The gold coin Ahab nailed to the weathered mast would have gleamed in the sun like a jewel, beckoning the crew and riveting their minds, tempting them from their original goal of harvesting oil. The crew was a mixture of stalwart New England Christians and heathens, yet in the end, it was difficult to tell the difference among all the bloodlust. Killing whales was seen as God’s work, providing oil for lamps, but Ahab
abandoned God in his desire for revenge. In the end, God abandoned him.

Be bold. Experiment with color. Subtle shading can create
new settings or foreshadow events. Try coloring outside the lines.

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