Thursday, March 10, 2011


Do you get weary with the formal names of colors, while reading or while writing? Do you wish you could find a more descriptive word for red, blue, yellow, green, without the word being too flowery or too big? You can use words that describe colors that give the reader a double doze of visual imagery.

Your heroine is wearing a red gown to the ball. Instead you could say her gown was scarlet. See how much stronger that word is?
Your hero is wearing a black suit. Instead you could say his suit is ebony. Ebony is more than just black. It is a deep, resplendent black.

Here are a few sentences taken from my historical romance 'Surrender the Wind', where I do not use the formal color word.

His waistcoat and linen shirt were blotched with crimson, the right sleeve torn at the seam.

Instead of saying his clothing was blotched with blood or using the word red, the use of 'crimson' gives the reader a word that paints the picture in the reader's mind of a wound, of both the noun and a word describing it. Crimson is a deeper red, dark and adds an ominous feel to the narrative.

At an hour when the light of day painted the sky magenta, a man on horseback rode through the gates of Ten Width.

Some writers might not use a color word in this sentence at all. But you ask the question how did the light of day paint the sky? The word 'magenta' presents the image of a sunrise. Magenta is a soothing color, a rich purplish red. And if you want your scene to express that kind of mood the use of this color fits it.

Liquid gold edged the clouds.

The writer could say 'yellow edged the clouds', and that is fine. But think for a moment what a cloud looks like when the sun is behind it and has either a gold or silver lining. Beautiful, right? So why not paint that same image in your reader's mind? Gold is a warm or hot color.

Here is a simple color list that might help.

RED - Burgundy, Rouge, Magenta, Maroon, Scarlet, Garnet, Crimson, Claret, Vermilion, Wine, Ruby, Fuchsia.

WHITE - Eggshell, Ivory, Alabaster, Pearl.

YELLOW - Topaz, Canary, Honey, Maize, Amber, Gold.

BEIGE - Bisque, Taupe, Sand, Shell, Fawn, Buff.

BLACK: Onyx, Jet, Charcoal , Ebony, Raven.

BLUE - Navy, Cobalt, Sapphire, Slate, Teal, Turquoise, Aqua.

BROWN - Copper, Bronze, Burnt umber, Nutmeg, Cocoa, Chocolate, Chestnut.

GRAY: Charcoal, Slate, Ash, Smoke, Pewter.

GREEN - Jade, Chartreuse, Olive, Shamrock, Emerald, Moss.

PURPLE - Lavender, Amethyst, Violet, Plum, Mulberry.

ORANGE - Coral, Salmon, Copper, Melon.

In the comment section, tell us what colors you would use to describe the following gowns.


West said...

1) Cranberry
2) Persimmon
3) Lilac
4) I don't know; what is that black? If it's black, how about kohl?
5) Aquamarine; aqua
6) Topaz or French blue

Christine Lindsay said...

I like some of the words that are already chosen.
But how about Apricot for the orange, and Porcelain Blue, Kohl is a favorite of mine.

Rachel said...

1: Burgundy velvet
2: Apricot
3: Dove gray with lavender accents
4: Dark olive
5: Ivory
6: This one would take me the longest to decide on. I'd start with sky blue, then nix that because it's too cliche. It would also depend on the setting of the story and the background of the POV character. That one could end up as anything from aquamarine to blue as the Caribbean sea. (Having now been in the Caribbean, it really can be that color!)

Excellent exercise, Rita!

Another challenge is to describe the fabric itself in conjunction with the color. The first dress would be burgundy velvet. The last one appears to be silk, based on the sheen of it. That also opens up a whole new world of possibilities for describing clothes.

Bonnie Toews said...

1) Velvet ruby
2) Flaming chestnut or titian
3) Breath of Lilac
4) Earthen moss or deep sage
5) Iced celery
6) Metallic blue

Carla Gade said...

What a fun and interesting post! I love reading everyone's responses.


Carla Gade said...

I think I'll change my "fern" to "avocado".

Rita Gerlach said...

I am loving these comments!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

1. ruby
2. tangerine
3. lilac
4. I'm stealing avocado from Carla. That was perfect. I had thought something along the line of evergreen, but avocado nails it.
5. mint
6. cerulean

This was fun, Rita.


Jenny said...

Wow...lots of good ones. I struggled to find some that were a bit different.

1. Sangria
2. Mandarin
3. Wisteria - pale and deep
4. Asparagus
5. Toss up between Queen Anne's Lace and Creme Fraiche - although if used, a reader might think she's either wearing flowers or food. *grin*
6. Glacier (blue)

That was lots of fun, Rita...and I definitely had to use some brain power. :)

Debra E. Marvin said...

1. Burgundy
2. Melon
3. Lilac
4. Forest green
5. cream
6 Alice blue (the color my bedroom was painted in when I was young -it referred to Alice in Wonderland's dress!

Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D. said...

russet apple, melon, periwinkle, spruce, parchment,robin's egg

Debra Ann Elliott said...

2.Autumn sunset
3.Eggplant with shades of lavender