Seeing Colors


When I was in college more years ago than I care to admit on my blog, I enrolled in a World Cinema course. I enjoyed the class for many reasons: awesome professor, watching movies in class, exposure to international films, and discussing what differentiates a great film from a mediocre one.

One of my favorite topics was use of color in film. For example, think about how the color red was used in films like The Sixth Sense, Resident Evil, or The Matrix. The Sixth Sense used this color to convey moments when otherworldly events blended with the ‘real’ world. Resident Evil used it to convey warning of impending conflict, and The Matrix used it in the form of a red pill, which would free the main character from the confines of his imposed reality.

Use of color in story telling became a secret code for me; a subtle way to set the stage, and it changed the way I write. Color has the power to evoke emotions, thoughts, and memories. If used properly, it can also be a powerful tool in writing. Think about the use of red tulips in EVERMORE by Alyson Noël. Tulips are a symbol of perfect love. Red tulips like the one given to the main character are a declaration of true love.

I plan to blog about specific colors and their meanings later this week.

For now, can you think of any examples of use of color in books or movies? Which ones? What do you think is the significance of the color(s) used?

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17 comments on “Seeing Colors

  1. Susanna says:

    Natasha, I’m embarrassed to realize I can’t think of many specific examples, which must mean I haven’t really paid attention to the use of color in writing (or that, in my dotage I just can’t remember :)) The Emerald City and ruby slippers come to mind from The Wizard of Oz, and I think black is pretty commonly used for mood and harbinger of death etc. The White Queen in Narnia was very icy in personality. I’m not sure what The Man In The Yellow Hat is meant to convey unless it’s that George took to him because he looked like a banana 🙂 I guess I’ll have to think on it some more!

  2. Kerri says:

    Fun topic and one I haven’t really given thought to. I know wil be thinking like heck to find examples lol.

  3. C.D.Jarmola says:

    One book that really relies on color is The Giver. I won’t give the plot away but if you want to read something that almost revolves around color read it.

  4. Robin Quinn says:

    This is a concept I have regrettably not considered in my own work.

    Here is a snippet from Andreas Kluth’s blog:

    “So the trick is to find substance, and then to take away details so that only a few splashes of light and color remain, which then filter out the entire sensual world around the reader and deliver him to that one place that you, the writer, have in mind for him.”

    Creating a scene without going over the top is tricky, as he said in the above quote–nonetheless adding the detail of a specific color to represent a feeling, to foreshadow, or to remind the reader, “Ah, I know what this means.”

    I’m intrigued. Thank you.
    Robin

  5. Reinhardt says:

    I totally agree. I think that this happens a lot in movies, and because of the medium, it can be done with a measure of subtlety. In poetry, it also can be used pretty effectively (William Carlos Williams’s Red Wheelbarrow, for instance). Like Robin, I feel that prose is a little more tricky because you don’t want to so overtly call attention to it.

    I guess in a way you have to imagine yourself like a set designer, sprinkling small motifs here and there to quietly prep the reader for when the colors need their meanings to come out.

    Great post!

  6. Really had never given the color enough credit in symbolism! Thanks for the post!

    I’m a Campaigner in your paranormal group… looking forward to getting to read more of your fascinating posts!

  7. Kimberly says:

    This is interesting to think about. I hadn’t thought about it before really.

    We are in the the same YA group for the Campaign and wanted to say hi.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Wow, we are in the same Dystopian group too!

  9. @Susanna – very fun observations. And there is all sorts of symbolism with color in the Wizard of Oz. Emerald City (color of money). Yellow (gold) brick road. Good picks!

    @Kerri – once you start seeing places where color is used, it adds a whole new layer of appreciation to the story. p.s. good luck with the sea serpent advent.

    @C.D. – Read a review on Amazon. Sounds interesting.

    @Robin – Yep, gotta find a balance when using color. They are an adjectives, and you know what they say about those. I think if we use color as an active part of the story – a detail, rather than description – it can add value.

    @Reinhart – IMO, it’s movies get away with so much more than books. It’s not fair. 🙂 I like that set designer concept.

    @Sarah – I love symbolic use of color in paranormal stories.

    @Kimberly – Thanks for stopping by.

    @All Campaigners – Welcome! I’ll be hoping around blogs today. Looking forward to getting to know you.

  10. Hi Natasha, I’m in one of your groups over at the campaign. I use color a lot in my writing, especially since I am also an artist. Each color has certain vibes, and you can definitely use them to craft scene and mood and symbolism.

  11. Isis Rushdan says:

    Hi Natasha,

    I put you down as a draw for the PNR package in the giveaway.

    I pay particular attention to colors in films since I saw the French trilogy Blue White Red.
    “Blue, white, and red are the colors of the French flag in left-to-right order, and the story of each film is loosely based on one of the three political ideals in the motto of the French Republic: liberty, equality, fraternity.”-wikipedia

    Also, I LOVED the movie Hero. Visually stunning. It’s three different versions of one story. Each story is “colored” by a different character’s perspective, rather than used for symbolism. The New York Times did an entire article on it. http://www.helloziyi.us/Articles/Hero_Color_Code.htm. Highly recommend the film to those who like martial arts flicks or if you are interested in the use of color in movies.

  12. That sounds like a great class! I love using color in my writing, often my critique group jumps on my case for having too many color words on a page 🙂 I haven’t been clever enough to use color in any kind of secret sneaky way.

  13. samdelapena says:

    I’m in your dystopian/post-apocalyptic campaign group, dropping in to say hi. 🙂

    As far as color – House Of Leaves. Not only was it a complete mind-screwing experience as far as the actual story, but the formatting of the text itself went the extra mile to screw with your head. Everytime the word ‘house’ appeared, it was in blue as opposed to the rest of the text, which was standard black. In my own interpretation, it enhanced the feeling of the strange space having either its own consciousness or its own rules of physics or both as it slowly infiltrates daily life and personal space –

    Crap. Now I’m gonna be scared of walls again.

  14. Hi Fellow Third Campaigner, I like your take on using color schemes, but the opposite also works. Remember Bruce Willis in The Color of Night? He couldn’t see the color red.

  15. @ Catherine – totally agree!

    @ Isis – Oooh! I loved the movie Hero and remember making remarks about the use of color to my husband at the movies.

    @ Alica – We do have to be selective about which colors we use in writing and how often we mention them. Over use dims the impact.

    @Sam – House of Leaves sounds so scary. I might have to find a copy.

    @Marilyn – Love Bruce, though for some reason I don’t remember watching “The Color of Red”. It’s going on my list.

  16. It’s called The Color of Night, and Bruce couldn’t see the color red–particularly crimson red blood. Actually, the movie was rated as one of the worst ones Bruce starred in. I thought it was pretty good, except for the end.

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