The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I was complaining to writer friends about a story I read that had a lot of colors in it. Like, the story used quite a bit of color in descriptions. Just plain old colors (red, blue, yellow, green, purple, orange) to describe plain old things (table, chair, door, hat, wall, floor). It bugged me because that's the kind of writing I see in picture book mss by people who think they're writing for kids when they're really writing down to kids. "Miss Tilly put on her yellow hat with the purple flower and went out of her brown house with its red chimney." I had it drummed into my head at an early age (writing-wise) that you never, ever put colors that don't mean anything into a PB ms because you're treading on the illustrator's turf. Maybe it made me a little paranoid about colors, but in general it helped my writing, because from the beginning of my career I zeroed in on colors as things that clog up the story without adding anything: what does the word mean, what does it add, why's it there? It helped me because basically that's what you need to do with every single word you put on the page.

To me colors are mostly wasted words, because the specific words don't do anything. I like to use "dark" rather than "black" or "brown" because "dark" conveys a mood. Color words don't make me feel anything, usually. If you make the color fancier, like "azure" or "magenta," it still doesn't convey anything to me. I wonder if it does to other people, maybe people who are more visual thinkers.

But anyway, the ironic thing is that as soon as I shot my mouth off to writer friends about the way this story used color, I turned back to my ms and the first thing I see is this:

Under Simon’s feet the winter wheat was alarmingly sorry-looking. Where there should have been a lush ocean of spring growth, there was only brown soil dusted with sparse bits of green.

I almost never use color, but there it is, right after I've derided somebody else for doing it. I thought, whoa. I mean, I'm not going to change it, but it's interesting that I'm falling back on color here because I'm trying to describe something specific. Not something in my head, but pictures of wheat winterkill I've seen on the Internet. I don't know what this means. Maybe it's not important. I notice that just a little farther on in the ms, maybe a page or two down, I'm describing something that is just in my head, and since I haven't actually got a picture of it, I'm all about getting across a feeling from the description, not a specific image. So, instead of colors, I'm playing around with words like...checking...


Hmm. I did use a couple of colors. Red. White. But looky here! You can read the above list and get a very good damn idea of mood and feeling. Red and white don't tell you sh*t. Huh.

Well, I don't have any conclusions to draw. Just noticed it, and thought it was interesting.

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