Colors and Symbolism in Writing

Color and imagery play such important roles in all forms of media. They can enhance how we might view a character or act as a device for foreshadowing. Some colors can blatantly symbolize who’s good and who is evil, or denote where the character’s loyalty resides. While it’s easier to see on tv and in film, it’s just as important in books.

First, what do the colors mean? Taking a look at Judy Scott-Kemmis’ website Empowered by Color, she outlines the different emotions created by color.

  • Red: Generally this is the color associated with passion, sex, energy, and ambition. But it’s also the color of anger (which is generally why people might have heightened emotions when sitting in a red room).
  • Orange: Social communication and optimism. It can also be a more negative sign of pessimism.
  • Yellow: Color of the mind and intellect but it can also suggest impatience and cowardice. (Maybe this is why the mind stone in Avengers is yellow).
  • Green: This is the color of balance and growth. Though it can also be a sign of jealousy/envy.
  • Blue: Tranquility, trust, and peace. Some rooms are painted this color to help people feel calm.
  • Purple: Imagination (both creative or impractical)
  • Pink: Unconditional love as well as immature and girlish
  • Brown: Down-to-earth, protection, and comfort
  • White: Purity, innocence, completion
  • Gray: Compromise
  • Black: Mystery, secrecy

Keep in mind, this is one person’s view of color, but it seems pretty universal in other studies (though with some minor differences).

How do these colors come to play in stories?

Good vs Evil

Let’s start with Star Wars. Generally the Jedi Knights wear white/beige clothing while the Sith are dressed all in black. As a character slips to the dark side, their clothing color seems to change (ie Anakin Skywalker). Of course, it can be argued that Luke was wearing black at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, so was that meant to throw us off or hint that perhaps Luke could still slip to the dark side?

Their lightsabers, as well, seem to play a part in good vs evil. Jedi wield green (growth) and blue (peace) lightsabers while the Sith use red (anger).

When we’re told stories, it’s not uncommon for the good character to wear white clothing to represent purity while the villain is cloaked in black/darkness. Obviously this has led to discussions about how this just reinforces racism (white = good, black = bad). So some writers have tried to move away from this trope. Or, so-called bad characters are starting to have redeeming stories told about them (ie. the film Maleficent).

Color and World Building

Color also plays a big part in world building, as some societies are built directly around color. Let’s address Avatar: The Last Airbender. Each of the nations (earth, fire, water, air) have different colors to denote their different kingdoms. Earth Kingdom wears brown, yellow, and green. Water Tribe wears blue, purple, and white. Air Nomads wear orange and yellow. The Fire Nation wears primarily red, brown, and black. They each have their own distinct color, and it works well with what we’ve learned about what the colors mean. Green/growth and brown/down-to-earth seems very fitting for the Earth Kingdom. Blue/peace, purple/imagination, and white/purity works well for the Water Tribe, while red/anger and black/mystery embodies the Fire Nation.

The world of Harry Potter does this with the houses as well. Gryffindor is red and gold. Ravenclaw is blue and bronze. Slytherin is green and silver. And Hufflepuff is yellow and black.

Star Trek also plays around with colors. Now, each ship or generation kind of varies their uniforms, but in general blue = sciences, yellow = command, red = you have a death wish. But in all seriousness, if you look at articles about Star Trek like “The Take” you’ll find that every person wore a specific uniform designated to their station. Unfortunately, the red shirts just often went down to the planet and never came back.

Foreshadowing 

Colors can also be used to foreshadow events, or show a character’s progression or regression mentally. The big example I’m going to use is from Season 8 of Game of Thrones. You can skip ahead if you haven’t seen the season yet and don’t want spoilers.

***Begin GOT Spoiler****

In the case of Daenerys Targaryen, her color scheme changes drastically along with her mentality. In Episode 1, she wears pure white clothing. She is in the north, with her lover, ready to fight a battle to save the people. She still has her best friend, her mentor, and her two dragons. Her intentions are pure. Between episodes 2-4, her white clothing takes on red lines. They just fought a battle and she watched someone she cared for deeply die before her eyes. Not only that, she starts to realize she doesn’t have the support of the people like Jon Snow. Then she loses her best friend and another one of her dragons. Episodes 5 and 6, her clothing shifts to red and black during the burning of King’s Landing and her ascension to the throne. In previous seasons, she had mostly worn white, blue, and browns (purity, peace, down-to-earth), and in the end, she goes mad while wearing red (anger) and black (mystery). It was a beautiful, though tragic event, of what was to come.

***End GOT Spoiler***

Another element of foreshadowing comes, again, from Star Wars. When Anakin first starts his training, he’s in the traditional white or brown Jedi garb. But as the story progresses, and he starts to slip towards the dark side, his clothing changes to black. The last time we see him whole, he’s fighting in black attire against Obi-Wan in white. After that, he’s left in his Darth Vader suit just so he can survive. We watched through color as he slipped away from the light to darkness.

These are just a few reasons why you might consider using colors in your story. For lack of better words, you paint a broader and more beautiful picture of your world when you add in these elements. From color meanings, to symbolism and foreshadowing, there’s so much you can play with.

 

Fantasy and Society (OWS CyCon)

Introduction 

I’d like to offer you a warm welcome to my blog. I write what you want to read, so feel free to drop a topic below! I hope you enjoyed visiting Timothy Bateson’s blog. If you haven’t stopped by, make sure to check him out!

My name is Erin Casey, and I’m an urban fantasy/YA fantasy/medieval fantasy writer. My first book The Purple Door District came out December 2018, and the next book in the series, Wolf Pit, will be released in December 2019. To learn more about my series, and all the other projects I’m doing, find me on my website, twitter, instagram, and facebook.

If you’ve come here from OWS CyCon, you can find my booth here. If you’re new to OWS CyCon, CyCon is a weekend-long book online convention where you can meet authors, vote on book covers, check out interviews and readings… all without putting on pants! I’m also involved in cover wars, character wars, and several panels. Be sure to visit the CyCon website and Facebook events acting as the hub for all of our events. Sign up for our newsletter or RSVP to the event to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the bookish goodness we have to offer. Be sure to visit the Fantasy Sci-Fi Reader’s Lounge, especially on Sunday, May 19th from 11am-12pm when I’ll host an author takeover event. 

Now, with all the logistics out of the way, let’s get into the heart of the blog post!

Fantasy and Society 

Whether you write epic fantasy or urban fantasy, you have to find a way to integrate the fantastical world into “normal” society. How you do that depends on several factors of world building. We’re going to talk about a few of these in hopes that they’ll get you started in developing your fantasy world.

Who Knows? The first question to ask yourself is who knows about magic and your “not human” characters (we’ll call them parahuman in this case)? Are your parahumans just starting to come out in society or are they a secret hidden away from the government?

For example, in The Purple Door District, society is starting to learn about parahumans. There’s a government section that is specifically devoted to the parahumans, though they generally keep to themselves unless otherwise needed. The way parahumans can find each other is by going to Purple Door Districts, safe havens that are marked by purple-colored doors, or purple-colored items at the front of the building. In this case, some people know about the parahumans, and others don’t. They try not to announce themselves because Hunters lurk in the shadows, people who think parahumans are an abomination and want to kill them.

What about your world? Whether society knows about your parahumans or not can play a major factor in the danger your characters may endure.

Jobs/Economy: What kind of jobs do your parahumans have (whether they’re “out” or not in society)? Are werewolves more likely to take on heavy-lifting jobs like construction or maintenance work while suave vampires are more adapt to being lawyers? Do you have places that are run by magic (think of a coffee shop that’s powered by magic and produces drinks with potions that help with stress, anxiety, weight loss, etc.)? Or do their abilities not influence where they work or what they do? Note: If you find the idea of a fae-run coffee shop interesting, check out my story Coffee Chaos on wattpad.

Introducing Your Readers to Your World: Once you have your world established, how do you want to introduce the magic and society to your readers? Some writers will introduce a character who is human or not very aware of the parahuman world and slowly integrate them, and the readers, into the world. In other cases, you can use someone who knows about the world but has a very different view of it to help your readers adjust. Stick with some familiarity so that the readers don’t feel completely overwhelmed.

Government: As mentioned, The Purple Door District has a government faction that knows about the parahumans and keeps them in check. What about your world? How is the government involved? Do the parahumans have to watch their backs? Are they free to roam in society as they are? Does your world resemble X-Men where some government officials call for sanctions against them while others want to protect their rights? It’s good to figure this out ahead of time because it can help you know just how much trouble you can get your characters in with or without government involvement.

How Powerful Are Your Parahumans? Do they have abilities that could threaten all of humanity? Think of Professor Xavier and Cerebro and how his ability almost took out all humans/mutants in the 2nd X-men film. Are there fae who have their own world and government and could easily take over humankind? Or are your parahumans more like groups of vampires and werewolves who can be considered a threat but can’t take over the entire world? Knowing this allows you to figure out how society might either accept or fear the parahumans. You can also play around with the characters who have different power levels. How would an overpowered character react to a situation vs someone who is weaker? Figuring out how you can integrate the fantasy element into society will help you further develop your characters.

These are just a few elements to think about when you’re integrating fantasy into society. One thing to keep in mind is that you want it to be believable. Know why parahumans act the way they do, or why society treats parahumans a certain way. Be creative, and most importantly, have fun!

I hope that you found these tips helpful. If you want to learn more about integrating fantasy into society, take a look at Kayla Matt’s blog.

Happy writing!