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.

 

Let’s Talk About Fanfiction

I’m sure you’re probably already squirming in your seat at the title. Fanfiction? Bleh! Who wants to read that?

You’d be surprised.

Fanfiction, for those who don’t know, is literature created by a fan of a TV show, book, movie, comic, etc. Fans like to put their own spin on the stories, create different theories that might not necessarily be canon, or even insert themselves into the show/book through a personal character. These pieces are posted on sites like Fanfiction, Wattpad, Commaful, and more. Check out more places at The Ultimate Guide to Fanfiction and Fanfiction Sites by Joanna Smith.

So what’s the problem with it?

Well, there are many complaints about fanfiction including: “You’re just taking someone else’s writing and making it your own. That’s not real writing.” “Fanfiction writers don’t know how to write.” “Fanfiction writing is awful.” “The stories aren’t canon.” “Fanfic is just loaded with Mary Sue characters.” “The stories are sexist.” “The stories are too gay.”

I’m not going to argue with some of these. Yes, people are indeed taking a known world and making it their own. It’s true, sometimes the quality of writing isn’t very good. No, often the stories aren’t canon because people are coming up with their own theories. And yes, a lot of Mary Sue characters pop up randomly.

As for there being too many gay stories…sorry, folks, but I’m totally fine with that.

Fanfic writers are almost treated as badly as the people who like Pumpkin Spice flavored things in the fall. How DARE someone enjoy a movie/book (or flavor)! What’s the problem? If someone loves or is inspired by a story so much that they want to write about it, then why not let them? Allow them to enjoy the idea that they can see themselves in the world they love, or they can shift the elements around so certain characters are paired together, or forgotten characters get more screen/page time. It’s not hurting anyone. If you don’t like it, then you certainly don’t have to read it.

Now, I realize there’s a lot of really bad fanfiction out there (due to poor grammar, storytelling, character development, and unsavory themes). I’m not going to say every kind of fanfic is okay, especially not when it deals with things we find taboo even in books we read today (ie. graphic rape scenes, child pornography, under-aged sex stories, etc). But if you’re complaining about poor plot, writing, and character development, how do you think people learn to improve? By practicing and getting critique.

When I started out writing, I read a lot of Fanfiction and wrote some myself. Was all of it good? Oh, heck no, but the thing is, the stories other people created helped me fall in love with the world even more. I’m going to use Redwall by Brian Jacques for example. This book series was my bread and butter. When I couldn’t get enough of the published stories, I went online and read as many Redwall fanfics that I could find. One time, I stayed awake all night in my parents’ room because I had to find out what happened to these new beloved characters. My dad woke to get ready for work and found me staring, wide-eyed, at the screen. Did I get any sleep that night? Nope. Did I fall in love with characters, the Redwall world, and weep for fan-made characters? Oh, you better believe it.

Fanfiction also taught me how to adjust my writing. I learned, grammatically, what was right, and what was wrong. As I wrote my own stories, people would poke at holes in my plot or offer me advice (sometimes in the form of a trolly comment), which helped me rethink what I was writing and fix my story. I got to delve into a world I already loved, with characters I created (or borrowed), and I also learned more about writing along the way! Fanfiction also helped me meet friends and other writers.

Roleplaying through a Redwall site actually introduced me to my co-writer.

Now, there is the controversy about people writing fanfic and wanting to publish it. Actually, someone kind of did do that *coughE.L.Jamescough* but at least she changed the names and setting a bit. Personally, I don’t think people should publish fanfiction independently or traditionally as it is the creation of another author. However, I see no harm in sites providing ads or “tokens” that provide a little compensation to writers courtesy of their readers. That’s not too much different from someone running a patreon campaign and getting readers to pay a certain amount each month to get a sneak peak at a new fanfiction piece.

But I know this is something that’s heavily debated, so feel free to leave your opinion below.

When it comes to my own books like The Purple Door District,…write fanfic to your heart’s content. If my characters and world inspire you to create stories of your own, then you write them and share them with friends! Practice your craft. My goal as an author is to encourage others to write, even if it’s in the world I created. I’m not going to lie, I have checked a couple of fanfic sites just to see if anyone has had the inclination to write something based off of my book.

Let the fanfic writers enjoy the stories and create ones of their own. Long after the original author is gone, her legacy will still live on in her books, and in the stories that her fans created of her series. What an amazing way to be remembered.

I say, write on, fanfiction authors. Write on!

 

The Purple Door District: Behind the Scenes

The world of The Purple Door District started out as the stubborn brainchild of AE Kellar and myself. We have spent years writing together, researching, brainstorming, and developing characters and rules governing our parahumans and worlds. Our main series, Fates and Furies, is still in production but occurs in the same urban fantasy setting.

But let me backtrack a little.

AE Kellar and I met each other on a Redwall roleplaying site when I was still in high school. We had a mutual interest in the book series by Brian Jacques, obviously, and the forums gave us the opportunity to create our own characters, be they cat in AE’s case, or a silver-striped red squirrel named SilverRose Brighteye. Some of you may recognize my NaNo name.

For those unfamiliar with roleplaying on forums, basically one person writes out a few paragraphs of a scene with their character, someone responds, and the two people (or more) write back and forth to create an adventure. Redwall provided the world for us; we just had to worry about the characters and plot.

We wrote together for years, developing characters and immersing ourselves in the world. Eventually, we sought after a change and started roleplaying on an urban fantasy website that has long since closed. That’s when we realized that we might have found our niche. We took our characters, built a world, and ran with it, rping back and forth most nights. We’d alternate taking point on a plotline and naturally switch to the next person.

Unless we both brainfarted, in which case we just started up a new plotline.

Years of writing produced thousands of pages of writing (I’m not joking, AE took a picture of the pile of paper). Eventually, we realized we wanted to do something with it, and thus Fates and Furies was born. But in order to fully create the series, we had to know more about our world.

When we started to design the District, I latched onto it and suddenly had ideas blossoming in my head about creating one in Chicago (I grew up around the area). Plus, as a birdmom of seven feathered kids, it gave me the chance to professionally write about a werebird, even if I still get the side eye. With AE’s blessing, I wrote The Purple Door District to introduce you to our insanity.

But what about the PDD struck a chord in me? It was the community. I loved this idea that people of different talents, appearances, and strengths could come together to protect one another. A lot of urban/paranormal fantasies focus on the battle between werewolves and vampires or different magical groups. It was nice to think that there was a neutral ground where everyone could get along under the direction of The Violet Marshall. With the way the country is going today, I felt it was important to show that it’s possible for a mixing pot of people to actually come together peacefully. I chose Chicago specifically because I knew I could create a diverse cast. Even more characters will appear in The Purple Door District Book 2.

Community plays a huge role in my life. I help bring writers together through The Writers’ Rooms, a non-profit corporation that focuses on providing a free, safe environment for writers no matter their background, income, experience, gender, etc. And I work with The Iowa Writers’ House which also supports writers through workshops, lectures, and bicultural fellowship. In the writing world, I firmly believe that the only way we can succeed is if we support one another. Rising Tide, as Brian K Morris calls it.

Even through the book production, I reached out to the community for help. I asked Oni Algarra and Gabriella Bujdoso to create art for the book, indie artists who post on deviantart and instagram respectively. My cover artist is a Fiverr creator named Les. Sara Cunningham used her marketing magic to create sand jars and postcards for my book. Amanda Bouma taught me how to make jewelry so I could develop Bianca’s necklace. Leona Bushman, a fellow urban fantasy writer, guided me through editing my book and polishing it for publication. Alexandra Penn helped me format the book and was one of my main supporters who gave me the courage to publish the book. And my wonderful proofreaders, Shakyra Dunn and AE made sure the book was ready to go. I couldn’t have done this without my community, and I’m excited to support them just as they supported me. That’s partially why I created the Indiegogo campaign. I wanted to help give back to them.

As of November 5th, The Purple Door District is available for pre-order on amazon. There are no words I can use to convey my pride, joy, and hint of terror at having my book out there (I think I used up all my words in the manuscript haha). I do know that, had it not been for AE, I never would have been able to create such an immersive world.

We jokingly say that AE is the brain and I’m the heart, but I think it’s very true. While AE fills our books with well-researched facts and logic, I add feeling, creativity, and literary flare. I couldn’t have done it without my walking encyclopedia. All you see in The Purple Door District exists because of our love for storytelling and our incessant need to get fewer than 8 hours of sleep a night.

Keep an eye out. Fates and Furies is on the horizon.

And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of your support during this crazy and amazing journey.

Welcome to the District.

 

“The End”

Theend2

One of the exciting things about being a writer is watching your world and characters come together. For weeks, months, years, you work with the plot of the story, sometimes hating your writing, and sometimes thinking it’s the most brilliant thing you’ve ever done. It all ends the same, though. One day, you find yourself penning those last words onto the page. Your characters have finished their journey, your world is complete, and the story that you’ve spun together has finally reached its end.

That’s what happened to me today.

Four years and five months ago, I had an idea to write a short book that would consist of 23 chapters. The story was based on a dream that I had, and I thought it would be a great way to get my foot into the door at a publishing company. At that time, I had been working on another series, and I was quite honestly burnt out. I needed something fresh to spark my interest and get my muses working again. So, I started TOTC. I spent months writing the outline and researching. I knew my plot and my characters. I knew the world. I just needed some research about medieval history to help me along the way. Over the years my bookshelves filled with more and more volumes about medieval life, fairies, dragons, Celtic names, and so on and so forth. My search engine was consumed by the same things, and sometimes creepier searches like how long it takes for a body to burn on a pyre. I’m not joking…sometimes you have to research some weird things.

Fast forward to a few years in, and I started using National Novel Writing Month to write more chapters in my story. It was invigorating to sit with fellow writers and develop the story to my own satisfaction. Only once did I truly hate using NaNo to write the book, but I was also going through some personal problems at that time. During my darkest moments, I always had my story and my ideas.

As I continued working, I started to realize that this single book was not possible. If I wanted to give all of my characters their voices and really make the story mean something, I would have to split it into three books instead. I can’t express the amount of relief I felt when I finally made that decision. I was able to write additional scenes that gave my characters more depth. My simple plot line twisted and twisted again until I found myself immersed in a war.

The most interesting thing I noticed was that the simple theme of the story had changed. It wasn’t just about a woman trying to protect the people of the land, but it was about her finding herself again, as well as her faith in the Gods. I watched my protagonist grow from a frightened little girl to a powerful woman. And I grew with her. I found my voice in my writing, and even when I had moments of doubt, I always knew I would finish, no matter what the cost.

This past year, I used two Camp NaNos to try to complete the trilogy. I kept thinking, only 50,000 more words, only 50,000 more words. Actually, an additional 51,000 did the trick. I put the final words on the page today, and I felt a stirring in my stomach. Right now, I think it’s relief, but there’s a prickle of sadness as well. There’s so much work left in the trilogy, but for now, the story is done. The characters have come as far as they are going to go, and it’s time for the adult side of me, the editor, to step up and rip apart my whimsical world to make it even better.

I don’t plan to do this right away. I’m going to put TOTC off to the side for the time being to give myself some separation before I tackle the editing process. For now, I just want to bask in the fact that I finally completed the trilogy. This journey has been a roller coaster ride, and I can’t wait to see what’s in the future.