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Writing Tips – Color Descriptions

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 4, 2017

Do you have trouble with color descriptions when writing your novel? I can see colors fine except when I have to describe them in a story. Then I’ll say a character has brown eyes, is wearing a green top with khakis, and has her nails painted red. Remember the childhood refrain you learned to help you remember the colors? “Red and orange, green and blue. Shiny yellow, purple too. All the colors that we see, live up in the rainbow…” Anyway, that might not be an accurate rendition, but it’s how I remember the song.

rainbow2

Rainbow colors alone don’t do justice to the myriad of shades out there. So I’ve written color charts for myself as a writing tool for when I need more interesting variations. You can also classify by categories, such as:

Jewels—pearl, amethyst, emerald, ruby, sapphire, jade, garnet
Flowers—rose, lilac, daffodil, hibiscus, orchid
Minerals—onyx, copper, gold, silver, malachite, cobalt
Nature—thundercloud gray or leaf green or canary yellow
Food—grape, cherry, orange, lemon, lime, cocoa, coffee, fudge, chocolate, peach, nut brown, pumpkin

IMG_0928  pumpkin

One of the best resources is a department store catalog. You can’t get more imaginative than their names for towels, sheets and sweaters. Thinking white? How about pearl, ivory, parchment or snow?

You get the idea. And so I’ve created a file listing colors which I’ll share with you here. My only request is that you tell me what I’ve missed. Here we go.

· BLACK: Jet, ebony, charcoal, raven, crow, coal, pitch, soot, ink, velvet, cast iron, midnight, onyx, obsidian

· BROWN: Chestnut, auburn, nut, mahogany, walnut, hazel, fawn, copper, camel, caramel, cinnamon, russet, tawny, sandy, chocolate, maroon, tan, bronze, sun-ripened, coffee, rust, earth, sod, dusty, mud

· GRAY: Silver, metallic, gunmetal, steel, cloudy, ashen, foggy, slate, leaden, stone, mist, platinum, smoky, mercury

· WHITE: Milky, chalk, frost, snow, ivory, cream, pearl, opal, parchment

· RED: Blood, apple, ruby, rusty, brick, fire engine, pink, rose

· ORANGE: Tangerine, fire opal, sunset, kumquat, pumpkin, apricot

· GREEN: Emerald, jade, apple, leaf, sea, grass, sage, basil, pea, olive, malachite, forest, lime

· BLUE: Cobalt, indigo, sapphire, turquoise, azure, sky, navy, royal, deep sea, ink, ice, denim, Cerulean blue

· YELLOW: Blond, lemon, daffodil, canary, topaz, golden, tawny, sand, saffron, citron, sulfur, amber, straw, primrose

· PURPLE: Lavender, violet, lilac, amethyst, orchid, mauve

Bougainvillea  Flamingo Nursery3

Colors also convey emotions. For example, mud brown and toad green have a less pleasant connotation than chocolate brown and sea green. Browns, oranges, and reds are so-called “warm” colors while blue and green are “cool” colors or more soothing. So choose your hues carefully to enhance a scene.

CLICK TO TWEET

What’s your secret to describing colors? Do you prefer rainbow colors or more specific shades?

 

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19 Responses to “Writing Tips – Color Descriptions”

  1. Very good suggestions, Nancy. I’m terrible with descriptions, so this is a helpful reminder to keep things interesting. (We learned Roy G. Biv to remember the rainbow colors.)

  2. marilynlevinson said

    Wow!! Another wonderful post, Nancy. I’ll save your list of color words.

  3. This is such a helpful guide! Even those of us who have been writing for years can find ourselves groping for interesting descriptions of our characters’ worlds. As for me, my favorites are jewel tones – amythyst, sapphire, garnet, etc.

  4. Nancy,

    You always offer helpful ideas. And vivid imagery, especially sight imagery, makes writing vivid.

  5. What about primrose? It’s a pale yellow–NOT pink, as was (erroneously) indicated in a book I read recently.

  6. Cerulean blue. I really like this list. I saw your post on twitter. I need to make a list of these. Hope you can update it with additions.

  7. Color list has been updated with your suggestions, thanks.

  8. kimwrtr said

    Reblogged this on Kim's Author Support Blog.

  9. tarafarah7 said

    This is awesome! I teach high school English (and Spanish)…I would love to read this post to my students when we revisit our lessons on descriptive writing and word choice! Is that okay? Thanks so much for sharing your ideas! 🙂

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