Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What color is your character?

I’ve written about the use of color before, but it can also provide a touch of characterization, a visual flourish, when different colors are linked with different characters.

In V. C. Andrews’ My Sweet Audrina, the titular character is a troubled young girl who can’t remember much of what’s happened to her in the past. She’s usually dressed in white or violet. White is the color of innocence, but in this case it comes off as a blank slate as well, and violet symbolizes indecision because it’s neither blue nor red.

Antoinette, the protagonist of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, loves colors as vivid as the tropics where she lives. Her favorite dress is red, “the color of fire and sunset. The color of flamboyant flowers.” But the man she is coerced into marrying prefers her in virginal white, a bleached color with no passion in it. This also works because the moral judgment – linked with the symbolism of the colors – comes from the antagonist rather than from the author.

And in the movie Heathers, the colors of the characters’ croquet balls are just as significant – the head of the clique uses a red ball, the royal color of leadership, while the next in line for that position has a green ball, signifying envy, and so on.

I love symbolism. So in Before the Storm, Alex is called the Black Mare, wears a black dress when she first meets the hero and uses a black ribbon as a bookmark. That’s not a warm or happy color. It implies danger, both of the sinister sorcerous variety (think Snape or Raistlin) and the seductive kind. Bad girls wear black.

Watch for nuances, though. Violet doesn’t carry the same connotations as purple, so it may sound more normal for a king to wear royal purple than to wear royal violet. And the names of colors should take geography and history into account. The color ultramarine didn’t come into use until the year 1598, and a world without a certain painter is also unlikely to call a woman’s hair Titian.

What color is your main character?

Image from : http://www.jupiterimages.com/Image/royaltyFree/95588442


Anonymous said...

I still have a lot of descriptions to add to my novel, but they do tend to have a distinct colors.

My men are almost all family and wear the family's royal colors (green and gold).

My King's wife wears only green, she's jealous of his other women. She also has bright red hair and red eyes.
She gives her husband's former lover a bright red dress.

My diplomat wears whites, yellows and oranges.

Enbrethiliel said...


I like this post! =) I love being able to read colours when I watch a movie. (Sometimes the costume and prop colours are indeed meaningful!) Unfortunately, I tend to pay less attention when I'm reading a book. =S

Anonymous said...

Let me think:

Ethan, the MC in my current prefer piece of clothing is a leather aviator's jacket. Dark brown. The color of dirt and mud, which reflects his professional background (war veteran U.S. Army infantry) and the muddy situation(s) he finds himself in.

Edward, the newly crowned Duke in another story wears blue, dark navy blue to be exact. It is the color of his House (the deHavillands) it connects him to the Navy he commands (spaceships not sailing ships, but still ships) and it is a solid color that inspires confidence without being flashy. It also denotes the dark cloud of worry, pressure, and inner turmoil he finds himself after his parents death.

A. Shelton said...

In Peikigi's stories, I use color in part to indicate status. Unemployed people and children who don't belong to Houses wear a uniform grey, and she starts out in solid grey (not a member of a House). One of her greatest desires is a black aina (a kind of belt, color denoting gender, the belt itself denoting her age--that of marriagability).

Later, near the end of her second novel, she'll have attained the skills and education necessary to become a special kind of servant, but she'll be given additional status and be told to choose "Colors." Typically, an employed person wears the colors designated by their employers, students of marriagable age and above wear uniforms in the colors and patterns of their schools, and members of the social rank of Muti wear whatever colors they choose, sometimes House colors.

For Peikigi to be told to choose Colors is an indication of the role she's in the future expected to play, because the colors she'll choose are going to be those no House has registered (most graduates of this particular school choose the colors of those whom they've been directed to serve).

Charlotte Jane Ivory said...

Interesting post!
I think my Victorian-era protagonist is royal blue. She's a straight-shooter (metaphorically, although she does shoot someone in the novel!), sensible and level headed, but also capable of strong emotion.
In my current WIP, my main character is still coming to terms with who she is (rather a them of the story), and tends to wear muted colours. But she seems to spend a lot of time blood-spattered! The use of the various shades of blood figure a lot in this WIP, because a major theme is ritualistic sacrifice.

Unknown said...

This is a really cool post! I love colors and the relationships between them, but I've never really thought a lot about the symbolism of them.

The main character is my NaNoWriMo story from last year is an interesting example. He has wings, as do all the people of one of the races in my book, but one side of his wings are burned black, scarred. The black could represent the death and pain of his past, a single swath of darkness to represent the single night of loss that has colored the rest of his life.
Hmmm...Must think more on this.

Marian Perera said...

dldzioba - That makes me want to look up how green came to be linked with envy. The only thing that comes to mind is Shakespeare's description of jealousy as a green-eyed monster "that doth mock the meat it feeds on".

Enbrethiliel - Thanks! It's also interesting when the meanings of colors are subverted - like a vamp (in both senses of the word) wearing white.

ralfast - I like your comment about navy blue. It doesn't have the same connotations as black, but it's a calm, sure color of command.

Marian Perera said...

A. Shelton - Color linked to status was a motif of The Handmaid's Tale. I love that kind of thing.

Charlotte - Dark colors for women, yes please! There's nothing wrong with pastels and whites, but if a book's cover shows a woman in black or deep blue or harlot scarlet, I'm much more likely to be intrigued. :)

Neutral Fire - I'd say the black does a great job of representing that. As well as being a bleak, lightless shade, there's nothing darker than black. With this color, you know you've reached the end (of the palette, anyway).