Color in the Lines

I love colors.

Ha! I hear you say.  You, Liam, love colors?  You have often said your favorite color is grey (spelled just so).  Your blog has only the barest bit of red.  The same is true of your socks!

To which I blink, wonder how you got a view of my socks, and begin to explain.  I love colors because of the symbolism they allow.  In general, that means moods, but occasionally colors symbolize abstract concepts or objects.  Studies say colors can strengthen different moods, such as blue with calm or yellow with happiness.  (Personally, I link blue with asphyxiation and yellow with disgust, but that’s me.)  Depending on that sort of thing, a day care might have blue walls with bright, happy murals.  Hospitals are traditionally considered white, which brings to mind sterilization and all manner of pointy things.

Film thinks a great deal about color.  In movies and TV shows, the hint of color in a shot can grab the attention.  The lack of color (a black and white film) gives a very different feel to a story.  Use darkness to create the feeling of mystery or evil, use bright colors to indicate reality— or sometimes, a world outside of reality.  Costumes, sets, lighting, all have colors in mind.

I feel like books don’t use that enough.

Perhaps it’s just me.  I’ve seen several jokes about literary analysis courses, where the professor says the blue curtains were placed just so to indicate sadness and despair, while the author just liked the color blue— perhaps.  However, there is something to be said for colors and their use as literary devices.  (In this blog post, Maggie Stiefvater talks about that, but broadens the discussion to all literary devices.  She accentuates word choice rather than color, but certainly makes a good point.)  See, I enjoy when an author says stuff without saying it.  I like when the blue curtains mean sadness.  I like it when the red car is energetic and, well, fiery.  Colors mean cool things, and I like it when they’re used.

A couple examples from film, because this is what prompted the post.  Take a look at the new Star Wars trailer (the second one).  Whatever you think of Star Wars itself, forget it and just watch the trailer.  Let your eyes sort of lose focus and look at the colors, not at the actors.  See the dusty brown and grey of a crashed Star Destroyer in the middle of a Tatooine wasteland.  Revel in the glorious red behind the hooded Sith’s form.  The monochrome ranks of Stormtroopers.  The darkness inside Imperial spaceships, and the blue and green of X-wings flying in formation.  It’s all about colors!

Okay, that was a quick example.  Here’s a longer one: if you have three hours, go watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Through about the first two thirds, everything is grey and black and dark blue.  Muted colors, monochrome— even Cap’s shield looks grey at times.  Then there comes a turning point, where Cap stops working for SHIELD and goes at it for himself.  The first time you see him after that, he’s in his old blues in the middle of a green forest.  It’s not like they’re being subtle about this.  As he’s working for SHIELD, everything melds into shades of grey, and he’s not himself.  Once he works for himself again, the colors blast into being.  It was a very intentional choice on the part of the moviemakers, and pretty awesome to see.

Another fun example: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Right around the end of the second act, all the dwarves run out of a hole in the mountainside.  Bilbo scampers after them, suitably invisible.  As they wonder where their hobbit went, he appears out of nowhere and we get a tiny bit of emotional resolution, but not enough to spoil the ending.  Then orcs attack.

What’s that got to do with color?  Only this: while all of that is happening, the sun is going down.  Through all the running and concerned stuff about Bilbo, the scenes are orange and warm.  The moment the orcs appear, the sun sets.  The scenes fade to twilight, and then to darkness, as things escalate.  Yes, it’s coincidental.  But so are curtains being blue, or Cap standing in a colorful area right after making the right choice.  The universe sympathizing with events in the story is a time-honored literary technique.  Rainy sad scenes.  Snowy redemption/rebirth scenes.  Stormy action scenes followed by the sun coming out on a victory.  The sun can set at the same time as a change of mood.

Colors, people.  They’re wonderful things.  They strengthen the mood, or tint your emotion, or make connotations you couldn’t have otherwise insinuated.  This post degenerated a little into talking about literary techniques like symbolism, word choice, and weather— but still.  Colors.  They’re important.

Last example (movies do this a lot, okay): Serenity, the Firefly wrap-up movie.  Throughout the TV show, the spaceship was fairly neutral in color.  Lots of browns, lots of grey, a little bit of wallpaper in the kitchen, but nothing fancy.  Very spaceship-ish.  For the movie, however, they had specific scenes happening in each room.  Based on the emotions of those scenes, they created a color palette out of the spaceship; the kitchen was yellow and homey, the sickbay was very white and stark, and the cargo bay, most notably, was blue.  All of these colors strengthened the mood of the most important scenes, and turned the spaceship into a character of its own.  I wish I could find a YouTube video of the behind the scenes segment where I saw that, but I can’t.  You’ll have to find the Special Edition DVD and find it yourself.

Anyway.  This post was an excuse for me to geek out about the second Star Wars trailer.  I offered basically no actual writing advice.  You’re welcome.

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8 thoughts on “Color in the Lines

  1. This is very nice, but…yeah, I think it’d be harder to do in writing without being too obvious about it. Still. Colors are wonderful. I love colors. And I color inside the lines until I get impatient, in which case I scribble.

  2. I could make a bad and possibly inappropriate pun concerning this post, but I have far too much respect for your clean commenting rules.

    Lovely post! And I actually have used this in writing. Sort of. (And unintentionally.)

  3. So awesome! Yes, I’ve definitely gotten a look at your socks…
    I also liked the example of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I haven’t seen it, but I know exactly what you’re talking about, from watching clips. 😉

  4. I’m excited about the next Star Wars!

    Ironically enough, I was actually working on eyes for an art assignment when I saw this post. I’m taking art at the local university this spring, and it’s been a LOT of fun. At first, I was a little frustrated because we were, for the most part, using only graphite, charcoal, and ink. I think I’ve only used colored pastels once out of the entire semester. It was rather daunting at times to use charcoal and create enough contrast so that a gourd wearing a life vest actually looked like a guard wearing a life vest on paper. And it was hard to make it look cool at the same time, too. I’ve become a huge fan of charcoal and not only am I seeing art in a different way, but I’m noticing and finally appreciating contrast and colors in all sorts of things around me, like nature and films.

  5. I use color a lot – basically, in a story, if it’s red and it ain’t blood, it’s something I strongly dislike.
    And I am not looking forward to Disney-makes-a-mess. Just thought I’d put that out there.

  6. The Book Thief uses this idea a little bit, with the sky changing colors based on the people who are dying. Definitely a mood-setter. Red skies vs. black skies vs. blue skies can change the scene entirely. (You have read The Book Thief, haven’t you?)

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