Writing Challenge #9: Coloring Your Fictional World

How would you describe the color of these rose petals? "Pink" is one easy answer, but it doesn't evoke the composition and totally ignores the light and shadows, the sweet yellow tips, and the delicately textured veins.

As writers, we work daily to avoid cliches and find our own way of saying things. Sometimes it’s easier to dash off a color word–like pink, for instance–to describe a character’s shirt or the kind of light entering the room.

Today’s Writing Challenge is this. Go through the scene or story you’re working on now. Look for color words. How can you make them more specific? More evocative? Less unexpected? How do the changes you make reflect or connect with the emotional tone of the scene?

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
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11 Responses to Writing Challenge #9: Coloring Your Fictional World

  1. Liz says:

    thanks, laura. these kinds of specific prompts can really move me out of stall mode.


  2. Emma Burcart says:

    Hmmm, that gives me a lot to think about. I’m working on a scene involving a lot of men dressed in black, military style gear. How many different ways can I describe the men in black without making it sound like a Will Smith movie? Maybe I should focus more on what the protagonist is wearing?

    • Sounds like a wild scene, Emma! I wonder if their uniforms are all exactly the same shade of black or if some of them have been worn or faded from years of use. Whatever the protagonist is wearing will totally stand out from the backdrop of all the gear; even if you just have a few brushstrokes of color, it’ll pop!

  3. tamarapaulin says:

    I’m giggling about gender differences as I consider this exercise. It’s always so cute when guys don’t know what certain colors are–like ecru, or fuchsia, or teal.

    • Those really specific color words only work in certain manuscripts, I’d bet! I’m not necessarily suggesting naming exact color shades as much as looking for color in your work and seeing whether it’s building the scene, or if it’s just a placeholder for something that could be more specific. My protagonist is male, and he would never describe a room as ecru, but he would note the light coming in from outside and how it affected the room’s feel at that particular moment. He’d probably, now that I am thinking about it, describe the quality of light as a particular type of music and perhaps steer clear of color words altogether in focusing on the mood of a place.

  4. Heidi Leanne says:

    Great prompt! Sometimes I struggle with how much color detail to include, or how much I should leave to the imagination of the reader. For me too much detail of what color each item in the room is boring as a reader, but a splash of well executed color detail is important. Thanks for this reminder!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Heidi! You made such a great point about how color can be overdone so easily. Color, and other descriptions, should all be in service to the scene, even if it’s in a really subtle way.

  5. Kristi says:

    Lovely reminder, Laura, thanks for this!

  6. Bob Robson says:

    Yes, colors makes things more real.

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