On ‘Color’ in Writing


My last little snippet on the elements in writing dealt with “Voice’. Today I want to spend a bit of time on ‘color’. Let’s give Voice a short review, first.

Voice can best be described as how you present your story – it includes your attitude about the tale you tell, the point of view from which you tell the tale and your approach to your writing. It’s more than just your style – it’s you, as the writer, telling the tale.

‘Color’ in music refers to  the variety of tones used in a piece of music – it refers to the complexity of tones the composer selects for a piece. What key (how many flat or sharp notes) he or she prefers to provide the overall tone of the piece, which cords (majors, dimunitives, minors etc) are used, and so on. In other words, is the piece going to be a simple folk tune, a 1950’s romantic such as “More” (from Fellini’s movie “Mondo Cane”) or a complex classic such as Pachelbel’s Cannon in D Major, or one of Beethoven’s symphonies?

You’ve heard the term,  Noir (Black), used to describe a classic detective novel, I’m sure. You know right away it’s going to be a dark tale, morbid and slightly depressing. And you’ve certainly read enough blurbs on the back’s of novels where the tale within is described as a “warm and loving family story”. Warm in this sense gives you the tone of the story.

Well, that’s ‘Color’. You as the writer set the tone of each scene long before you begin to write it. You know well in advance if it has to portray a warm and intimate scene between two people, or a caring and loving scene between a mother and daughter or a dark and forbidding scene where the hero confronts the bad guy in an alley.

You need to keep that color, that tone, in mind throughout the scene or risk confusing your reader. Once the scene is over you can transition to another tone as the characters relax or reflect or shift into another activity, but to maintain the reader’s ‘suspension of disbelief’,  keep the color of the scene clear.

The overall color (or tone) of the tale you tell will go a long way toward selling it to your readers. Many readers will never purchase a noir story simply because they choose not to be depressed by what they read. For the same reason they will choose to only read ‘A warm and loving tale of a family struggling to survive in the face of adversity’ tale.


About Gary Showalter

Gary Showalter was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He lived in Aruba, Florida and the Panama Canal Zone before joining the U.S. Army during the 1960s. Following his discharge from the Army, Mr. Showalter picked cotton in East Texas, baled hay in Ardmore Oklahoma, sold light bulbs in Los Angeles, California, and built cattle pens in Fallon, Nevada (during a blizzard, of course). After settling in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Showalter worked as a professional gardener before turning his hand to furniture making. In 1981, he moved to Israel, married, and raised four children while working as a furniture maker, silversmith, goldsmith, and ornamental wood turner. He served in the Israel Defense Forces Reserves for sixteen years, and when not on active duty he worked in government and private security. He has also served in senior management positions in two software development companies in Israel. During his time in Israel, Mr. Showalter published articles dealing with international terror and the Israel-Arab conflict in the Jerusalem Post, Israel national News and several political science web sites. Mr. Showalter returned to the United States in the fall of 2003, to care for an elderly parent. He published his first novel, “The Big Bend”, in the fall of 2008. His second novel, “Hog Valley”, is now in print. Mr. Showalter's third novel, “Twisted Key”, was published in the fall of 2011, and his fourth novel, "Lonesome Cove" is now available in Kindle format and should be published in paper near the end of 2012. He currently lives in Deland, Fl, where he is co-authoring "A Silent Star" with Tony Attanasio. "A Silent Star" is the true tale (though novelized, with names changed for security reasons) about the 4-person covert action team sent into Yemen to capture Osama Bin laden immediately after the bombing of the USS Cole in the Aden harbor in Yemen in October of 2000.
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4 Responses to On ‘Color’ in Writing

  1. Sara Flower says:

    This is a great post! I like how you broke down the difference between voice and colour – and how important they are in a book.

  2. jumpingmonkey07 says:

    Hi Gary!
    Your reference to “color” in regards to music – the complexity of tones- really helps me to have a better understanding about “color” as it is applied to my writing.

    • I realized some years back – when I played the harp – just how important ‘color’ is in music. It was a handy tool, too, when I understood it applied equally to writing. Glad you caught what I was trying to say.

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