In this post, we explore colour psychology for writers.
In movies, heroes wear white, and villains wear black. Everybody knows that. But why? Why are traffic signs often red, and hospital rooms green? It’s all in the colours. This article will help you understand the underlying psychology, and how you can apply it to your writing.
Colour Psychology For Writers
Writing is not possible without choosing colours. It’s the first choice that writers make, white paper and black ink. The stark contrast helps both reader and writer to concentrate on the story.
That story, however, is also full of colours! Writers can merely name them (easier for the reader). Or they can use descriptions to make the readers infer them (engages the reader more).
The choice of these colours is not coincidental. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. Colours work on more levels than just the text. This article will introduce you to colour psychology and how to use it in your writing.
What Is Colour Psychology?
Colour psychology is an established area of scientific research. It analyses the effect of colours on human behaviour, mood, cognition, and other mental processes.
No product goes public without checking which colour might enhance sales. Big companies think about complete colour schemes to design their brand. They paint the workplace for their employees, depending on whether they want them to be calm, creative, or alert. It’s all psychology!
Colour combinations are interesting, too. Think of fast-food restaurants. Why do they all use red and yellow in their logos? Because red alone is considered to attract spontaneous buyers, while red and yellow together stimulate hunger. Remember that next time you suddenly crave a burger!
Colours can do so much more. Early references date back to 2000 BC when colours were used as therapy in ancient Egypt and China. A German castle I once visited had a bedroom painted in blue because the colour supposedly helped the duke with his severe eye problems.
In the early 20th century, psychologist Carl Jung was among the first to examine colours and their meanings scientifically. His writings are the foundation of modern colour psychology.
The Basic Principles
Colour Psychology is a complicated science. There are many studies still being conducted on how the light of a certain colour goes through our eyes and then causes hormones to respond.
To give you a basic idea, please look at this infographic.
All colours have two aspects. Yes, red is the colour of passion and energy. It is also a colour that warns us of life-threatening danger. No wonder a stop sign is red!
Orange and yellow are positive and optimistic colours. They’re also attention-grabbing. Hence construction workers wear orange vests and taxis are often yellow.
Blue and Green are soothing colours. They’re also not considered very exciting. Green is the colour of growth and hope, but you could also see it as symbolizing incompleteness.
Why Should Writers Apply Colour Psychology?
Colour psychology works in a very subtle, subconscious way. It’s a perfect tool to set a scene by creating a certain tone and mood. This makes the story attractive to readers.
Colours also infuse meaning. Hollywood movies have been using that effect for decades! Just think about the Star Wars movies. Luke Skywalker wears white most of the time, while Darth Vader is the villain in black. That’s the classic colour scheme. But it’s broken up once Luke has discovered his father. He returns to his friends suddenly wearing a black Jedi uniform. Why? To make it more interesting to the audience. Because now Luke realizes he has both sides of the force in him, good and bad. And the story has a new twist.
In Hollywood, directors and producers choose their palettes before preproduction. Nothing is left to chance!
Some Examples From Fiction
Writers have been using colour psychology for centuries to steer the reader’s attention and emotions. Don’t believe me?
Let’s look at an American classic, Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The main character is ‘Scarlett O’Hara.’ Colour psychology teaches us that anyone with that name should be a fiery, strong woman. The colour of her eyes even heightens the visual impression. They’re green, the complementary colour to red. Let’s remember that green is also associated with deviousness and envy.
Right from the start we know that Scarlett is very ambiguous. She has all it takes to be a great literary hero.
In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions Jay Gatsby’s green lawn, the ivy on his house and the green leather interior of his car. Here, green is the colour of wealth (remember, Americans call the dollar ‘greenback’).
Green gains another aspect. Jay mentions that his love interest Daisy has a green light burning at the end of her dock across the lake. Jay tries to reach it but fails, just as he does not accomplish a relationship with Daisy.
Green here symbolizes the other side of hope, the continuing effort without accomplishment. Can you see how you can use the colour symbolism in a manifold way?
Tips On Using Colour Psychology In Writing
Please make conscious and informed choices. Hopefully, the infographic will help you with this. In addition, here are a few more tips.
- Be aware of the attention-grabbing colours red, orange, and yellow. Use them wisely and sparsely. Don’t lead your reader astray by using these colours for unimportant small things or characters.
- Mention the colour in different shades to avoid repetition. ‘Red’ can be scarlet, vermillion, cherry, rose, merlot, berry, and many others. Choosing the right hue of colour adds meaning (scarlet just isn’t the same as rosy, right?). If you need inspiration, we have a nifty article on 204 Words That Describe Colour in general.
- Mention things that naturally have the colour you want, so you don’t have to explicitly name them. Readers are intelligent enough to know that a lawn and ivy are green. It’s ‘show don’t tell’ for colours.
- To create round characters, remember that colours have positive and negative meanings. Choose your colour scheme wisely.
- Be aware that the meanings of colours can vary in other cultures. For example, money is green in the USA but not in England, France, and Germany. Their banknotes tend to be more colourful.
Another example is the colour white which symbolizes innocence and purity and is associated with weddings. In Eastern Asia, white is the traditional colour for mourning.
The Last Word
I hope this article encourages you to use colours in your writing. They’re an incredible tool to enhance the quality and meaning of your stories and poems.
By Susanne Bennett
Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
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