Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Color me blue... or red or yellow or...

Sandra Parshall

What’s your favorite color? What do you think that says about you?

Is your opinion of a fictional character affected by the colors the author dresses the character in?

Color fills our world, and the colors we wear or live with can define us to onlookers. Yet for the average person, an affinity for a color is instinctive. Most of us don’t give it a lot of thought – we know what we like when we see it. If our favorite colors change over the years, we’re not likely to analyze what that means about the way we have changed. Some writers dress their characters haphazardly, perhaps not even mentioning color of clothing because it doesn’t seem important. When we do that, we’re overlooking a powerful characterization tool.

Many writers, though, recognize the importance of color to the image a reader forms of a character. When Janet Evanovich dresses Ranger all in black, she knows what she’s doing. This guy is dangerous. There’s something dark and unknowable about him. Yet he is wildly alluring, even before we hear him speak or see him in action. Yes, a lot more goes into the image – his handsome face and buff body can’t be discounted – but the black outfit speaks reams all by itself. Would you feel the same way about Ranger if he showed up in brown and green plaid?

Jacqueline Winspear uses color to define Maisie Dobbs’s moods and self-image. On occasion Maisie flirts with bright colors, especially when her friend Priscilla is around to prod her or to whip a stunning dress from her own closet and insist that Maisie wear it. But Maisie always returns to her plain suits in drab colors. Prim and businesslike. The clothes of a woman who does little but work.

An entire field of research is devoted to understanding why individuals love certain colors and shun others. To professionals who concoct dyes for house and car paint, fabric and carpet, color is big business, and it’s not surprising that journals like Color, Research and Application exist. (“Color Harmony Revisited” is a recent article topic.) Our choices are endless. Think of the thousands of little paint cards on display in stores, showing variations that are sometimes barely discernable. Human beings spent years of their lives formulating those thousands of hues. Why? Because people are individuals, and what one person loves, another may hate.

Psychologists have studied the meaning of color preferences for decades, and we’ve reached the point where some employers test job applicants to find out what colors they like.

According to psychologists, blue represents calm and balance. People who love blue are often creative, with a highly developed aesthetic sense. They crave peace and don’t like discord.

Red is exciting and has been proven by brain scans to arouse emotional areas of the human brain. A “red personality” is enthusiastic, intense, competitive, and talkative.

People who like green are said to be persistent, decisive, assertive, and... well, stubborn. They like work that involves detail.

Those who favor gold are described as good organizers, loyal and responsible.

If you like orange, you may be energetic, a fierce competitor who loves to win.

My question is... what does it mean if I like different colors at different times? Do I have a split personality?

Back to the original questions, though: What does your favorite color say about you? And is your opinion of a fictional character affected by the colors he or she wears?


Betty Gordon said...

An interesting post. I agree that a lot of writers don't use colors as they should to develop a character's personality (including me, I'm afraid). Thanks for the reminder.

Favorite colors often change w/age or other circumstances. Interesting.

Diane said...

I think plaid, here in the USA, can be construed as dorky. Unless it's a Scotsman in a kilt. That's probably because one usually thinks of plaid pants, which few can wear without looking silly. As for Maisie Dobbs, I've always thought her color/clothing choice was - to her - important in order to be taken seriously as a professional woman at the time and place the stories take place: England after WWI. She doesn't yet have the funds for both a work wardrobe and private one. So work wins. The bias in a 'professional' wardrobe is still true to some extent. Think of the law or banking professions even today for example.

What Betty said is true. Color preference changes over time. And I think it also depends a bit on the season, situation, or even one's mood at the moment. At least it does for me. Also, when you mentioned plaids, you brought up a whole other issue. Not just color choices, but patterns, too.

Sandra Parshall said...

Why is that stripes are okay (in the right colors and proportions), but plaids are seldom seen as sophisticated and flattering for everyday wear, and never for evening wear? (Unless you're a Scotsman, of course.)

Kathleen Ernst said...

Interesting post. I will pay more attention to color choices for my characters!

Kaye George said...

One of my characters normally wears jeans and a t-shirt, but I can see I should say what color.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Sandy.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Sandra, you have my brain racing. I'm thinking--what if, in a difficult scene, I started (in my head) with the color the person was wearing. And then thought about why. Why they chose it, what they hoped to accomplish that day. It might really put you in the head of the character, you know?

Hmm. I'm off to try this.Thanks, Sandy!