Using Colour to Accentuate Theme
by Jessica Bell
I like to use the symbolism of colour to strengthen a common theme(s) I want to explore in my writing. I am fascinated by symbolic references in the books I read too (even if they do not have anything to do with colour), and believe they bring a richness and depth to what we read, even if it is not immediately evident to us. So let me tell you a little bit about how I utilize the combination of colour and theme in my work.
For THE BOOK it was GREEN.
Green symbolizes self-respect, well-being, learning and harmony. It suggests safety and endurance, lack of experience, growth and hope. THE BOOK is about a little girl named Bonnie who is thought to have learning difficulties, but really is quite the genius. Her insights into the adult world are astounding, as she tries to “make logic” of the behaviour of her mother, father and step father regarding a journal (“the book”) that is turning their family upside down. Her constant attraction to the colour green was a way for me to explore her subconscious need for security, stability and her desire to learn.
Some examples of the way it is used:
Dr Wright: Do you want to be a doctor when you grow up?
Bonnie: No, I want to give medicine from a shop with a green cross.
Bonnie: [shifts in seat, pushes hair from forehead] Well, my Ted isn’t very smart because I tolded him to fix it so all the greens could be on the same side and he sat with me on the flying carpet, and I made us go up in the air, so there could be magic around us, so he could fix it for all the greens to be on the same side.
“Now, if you have a little patience, my dear, I can show you how to make some green. Do you have a little patience?” I nod. But I can’t tell if this is a Daddy type question or a my Ted type question. But it doesn’t matter. If Mrs Haydon can make me some green, then I can paint some trees.
For STRING BRIDGE it was BLUE.
Blue is associated with freedom, strength and new beginnings, optimism and better opportunities, loyalty and faith, power and protection. No colour is better fitting for this story about a woman named Melody who has let her passion for music die for the sake of her family, but tries to bring it back into her life without it affecting those she loves. In String Bridge, blue things are always deteriorating, symbolizing the fact that Melody feels helpless, and that it’s going to be struggle to “start again”.
Some examples of the way it was used:
I stare at my bag’s wrinkly, flaking, blue-vinyl exterior. It looks how I feel. Old. Poorly constructed. Depressed. Cheap.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, scrubbing the stain from the only decent dress I own. Blue dye comes off on the sponge.
I have another novel that is not yet published, called BITTER LIKE ORANGE PEEL, where I use the colour and flavour of orange to symbolize the bitterness, distrust and sexual desire my protagonists feel. Again, orange crops up in all sorts of shapes and forms such as rotting oranges falling from a tree, orange-flavoured lip gloss, an orange vinyl couch, an orange mohair sweater, photos tinged orange over time, and an orange scrub cap …
And my lastest work-in-progress, WHITE LADY, (which stands for the drug speed) I have already shown signs of utilizing the colour white to represent tainted purity and cold, sterile environments.
As you can see, there is quite a lot you can play around with in the colour department. If you check out this link, perhaps the meanings of different colours might inspire you too.
Do you like to use symbolism in your writing? Give me an example. Do you notice symbolism used in the books you read?
If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written.
Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.
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Genre – Non-Fiction / Writing Skills Reference
Rating – PG
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