Monochrome or Colour?

 Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a monochrome world?

Photograph by Sheila Smart

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it?! Everywhere we look, we’re surrounded by colours; from nature, vehicles, advertisements, shops, soft furnishings and even our own clothes, and we take all this for granted because it’s always there. We don’t have to search it out because it’s everywhere we look.

 

 

But, indulge me for a moment . . . shut your eyes and try to picture everything around you purely in monochrome. It would be beyond boring to live in a world like that, with no colour to bring everything to life. It would be depressing to the nth degree!

That is what your writing is like if you don’t bring ‘colour’ into it.

There are so many ways you can do this:

Your characters

Physical descriptions. You don’t have to go overboard, but your readers want to have an image in their mind of what your main characters look like. Is your protagonist a slim, hazel eyed brunette or a chubby blue-eyed blonde? This is better than nothing – at least you’ve given something for the reader to work with, but by taking it just a little further, you can write a picture of how they appear. Imagine them in your mind’s eye then write what you see. You can always cut superfluous information (which would happen during the editing process anyway), but you’ve brought your character to life just by adding some colour. And don’t forget your characters don’t have to be flawless; they’re more real if they have a small defect or two (like a scar from a childhood accident, or a lazy eye, or one lip being out of proportion with the other).

Emotions. You need to show that your characters are ‘real’ by the way they react to certain situations – SHOW being with operative word here. “He was angry . . .” this phrase TELLS us something, but it has no colour. Now consider, “His skin flushed purple as his eyes narrowed, blazing with an icy fury and he clenched his fists so tight you could imagine the bones breaking through the skin . . .” Now you are showing the reader; you are giving them colour and an image they can relate to.

Gestures. I’m an observer of people and I tend to particularly watch expressions and mannerisms. Some people use their hands a lot when they talk, some pull on an ear lobe when they’re lying, some run their fingers through their hair when they’re thinking. Some people bend forward when they’re vehemently trying to get a point across or arguing. Imagine telling a friend a secret when there are others around and you don’t want them to hear – what do you do? You lean towards them and whisper in their ear – right? The point is people don’t just tend to stand like mannequins, with no movement at all apart from their lips when they speak. Use these sorts of things to add colour.

For extra examples and help, look back at my three-part series called Describing People;

Part 1 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-1K Part 2 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-1Y

Part 3 http://wp.me/p1UhOl-2N

Immediate surroundings

Again you don’t want to overdo it, but give your readers a flavour of where your characters are. Are they in a 17th century mansion? Are they in a 1960’s semi-detached house? Are they in a café or posh restaurant? Are they in a park, wood or forest? Pick out one or two features and describe them a little so your readers can picture the scene.

World Building

When you write fantasy or sci-fi, you especially need to bring your world to your reader as it’ll be somewhere they can’t relate to. Is the sky always purple during the day? Is the grass blue? Do the trees have strange coloured leaves? Do the flowers talk?

 I’m going to use a small example here from Tower of Bones by Connie J Jasperson and her world of Neveyah. Her main characters are on a quest and they are approaching a place called Mal Evol which has been taken over by a dark God. She describes the Mountains of the Moon where some of the face is as shiny and smooth as glass. The land approaching Mal Evol has been turned from fertile to poisoned soil which will only sustain thorn bushes and trees higher than the head of the tallest character on the quest. She describes strange Rat People who seem part human yet are vicious and attack for no reason, Thundercows which cannot be eaten by humans and will only eat the thorn bushes. And so the list goes on. Through her brilliant depiction and use of ‘colour’, she had brought her world of Neveyah to life. But the best thing is she hasn’t overdone it. She gives the reader just enough description in each place for them to form a picture, without detracting from the action.

A thorn forest

 All these elements brought together in your writing will add the colour a reader looks for. So from now on, is your writing going to be Monochrome or Colour?

My thanks to Connie for allowing me to use information from her novel to emphasise my point.

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Describing People Part Three: Gestures, Expressions, and Mannerisms

This is the last in this little series and, in some ways, is probably the hardest to work with. We’ve already looked at describing faces, but here are some things to think about to take your descriptions to the next level.

First, let’s think about expressions. Facial expressions can be written about in general terms using words like grimace, frown, smile, grin, but when we use these words we’re not really showing the emotion. Some of the time you can use these types of words and they work well, but there are times when we need to take this to a higher plane.

So let’s look at a few common ones, how we can take description to the next level and these tips will help you with other expressions.

Frown: What happens to the forehead when someone frowns? Does it crinkle? What happens to the eyebrows and the skin between them? What happens to the eyes? What happens to the mouth?

Very attractive, Mr Gibson!

So instead of writing ‘he/she frowned’ consider ‘his/her forehead furrowed and the eyebrows hooded over eyes that blazed with consternation. His/her lips tightened, turning down at the ends’. Looking at it as a reader, what sounds more interesting?

Smile: What happens to the eyes? What happens to the mouth? Is any other part of the face affected?

So instead of writing ‘he/she smiled’ consider ‘his/her eyes sparkled, crinkling around the edges, mouth upturned revealing dimples in the cheeks’

Puzzled: Again, think about the different parts of the face. What happens to them when someone looks puzzled?

So instead of writing ‘puzzled’ consider ‘his/her eyes rolled upwards as if seeking answers from above and his/her teeth clasped around their bottom lip’

If you have trouble picturing what happens to different elements of the face during a particular expression, try this: stand in front of a mirror and think about something that will make your face contort into the expression. Now look at your face one part at a time. Start at the top and work your way down, noting down how each feature behaves. As with my previous posts on Describing People, type the information into a spreadsheet or other file for future reference.

If you want to use words to convey emotion (as in frown, smile etc) here’s a link to Daily Writing Tips for a list of 100 facial expressions and what they depict. http://www.dailywritingtips.com/100-words-for-facial-expressions/

 

Although some people might argue gestures and mannerisms are the same thing, I beg to differ. To me, gestures are the way people use their bodies to emphasise what they are saying. Mannerisms are things they tend to do unconsciously and can often give away their true feelings. This is why I have split them into two sections.

Let’s move on to gestures. If you can get in the habit of watching people when they are talking, you can pick up a vast array of gestures to add to your ever-growing list. Here are one or four examples:

Shrugging the shoulders – this is a classic one, but can work very well. People do this, often without realising they are.

Gesticulating with hands – lots of people use their hands when they talk as a way to emphasise what they are saying. Just imagine a fisherman talking about something they caught and using their hands to show/exaggerate how big it was (or the one that got away, lol). Another time people use their hands a lot is when they are excited.

The One That Got Away?

People cup their chin in one or both hands for a variety of reasons. They might be pensive, fed up, sad or even daydreaming, so this gesture can be used in a variety of settings.

Rubbing the back of the neck – people don’t only do this to ease aches and pains, they sometimes do it when they’re stressed, worried or if something frightening or awesome makes the fine hairs on the neck stand up.

Mannerisms are things we all do unconsciously. Sometimes they are things we’ve seen our parents do when we were children and mimicked them, sometimes they are movements we’ve developed on our own. I know I’ve ‘inherited’ a mannerism of my dad’s, but it was only fairly recently I realised it was something I did too; it’s a certain way I place fingers on my face when I’m concentrating or reading.

Some people rub their nose or pull on their ear lobe when they tell lies. They don’t realise they do it and that it gives them away.

Some people rub their thumb against their first two fingers on the same hand. Perhaps they do this when they are anxious or upset.

I know someone whose tongue peeps between their lips when they concentrate. Some people drum their fingers when impatient and some people chew on their pens when they are thinking.

 

A final thought for you to consider: Body language is used to good effect every single day of our lives, whether we realise it or not – like tilting your head to the side when listening to someone speak, for example. All these descriptions and more can be added to our writing to give our characters more depth, more believable, more real. Never forget, you need your readers to connect with your characters and they can’t if you don’t give them something tangible they can relate to!

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and found it useful. If nothing else, if it’s provoked a few neurons to fly around and fire a synapsis or two in the brain then this has achieved what I set out to do.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on this and the rest of the series!

Previous posts in the series:

Describing People Part One: Faces

Describing People Part Two: From the Neck Down

Describing People, Part Two : From The Neck Down

Following on from Part One, here are some thoughts and tips on things to consider from the neck down.

As before, create a list and look at each body part in isolation. It might be a good idea to have separate lists for male and female as the physical characteristics can differ so greatly. To help with this I’m going to give some ideas for each.

What are the shoulders like?

Female: Are they wide or narrow, slim or chubby, masculine, muscular or delicate?

Male: Are they broad or slim, athletic, muscular, flabby or puny?

Look at the chest. What do you see?

Female: Is she flat-chested? Does she have small breasts, nicely rounded, perky, full, heavy, obviously enhanced and fake or droopy?

Male: Is he pigeon-chested? Is he muscular, flabby, average or does he have moobs?

Moving down to the waist . . .

Female: Is the stomach flat, does it have a slight curve, is it a bit flabby, very fat or does it have a roundness that could indicate pregnancy? Is the waist well defined when you look at her straight on, slightly defined or is there no definition at all? Does it softly curve in (womanly curve) or is it more muscular/athletic?

Male: Does he have a six-pack? Does he have a flat stomach, but without the muscle definition? Is there a ‘beer belly’ or just a little paunch? Is it flabby?

Now for the hip/rear end area:

Female: Are the hips narrow, average or wide (sometimes referred to as ‘child-bearing hips’)? Are they in proportion to the rest of the torso? Now consider the rear – are the buttocks flat and boyish, gently curved or saggy cheeked? Do the buttocks stick out from the base of the spine (Jo-Lo style)? Are the buttocks firm, toned or flabby? Are they grabbable?

Male: Are the hips slim, average or broad? How do they compare with the rest of the body? What is the butt like? Does he have ‘cute buns’? Is the arse big and flabby, flat, protruding, droopy or toned?

Continuing down to the legs –

The legs, ankles and feet can be looked at as a complete package or can be split into 4/5 sections; it very much depends on just how much detail you want to use. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to group all the sections together.

Female: THIGHS – are they toned, flabby, slim or just in need of a bit of exercise to firm around the edges? Can you see any cellulite? KNEES – are they knobbly or fairly flat? Are there any scars visible (perhaps from childhood scrapes)? CALVES – is there much muscle tone? Are they shapely? Are they over-muscled, indicating regular exercise or are they wobbly and mis-shapen? ANKLES – are they slim and attractive or thick like small tree trunks? Do they have a defined shape? FEET – are they small, average or long? Are they slim or wide? Are they fat and overflowing the shoes? Are the toenails neatly trimmed? Are they painted?

Male: THIGHS – are they muscular or over-muscled? Are they skinny or fat?  Do they need toning? KNEES – are they knobbly or smooth? Do they bear evidence of childhood falls and scrapes? Are there any scars from sports-related injuries or operations? Do they disappear under rolls of flab? CALVES – are they toned or too muscular? Are they fat and shapeless? Are they slim? ANKLES – are they skinny and weak or strong? Are they puffy with fluid or chubby? FEET – are they average, small, large or over-large? Are they like small boats? Are they flat and cumbersome?

Finally, let’s take a look at body shape as a whole.

Female: Use these pictures below to help you identify the overall shape of your female character.

Male: The male body shape is much easier to identify as they fall into only 3 main categories. The picture below helps.

Use some of the tips from the first post in this series to embellish on the features you want to include and as before, keep revisiting your list to add descriptive words as you think of them. By the time this series ends, you’ll have a broad information source to design your characters with.

Other posts in this series:

Describing People Part One: Faces

Describing People Part Three: Gestures, Expressions & Mannerisms