Continuing to talk about color (because I’m still not done painting the downstairs), today’s post is going to cover the colors of characters. I’m not talking skin colors (that would be a whole
post series blog academic area of study social commitment ‘nother kettle of fish) but the colors of their individual character, so to speak.
Mental Tape Flags Like Pennants At A Tourney
One of the most important things you can do as a writer is to know your characters. Once you know your characters, you know their triggers, their desires, what they love and hate, and what will mess their shit up. But just like you can change the character of a room by painting it a different color, you can define the character of a character through his or her colors. Color can act as a shorthand for me when plotting, a sensory support of what I’ve shown through dialogue and description, and an enhancement–or distraction–of a mood I’ve set. I have discovered that for me, one of the critical aspects of knowing my characters isn’t knowing whether their eyes are Mary Sue Amethyst or Gary Stu Flashing Emerald, and whether their tresses are long and luxuriant, or luxuriant and long, but rather what colors are in their heraldry.
Heraldry, What? You Write Medievals Now?
Heraldry did become codified in the middle ages, but far from being out of vogue eight hundred years later, heraldry is still very much around. Heraldry first developed when people weren’t literate enough or eagle-eyed enough to either read nametags or see through a helmeted visor half a battlefield away to figure out that Lord Fred of Frenchfry House had fallen from his trusty steed and required an able sword-arm to defend against the invading hordes. So the system of five bright colors (Vert, Purpure, Azure, Gules, and Sable), two metallics (Or, Argent) and a petting zoo full of furs (Ermine, Vair, Potent, and their variants, which HTML doesn’t have text decorations for), symbols of differentiation and decoration, and a grammatically painful precision expression of said elements (Blazon) came about in order to figure out whose parts belonged to what house after they’d all been hacked to bits.
Off the battlefield, this extended to livery (work uniforms) and declaration of property ownership (it’s my car, it’s in my color. It’s also my wife’s sister, it’s wearing my colors). If you don’t think heraldry’s still very much in play, try appropriating the Golden Arches (Gules, Two Swooth Enjoined Or, if I got my beginner’s Blazon right) for your own purposes and you’ll find out how very quickly the blazon of ownership blazes through. Or try working for UPS without the livery.
Yeah, back to characters. Part of knowing my characters is knowing their colors. In my current WIP, my male lead is pale blues, light grays, silvers, and flashes of charcoal, and there are reasons–he’s just hit forty and partly believes he’s washed up in a certain sense, and frozen out in others. My female lead in this WIP favors the same colors, but brighter, because she’s not done fighting–for herself or for him.
The heroine of my current release (Forever Material and see what I did there?) is very jewel-tone and bright in her colors. Strong jade greens and turquoises in tailored suits, not just because she wears her black hair in a straight, angular cut, but because she projects a strong personality that takes no prisoners, and she can be as sharp as a cut gem if she wants to. But she’s also very capable of inner fire when in the right mood. In contrast, my hero lets his freak flag fly in muted, comfortable colors that have been through the wash a few times because he knows the armor comes from the warrior as much as it does from what he wears. He’s a karate instructor, so he also knows he’s pretty tough without weapons or armor, (but he’s also a dude, and domestics aren’t real high on his priority list).