Writing Tips
3 min read

Tips for describing colour

An illustration of a painting on an easel.

Colour is a fundamental element of our world, infusing our everyday experiences with depth and vibrancy. It evokes emotion, sets the mood, and helps paint a vivid picture in a reader's mind. This article aims to provide you with useful guidance and inspiration for describing colour in your writing.

Recognising the power of colour

The first step in describing colour is acknowledging its power. Colour sets a scene, conveys emotion, and even symbolises deeper themes or concepts. For instance, green could symbolise nature or jealousy, while blue could represent peace or sadness. In literature, this use of colour to signify deeper meanings is known as colour symbolism.

When writing, consider how you can use colour to enrich your narrative. Will a sunset be just orange, or will it burn with hues of crimson and gold? Will your character's eyes be simply brown, or will they be a rich, warm chocolate colour?

Ways to describe colour

There are several ways you can approach describing colour in your writing:

  1. Direct description: This is the most straightforward way to describe colour. For instance, 'The car was red.'
  2. Comparison: Comparing the colour to something else can offer a more vivid image. For example, 'Her eyes were as green as emeralds.'
  3. Metaphor or simile: These can add depth and creativity to your descriptions. For example, 'The dawn sky was a soft wash of watercolour blues and pinks.'
  4. Evoking emotion or mood: Describing colour in relation to the feelings or mood it invokes can add layers to your narrative. For example, 'The room was painted a cold, clinical white.'
  5. Symbolism: As mentioned earlier, colours can carry symbolic meanings. Use these meanings to enrich your narrative and convey deeper messages.

Broadening your colour vocabulary

Having a diverse colour vocabulary can enhance your descriptions and make your writing more compelling. Instead of using basic colour names, consider more specific shades. For example, instead of saying 'blue', you could say 'turquoise', 'sapphire', 'sky-blue', 'teal', or 'navy'.

Here are some colour words to get you started:

  1. Red variations: Crimson, burgundy, scarlet, ruby, maroon
  2. Blue variations: Azure, cobalt, cerulean, indigo, periwinkle
  3. Green variations: Emerald, jade, olive, lime, mint
  4. Yellow variations: Gold, lemon, amber, saffron, canary
  5. Purple variations: Lavender, violet, plum, mauve, lilac

Colour descriptions in action

Now, let's look at how to use these techniques in context:

  • Reveal character: 'His eyes were a stormy grey, mirroring the turbulent thoughts swirling in his mind.'
  • Set the scene: 'The forest was a canvas of autumnal hues, with fiery oranges, rich reds, and deep burgundies painting a stunning picture.'
  • Evoke mood: 'The room was bathed in a sickly yellow light that amplified the unsettling atmosphere.'
  • Symbolise deeper meanings: 'The white dove, a symbol of peace and purity, flew against the azure sky, promising hope amidst chaos.'

Balancing detail and readability

While describing colour can add richness to your narrative, it's essential to strike a balance. Overly detailed or frequent colour descriptions can slow down your story and distract the reader. Remember, your goal is to paint a vivid picture, but the narrative should still take centre stage.