Sunday, November 11, 2012

Colors in Fantasy, Part 2: Opposites

In last week's post, I discussed the surprising lessons on writing that I've learned from Photoshop. I went into detail on Photoshop's tools of hue, value, and saturation, and shared their applications to fantasy. This week, I'd like to look at another facet of colors and writing: color opposites.

First up is warm versus cool. Warm colors are basically colors that make you feel warm: yellows and reds and oranges. Cool colors, then, are colors that feel cold: blues and greens and purples. The contrast between warm and cool can be used in your writing, not just in colors.

A lot of stories will assign the "bad guys" to either warm or cool colors, and then make the "good guys" have an opposite color scheme. For example, the White Witch's castle in Narnia was made of ice, which has cool blue tones. In contrast, Aslan's camp featured bright reds and oranges, and Aslan himself was a tawny gold. Writers often use the opposite pattern, too, and give the villains red colors (like in Star Wars, the Sith have red lightsabers) and give the good guys cold colors (again in Star Wars, the Jedi have blue and green and purple lightsabers). Experiment with the contrasts that work best in your story, and remember to have the color scheme flow from your characters. The White Witch's personality was icy and so her color scheme was cool; Aslan's character was roaring like a fire and so his color scheme was warm.

Next, we have the contrast between light and dark. We've discussed it a bit in last week's section on "value," but let me add a couple more thoughts here. The obvious way for writers to use light and darkness is to add mystery and danger to the setting. Dark scenes seem more evil or more ominous.

However, that's not how it has to be! What if you led your character down a brightly-lit white corridor rather than a dark, spooky one? You'd need to be more subtle about the sense of approaching danger, but it's quite possible to have a sense of looming evil in light just as much as darkness. One such setting I remember from a childhood classic was in Charlie and the Chocolate factory, when Charlie entered the pure-white Television Chocolate Room. While it didn't feel evil by any means, there were hints of "darkness" and danger even in the spotless room. So play with your use of light and darkness, and, as I said last week, never fear to invert.

The last area of contrast we'll look at today is analogous, complementary, and tertiary colors. For all of you who have never taken an art class, let me explain those daunting terms. Look at the circle of color (also called "color wheel") on the right. The colors right next to each other--orange and yellow, for example--are analogous. The colors directly opposite each other--red and green or purple and yellow--are complementary. Tertiary colors are the colors that intersect at each third of the wheel--so we have red, blue, and yellow on the one hand or purple, orange, and green on the other. (Do note that Photoshop uses a somewhat different color wheel that I thought would be a bit too confusing to explain here. If you're interested, here's a link to a great explanation.)

Surprisingly, these color divisions can be quite helpful in crafting your story. As with the other contrasting areas, a major way to use these colors is to show the difference between your good and evil characters. Many writers use complementary (directly opposite) colors to differentiate good and evil. For example, in the movie versions of Harry Potter, the villain's magic was green and the hero's was red (red and green are complementary/opposites). You'll notice that these colors also contrast by being warm and cold. The other color divisions are mostly helpful when you're short on ideas of details you can use to make your characters memorable. Instead of saying X character wore a purple sweater, say she wore a lavender one (analogous colors). These colors are also good to explore what colors work well in overall scenery (say, in the king's court): you can have his standard composed of blue and red elements on a background of green (tertiary colors).

I'll now venture into the most controversial area of color in fantasy: racial diversity. The color of each character's skin in a fantasy story is more important--and more overlooked--than one might think. For example, did you realize that all characters in Tolkien's Middle Earth are white (aside from orcs, who may or may not be underneath all that grime)? In Christopher Paolini's Eragon, only a few characters were black and none had features that I recognized as Asian/otherwise-non-white. I'd like to appeal to all aspiring fantasy writers, then, to add a bit more diversity to your tales. Skin tones are areas where we as fantasy writers have such incredible room for imagination. Don't feel confined to white characters simply because you've never read of blue-skinned elves! Use the color of your character's skin as another medium to communicate the deep themes of your story or the imagination of your world.

Overall, using opposite color elements (whether in warm v. cool, light v. dark, or complementary/analogous/tertiary) is a great way to add contrast to your writing. And, too, adding details of color makes the story more memorable to your readers. Use color as an opportunity to explore and expand your fantasy world!

All the best in your writing this week!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Color in Fantasy, Part 1: Tools

Over the past few weeks, I've been learning the delicate, obstinate, and so-called art of Photoshop. I've spent many frustrated hours staring at a canvas, paintbrush in hand, contemplating the next brushstroke--excuse me, I should say, hunched over the keyboard, manipulating pixels click by click. But let me get to my point. Through my journey in photoshop, I've learned quite a few things about correcting, manipulating, and applying color in digital images. And then I realized something even more interesting (especially for those who have stuck with me through this introductory paragraph): writers can learn a lot about using color in writing fantasy from Photoshop.

How do colors apply to fantasy, you ask? Well, let's look at it as Photoshop would: tool-by-tool.

First up is hue. The hue refers to the pure, undiluted, rainbow-like colors that most people would consider "colors." Hue means yellow, green, blue, red, magenta, orange--in their purest form. From a writing perspective, you want to make full use of the range of colors hue offers. If one character has a green cardigan, then for goodness' sake don't give another character a green scarf! Add variety and even spice to your story by mixing up the colors you use. A girl wears purple glasses. A boy has orange shoelaces. Hue is excellent for variety in details, and for making particular characters distinct based on what color they are associated with.

Second, we've got value. That's how much darkness each color has. To get a bit technical, a value of 50% is the pure color, the hue, that we talked about above. Black is 0% value. White is 100% value. Now this is all quite fascinating, but from a writer's perspective, the "value" tool has a practical usefulness. The levels of darkness (value) in each setting, each object, and even each character add depth and symbolism to your story. Obviously, a darker setting is more mysterious, more scary, more evil--in short, it's metaphorically darker. Tolkien's Mines of Moria were in deep darkness, which added to the spookiness and the sense of danger in the setting. Even objects that are darker in value seem to be symbolically darker in purpose. So play around with the value tool in your writing, and consider the levels of darkness in your story and how they affect the tale.

Third up is saturation. Saturation is the "purity" of each color. Again, to be technical, 100% saturation is the hue (pure color), and 0% saturation is white. Value measures from white to black; saturation only measures from white to hue (pure color). Why is saturation valuable for fantasy writers especially? Obviously, as with hue and value, saturation is great for adding a variety of memorable colors to your story (chartreuse, for example). It's also great for atmosphere in settings. Even further, though, one of the most fantastic parts of fantasy is that we don't have to accept the world the way it is. For example, what if your villain threatens to remove all the saturation from the world, making the world a colorless white? Or what if your world is colorless (0% saturation), and then your hero(ine) discovers color? It's fascinating to imagine the implications!

To sum up what we've been discussing, these three tools--hue, value, and saturation--together produce all the colors possible. Any color you can imagine (and a few that you probably can't) comes from a combination of hue, saturation, and value (commonly abbreviated HSB in physics textbooks and Photoshop alike).  Use them to add detail, variety, mood, and the fantastic to your story.

One last comment about color tools: when in doubt, invert. Do the opposite of what you normally would. Give your villains something white to wear and hide the scary monsters in the light forest rather than the dark one. Have the villains attempt to unleash color on the unsuspecting population, and make your heroes defend the cause of 0% saturation! Consider making your hero's favorite color your personal least favorite. Each of these "unusual" choices will add a definitely unique flavor to your fantasy. Always experiment and invert!

There's a lot more to consider about colors in fantasy, so be on the lookout for part 2 coming next week!