The psychology of colour in novel writing

Life is full of colour. It affects how we perceive our environment, and influences our emotions.  The psychology of colour comes into play in selecting décor in hospitals, schools and correctional institutions, and also in the shades of paint we choose for our homes, although sometimes the latter is an unconscious factor. We decide on a particular paint chip because we like the colour, but don’t necessarily know why.

Although there are three primary colours on an artist’s colour wheel (red, blue and yellow), colour psychology is based on four main colours (red, blue, yellow and green), each with various positive and negative characteristics. Red relates to physical properties, blue to intellectual, yellow to emotional and green to balance. You can read more about their properties here.

The question I have is whether we give enough consideration to colour in our writing. We struggle to choose character names that reflect the era and personalities, but what does the colour of their clothing choices, home furnishings and vehicles say about them?

I wonder what the colour choices I make say about me when I select my boxes of facial tissues. I had a miserable cold when I chose this one!

RED — Physical
Positive: Physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, basic survival, ‘fight or flight’, stimulation, masculinity, excitement. 
Negative: Defiance, aggression, visual impact, strain.

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Do you make use of the psychological properties of colour in your writing?

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8 thoughts on “The psychology of colour in novel writing

  1. Judith Robl says:

    Interesting question. I hadn’t given it much thought. But it would be a way to make my feminine characters less clones of parts of me.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  2. joylene says:

    Definitely. The ms I just turned in to my publisher has the colour of white dominate throughout the story. It’s winter and snow covers everything. The illusion is that while snow is pristine and beautiful and a sign of purity, it’s deceiving because beneath the snow is rotting leaves, grass, plants, bugs. I didn’t do it on purpose, but it wasn’t long before I saw the psychological effects of winter on my characters.

    You ask such interesting and provoking questions, Carol.

  3. Sue Harrison says:

    I love this post, Carol. I love using color in my novels. The colors I’m using in my current WIP are all about bouquets of roses. Having fun with it and polled my FB friends to get the rose colors I’m using.

  4. Cedar-pine says:

    I hate to shake the status quo, but I never did agree on people relating to color the same way. There are warm and cool varieties of the same color that can totally change the way someone interprets them. Red is never just red. When some one tells me absolutely a certain color means a certain thing, I question it. If someone says green for instance, different thoughts will pop into a persons mind, and probably there is a percentage that is similar, but there is a percentage that aren’t, and although color can be used to help relate a character or mood, I think it is too risky to hope that what a writer’s interpretation will be the same as the readers. When I think of color, I think of warm and cool.
    For some reason I think of Spielberg, although a filmmaker, he wrote visually on screen with color, everything in a scene was exact in color of the character and mood. If a woman was reaching for a silver hair brush, versus a gold hair brush, it was because that brush, and that color, was saying something about the time, place, person, or mood. He was a good storyteller, because he utilized and flushed out the full visual color of a scene.

  5. My character likes pink roses. (So do I!)

  6. careann says:

    Welcome to all of you. I really appreciate hearing your opinions on this topic.

    I’m sure not all your characters are clones of you, Judith, but establishing their individuality could well be in the colours they like that differ from your favourites. 🙂

    Joylene, it’s interesting that you saw the effect of winter in retrospect. Mind you, my negative reaction to winter wouldn’t be to what’s under the white snow so much as to the brown of mud and sand and dead plants that I’m use to. You can tell we live in different climates!

    Those bouquets of roses have me curious, Sue. Now I’ll have to read your book to see how you use their colours. I like roses of several different shades, including pink like Susan, although I think my favourite may be yellow.

    You’re right Cedar-pine, that not everyone reacts exactly the same way to similar colours. While mixing colours can produce warmer or cooler tones of any colour, the colour wheel and any related psychology is based on true colours. True red, orange and yellow are universally considered to be warm colours, while blue, purple and green are seen as cool ones. Chromotherapy is another area where colours are used as a holistic or alternative approach to healing. Once again, however, its effectiveness is dependent upon an individual’s perception of colour.

  7. Your choice says SPRING! Let me open the windows and let the germs out. 🙂

    I wondered where you got such an awesome picture.

    I love thinking about the color aspect and a symbolic color theme running through a story.

  8. PaulTanja says:

    Hi careann I like your blog

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