240 Shades of Color

Make your visual descriptions more vivid.Andy Scheer 2014

by Andy Scheer

How many crayons does your box hold. Sixteen? Thirty-two? How about two-hundred forty?

That’s the number of terms author Ingrid Sundberg placed in the color thesaurus she compiled to aid her writing.

She started with a dozen basics (white, tan, yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, blue, green, brown, gray, and black). For each, she named eleven more terms.

Starting with yellow, she listed canary, gold, daffodil, flaxen, butter, lemon, mustard, corn, medallion, dandelion, fire, bumblebee, banana, butterscotch, dijon, honey, blonde, pineapple, and tuscan sun.

Purple was joined by mauve, violet, boysenberry, lavender, plum, magenta, lilac, grape, periwinkle, sangria, eggplant, jam, iris, heather, amethyst, raisin, orchid, mulberry, and wine.

Her list of 12 colors became a chart with 240 shades (including 19 more of grey).

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]Like most writing tools, use a color thesaurus with caution.[/cryout-pullquote]

Like most writing tools, use a color thesaurus with caution. If you’re not sure what cerulean looks like, your readers may not either. Compile your own list—using the shades that flow from your vocabulary.

A few years back, I edited a novel for a writer who includes in each story an auto from the family’s museum of classic cars. This story would feature their 1930 Packard roadster – a car I’d seen many times.

Working from a male author’s typical box of just sixteen colors, he described the car as red and silver. Not the terms I’d choose. IMG_4442 - Crop

I revisited the museum, walked around the Packard with the writer’s sister, and asked her opinion. Like most women, her box holds at least 64 shades, if not 132. After a few minutes, we settled on maroon and pewter. Nothing exotic (like aubergine) but evocative and accurate.

Looking to make your writing more colorful? Visit your paint store for sample cards, then compile your personal color thesaurus. It may help your stories get read.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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