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What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Paint Samples

Photo by Julie V. Photography

In Which I Hie Myself with Paint Samples

In case I haven’t mentioned it — and I really don’t think I have — the husband and I are moving into a rental house in a few weeks.

There is a plethoric cornucopea of good things about this, but one of the goodest of all is that we get to pick the paint colors with which the previous tenants will slather the walls before we move in.

Accordingly, we hied ourselves to the house a few days back, paint samples in hand, to figure out which rooms would serve which functions and what colors the aforementioned walls should be slathered in.

I liked that part a lot. A lot a lot a lot.

Of Bells and Bathrooms

On the Monday after I got to let my imagination run wild over my soon-to-be new home, I was over at Aaron’s and Trish‘s for Consortium time. Almost as soon as I arrived, Trish beckoned to me.

“I painted my bathroom,” she said.

I took a peek and made appreciative noises. The previously white walls were now lavender, which I thought would look lovely with the van Gogh print Trish keeps on the bathroom wall. But before I said as much, Trish sighed and informed me the color was all wrong.

“Lavender?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “But it’s supposed to be this.” And, so saying, she held up a paint sample.

This paint sample was called “Silver Bells.” Silver Bells was not lavender. Silver Bells was quite clearly gray.

Compare, Contrast, and Characterize

After talking it out a bit, Trish and I decided that the pale yellow countertop was partially responsible for the purplish look of the paint. Where light shone through the blue shower curtain and hit the walls, purplish made way for grayish. We decided that strategic placement of blue decor might ‘lleviate the lavender.

It all got me thinking about writing — as so many things do, y’know. ; )

Characters, I decided, are like the paint samples of the world.

Some of them are vivid. Some are pale. A select few are restful and pleasant to the reader’s eye the moment they step onto the wall page. Yet others look icky, no matter what light we cast them in or which other colors characters we let them interact with.

The Buts

In talking with other writers, I’ve heard them use a phrase I’ve often thought, myself:

The characters pick me.

To a certain extent, I agree that this is part of the writing process. Along with plots, characters move us. We feel called to write them, driven to write them. Some characters are so vivid from day one, it’s as though they write themselves. We don’t select them; we just scribble down what they dictate to us.

The Counter-But

But no character springs fully formed into a story like Athena from Zeus’s head. (For one thing, Athena’s a pretty hard char to compete with in the coolness department; for another, we writers aren’t gods, however much we might think we are. Sometimes.) ; )

Every character needs developing. Every character needs shaping, molding, clarifying. This happens as we think about them, write about them, and try to view the world through their perspective.

And as we shape, mold, and clarify, we see the reality of how each character looks on the page. Is she a soft, gentle lavender? Or is she a classy, sophisticated silver-grey?

What happens when we contrast her with the powerful blue of the male lead? Does she let his tones drown hers out? Or does she stubbornly insist on making her lavender voice heard?

Pull Out Your Brush Pen

Characters look different on the page than they do in our heads. They look different next to each other, interacting with each other, than they do in isolation. The only way we can uncover their subtleties is to let them out of our heads, write them into scenes with each other, and observe how their individual, unique shades affect each other.

Does the antagonist look too icky to be believable? Then tone down his ecru and add a splash of friendly orange. Too many bland pastels in your supporting cast? Add some saturated colors: quirks, bad habits, mannerisms, speech patterns.

Maybe we’ll discover that her lavender works wonderfully with his blue. Maybe we’ll find that his vibrant green clashes in big ways with her bold red. Do we have some re-painting re-writing to do?

Your story is the house; your characters are its colors. Experiment with abandon and paint with flair. You might end up with fuschia walls — but your readers will love you for it.

And that’s WILAWriTWe!

One Response to “What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Paint Samples”

  1. Joshua Unruh says:

    I’ll take your stick and beat this metaphor just a bit more to death.

    Your colors (characters) look different to your guests (readers). You might get one who is just smooth color blind and misses all the subtle nuance of your decor. You might get one who loves the orange so much that the ecru you thought was really important and tied the room together is nonexistent to them. Another might think all your colors clash and have no business being near one another.

    I like that one most of all. I sorta go for that sometimes. 😀

    For me, it is almost as fascinating to mix the colors the first time as it is watching others react to them.