Thursday, October 1, 2015

The #NoLimits Way to Infuse Your Novel with Color and Sound

with guest C. S. Lakin

Fiction writers have a great challenge that filmmakers don’t: they must bring their scenes to life by painting with words rather than visual images. How can this be done effectively? Just saying that your character hears a shout or sees a man in a brown suit doesn’t do much to help transport a reader into your world. 

Writers are told to use sensory detail of setting and characters—sounds, smells, textures, tastes. But this is no easy task. If you try to describe, for example, what an artichoke tastes like to someone who has never eaten one, you’ll get a “taste” for how difficult this might be to do.

So let’s take a look at some ways writers can infuse their novels with color and sound beyond “telling” the reader a character is seeing or hearing something.

Consider a Deliberate Use of Color

The deliberate use of color is often completely ignored by novelists—or used randomly without purpose—whereas filmmakers have to be keenly aware of the subtle and often subliminal effects of different colors. Every color has subtle emotional and subconscious impact on us, and it behooves writers to take the time to research colors and use them effectively.

Listen to what author Patti Bellantoni says in her book If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die:

Films as varied as Cabaret, Dick Tracy, and The Sixth Sense all use purple to foreshadow death . . . Both Gwyneth Paltrow’s bedspread in Shakespeare in Love and Nick Cage’s bedspread in Moonstruck are a hot orange-red, and they certainly accompanied lusty activity in those films . . . A strong color elicits a strong visceral response. This, in turn, can set up an audience to anticipate a particular action. . . .
My research suggests it is not we who decide what color can be . . . [but] I am convinced, whether we want it to or not, that it is color that can determine how we think and what we feel.

Filmmakers sometimes tone everything down except for one or two objects in the frame to make them stand out. Similarly, a writer can show her POV character perceiving something similarly when one object appears to be brighter than anything else around it, or a glaring light shines on it, highlighting it in a symbolic way. 

Novelists can infuse their scenes with color, whether vibrant or drab. When you have a character, in her POV, who sees the world around her as drained of color or in shades of gray, you indicate how she feels about her setting in that moment. Washed-out color could imply memory loss or fading emotions, or a disconnect to place or people. 

If you, the novelist, have an understanding of the subtle effect of color, you can purposefully put these colors in your scenes—either blatantly or subtly—to help enhance the mood of the reader. 

So take some time to research the effects of various colors on the human psyche, and play around with ideas on how you can integrate specific colors symbolically into your novel. 

Exploring the Perception of Sound 

In the book Cinematic Storytelling by Jennifer Van Sijll, we read this about sound: “Sound effects are as much the purview of the writer as are visual symbols. . . .  Sound effects can also suggest an extended aural metaphor. Sound effects can be obvious or quite subtle. They can intentionally draw attention to themselves or manipulate with stealth. They can expose, disguise, suggest, establish, or reveal.”

Movie scores affect viewers powerfully, eliciting strong emotions that can make moviegoers cry and despair or feel their hearts soaring with joy. And although writers can’t add movie scores to their words (yet), there are lots of ways to add in sounds in fiction for powerful effect.

Evoke place by inserting ordinary sounds into your scenes, such as the clink of glasses, the tinkle of happy banter, the drip of a faucet in an abandoned building, the screech of tires from a car racing away from the scene of a crime. 

Emblematic Sounds

Sounds can also be emblematic. The hum of a mosquito can be deafening and a recurring motif in a story. Even the jangle of keys can be terrifying, as seen in the opening scene of the movie E. T. as the terrified little extraterrestrial runs from the men chasing him. You’ve probably watched movie scenes in which all the sound is muted except for one isolated sound. Similar to a close-up shot, this is done to make viewers pay attention to one specific sound. 

Novelists Can Do It Too

This isn’t all that hard for novelists to emulate. By describing how a character perceives the sounds around her, a writer can essentially do the same. One sound out of many—such as a loud heartbeat—can be singled out, and that sound can even be symbolic or work as a metaphor. 

Think of ways sounds can be used as symbols or motifs in your novel. A ringing bell can be part of a pastoral landscape coming from a church nearby, but it can also mark time, and symbolize time running out. 

Asking questions like these will help you infuse your novel with colors and sound:

  • How much attention should be paid to sound and colors in my novel? 

  • What sounds and colors could I add that the characters would notice and that would enhance each scene?

  • What colors could I place and mention strategically for a specific emotional or symbolic effect?

  • Where in my novel can I mute all colors or sounds but one, to make that one stand out meaningfully?

  • Are there places where it would be appropriate for me to use enhanced, expressive, distorted, and/or surreal sounds to add tension?

Writing novels in a visually stirring way may be something new and foreign to you, and it can take some thought to structure or rework your scenes so that they are dynamic and textural. But if you take the time to infuse your novel with color and sounds, you’ll transport your reader to your rich, sensual world—a world they won’t soon want to leave.

Do any novels come to mind that you’ve read that emphasized certain colors or sounds? Which novels, and how were these elements used? Can you think of a way you can infuse your novel with an emblematic sound or color? If so, share in the comments.

Happy Birthday, Seekerville!

Today, C.S and Seekerville are giving away a print copy and an ecopy of Shoot Your Novel: Cinematic Technique to Supercharge Your Story. Leave a comment to let us know you want your name in the camera case for this great resource. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition!

C. S. Lakin is a multipublished best-selling novelist and writing coach. She works full-time as a copyeditor and critiques about two hundred manuscripts a year. She teaches writing workshops and gives instruction on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive. Her book—Shoot Your Novel: Cinematic Technique to Supercharge Your Story—is designed to help writers learn the secrets of cinematic technique. 

Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing (The Writer's Toolbox Series) is now available on Amazon.


  1. Happy Birthday, Seekerville.

    What a thought-provoking post to kick off the month.

  2. Happy Birthday, Seekerville and welcome to C.S. Lakin!!!! Let the games begin!!!

  3. Wonderful topic to kick off Seekerville's birthday month! While I'm revising I like to check each page and make sure at least one of the six senses is adequately utilized. Sight is one, of course, but focusing specifically on colour is a great idea. Lots to think about tonight, thanks!

    Happy Birthday, Seekerville! This is a remarkable place with remarkable people and I thank you all for the encouragement I've found here. (And yes, I'd love to be in the draw for Shoot Your Novel.)

  4. Happy Birthday Seekerville! It's hard to believe another birthday month has rolled around again.It is true when they say "time flies when you are having fun"!

    This is a great post and it makes me want to start looking for colors and sounds within the books I read. Thank you C.S. I would love my name to be tossed into the camera case.

    Blessings to All,
    Cindy W.

  5. This is totally making me think of my story in a new way. I always considered the musical themes of my story but not the color themes for my story. I am excited about the possibilities here.

    Trying to think of movies that do this....hmmmm. Must think on this.

  6. Happy birthday! This blog is SO helpful. What a super post C. S. You've given some very inspiring thoughts about setting the atmosphere of the story with color and sound. Please enter me for either form of your book. It looks like a helpful read.

  7. Happy birthday, Seekerville! Love this post! Thinking of ways to add more color and focus on certain sounds in my story!

  8. This is kind of opposite, but the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins' featured a four note "Mockingjay call" --but I didn't fully picture it in my head until the film adaptations came out (their version of it was much more unsettling than I imagined) but now when I read the books, that whistle from the film is all I can picture (the actors in their roles as well).

    Also, Laura Ingalls Wilder's black wedding dress ... I remember reading that as a girl in her Little House series and being struck by how unusual that was ...

  9. Happy Birthday my pals! What a wonderful resource.
    Thank you, C.S. I'm doing historicals right now and sometimes it's hard to get the ambience I need because I WASN'T THERE. These are good ideas for layering in, or even for a main theme.
    Kathy Bailey

  10. Happy birthday Seekerville!

    Welcome C.S. The sense I have most trouble with is the sense of smell because I have so many allergies. I have Googled what things smell like to add this sense to my stories.

    Thanks for these great ideas! I'll definitely think about how to add more color to my stories.

  11. Happy Birthday Seekerville! Thank you for all you've taught me over the years. Your kindness and support is much appreciated.
    Wonderful post, C.S. You've got me thinking of ways to add color into my stories.

  12. Happy Birthday, Seekerville!

    I strive to add all five senses to my manuscripts, color though, I'm not so sure.

    Great post.

  13. Happy Birthday month, Seekerville! This post has got me thinking. Always a good thing, even if my brain protests.

  14. Happy Birthday, Seekerville! What a great post to start this exciting month of. October is the month of my anniversary. This year is 14! Anyways, Thanks for some great writing tips to improve my writing. Can't wait to read more. God bless!

  15. Welcome to Seekerville, C.S.! Thanks for the great post to kick off our birthday month! You've really inspired me to use color and sound more effectively. We writers describe both but I can see I've lost opportunities to use color and sound to evoke emotion. The details always matter. I'll be looking for ways to take a detail and "blow up" its significance on the page.

    I'm impressed with all the hats you wear! Curious about their color. :-) I'm guessing red.


  16. Happy Birthday, Seekerville!! These eight years have stretched and grown me as we've shared what we've learned. Shared our lives. Thanks all!


  17. Thank you for bringing this great topic to Seekerville, C.S.! I had to quit reading your post several times to write down all of the ideas that was coming to mind that I could use on my current project.

    I remember watching something about filming a plane crash where they said they used no red in the scenes so that when the audience saw the injuries of the survivors, it would stand out.

    Happy Birthday, Seekerville!!

    I would love to win a copy of Shoot Your Novel!

  18. HAPPY BIRTHDAY SEEKERVILLE! I loved this fascinating post.

  19. You know I always watch the director commentary in movies (DVD)at home and they always discuss the use of color and I am stunned I have never thought to apply it to my stories. Although I will say in my moth to butterfly story, Safe in the Fireman's Arms the heroine does transform from mousy brown clothes to a red dress.

  20. Happy Birthday, Seekerville! :) C.S., what a great post. As I'm trying to amp up the settings in each of my scenes right now, you've given me some great ways of doing that. And your questions at the end of your post? So helpful. I know the kinds of music my main characters like to listen to, and that almost always comes out in scenes. I have only used rudimentary (probably clichéd) color mentions--the guy with the red tie is the one who feels like he has the power. I can really stand to be more intentional about my use of color in my stories.

    Let's see . . . I'm having trouble thinking of books or movies where color really stood out. I think L.M. Montgomery did a great job with this as she showed us Avonlea through Anne's eyes. The Lake of Shining Waters, the White Way of Delight (I think that's what she called it?), where the flower blossoms overhung the path, making it feel so peaceful and beautiful as I read that part of Anne of Green Gables. :)

  21. Did we mention that the coffee is on and we have Dunkin Donuts from Seaford, Delaware today!! Yes! Imported!

  22. P.S. I forgot to mention—I'd love to be in the drawing for your book, CS!

    Tina? You say coffee—I'm all there. And virtual donuts? I'll enjoy them. Thanks!

  23. Thanks so much for all the comments! You all are up early to me. I'm just stumbling out of bed to join you! I'm glad this post is sparking ideas. Writers don't usually think in cinematic terms or use cinematic technique, but this is just what readers want!

    Shoot Your Novel explores the many camera angles and purpose behind them when used by filmmakers, but novelists can employ these same techniques for powerful effect.

    I especially like the touches of color in the movie Amalie. If you want to go deeper, check out that book "If It's Purple, Someone's Gonna Die." The author really goes deep into examples from movies and how each color evokes particular emotions.

    Okay, where's that virtual coffee? And those donuts sound great. I've been looking for donuts with zero calories for years!

  24. Happy Birthday Seekerville. Need some of that coffee. Thanks for a great post C.S. Lakin. I especially enjoyed the part about using color. I've not thought of it in that way before. Off to color on my WIP.

  25. Absolutely love this post! I need so much help in this area. Would love to be entered in the drawing! One movie where color stood out is "The Sixth Sense." When you see this one color you're supposed to know what is going on. You figure it out after you watch the movie if you don't catch on as you're watching the movie. I didn't catch it lol. Is this even what you're talking about? As stated, I need so much help in this area! I would be ecstatic with an ebook copy. Thanks!

  26. Hi C.S. and welcome to Seekerville, What a great post. I've taken screenwriting classes and they have really helped me to develop active writing versus the passive prose I used to write. I learned that they use color for certain things like you pointed out. Red portends danger. But I never thought to use it in my writing. I do use color to describe setting and maybe the clothes the character is wearing. But now I have a whole new reason to incorporate color. Thank you for this.

    I've known about the use of sound in writing. But thanks for that reminder too.

    Have fun today.

  27. Yes, Sally, that's the idea. In your novel, you can look for a dominant emotion, or better yet, an emotion that applies to your character's state of mind at the beginning of your story and another at the end. Then study what emotions are connected to which emotions, and add those bits of color in to emphasize subconsciously or symbolically the emotional state and arc of your character. I love Tina's example of her character moving from drab, brown clothes to a red dress. That's powerful.

  28. Yay!!!! Its our birthday month. Eight years. Can you believe it? Whoopeeeee.

    And thanks to all of you Seeker Villagers for making this such a fun blog.

  29. Good morning, Seekerville, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!!!

    And a special welcome to our first guest of birthday month! C.S., this is a keeper post--great reminders about ways we can use color and sound in our stories!

    One way I used color contrast in my latest release, The Sweetest Rain, is the drabness of drought-plagued Arkansas compared with the hero's richly hued botanical drawings.

    Shoot Your Novel sounds like an excellent resource! Thanks for being our guest today!

  30. Okay, SALLY, you're making me want to rent Sixth Sense for another look. There are some things you just don't catch the first time through. Or second or third, for some of us--LOL!

  31. Happy birthday to us! Happy birthday to us! Happy birthday to usssss.... because we found all of you!

    Oh, Holy October, Batman! It's birthday time, and a 31 day extravaganza of fun, fearlessness and faith in God and ourselves.




    God doesn't limit us? Why should we?

  32. So this is a marvelous insider's look at how to make a scene, moment, plot jump. I tend to see more of this in Women's Fiction and trade paperback novels and literary fiction. In category if I wax too poetic or colorful, it hits the editor's floor.

    BUT, I can see how this can be applied strategically, threaded into the story.

    I love this. I'm working on a new revision (THIRD REVISION THIS FALL, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO THINK I WRITE IN MY SLEEP AND GET IT RIGHT.... YES, I'M LAUGHING AT YOU!!!!) and I'm going to apply this right now because that will help cement it into my consciousness!

  33. Hi C. S.:

    Every time I read your name it comes out C. S. Lewis in my mind and I have to do a double take. Often we see what is behind our eyes.

    I'm a big fan of color and sound in writing. But doing this can be tricky. Some sounds are associated with colors and some people (cf.Synesthesia)see sounds as given colors. Some even experience tastes as colors.

    Colors can differ in meaning between cultures. White is use for mourning in the East while red is the color of wedding dresses in India. These differences open the doors to insightful conflicts when writing the multi-cultural story.

    I like to consider all the senses as comprising a gestalt experience with one sense blending into all the others. I always five-sense my copy (as a copywriter) to make my message more directly accessible to the recipient.

    One of the best examples of doing this is in Sandra Leesmith's novella "Where the Eagle Flies" ("With this Kiss Contemporary Collection") in which the sound and feel of the wind breezing thru the canyons of Lake Powell mix with the ever changing harsh desert light.

    Colors stand in dramatic contrast as the sun fails to breach the hidden crevasses of the narrow spaces between the high walls. Every hour the colors of the canyon walls change as light and shadows mix in their unending dance for control.

    When one steps out of the sunlight and into the shadows near the walls a new world that was once shrouded in darkness suddenly becomes visible as the eyes adjust to this new reality.

    "Wherer the Eagle Flies" represents a gestalt experience to me. The story seems to be written from the inside out and not from outside observation in.

    "Where the Eagle Flies" demonstrates what happens when the senses take control and write the story. Of course, doing this requires an enhanced ability to 'be present in the moment' which is very difficult to achieve.


    P.S. Please enter me into the drawing for the ebook version of "Shoot Your Novel".

    BTW: Have you considered the alternative meaning for "Shoot Your Novel"?:) (At Seekerville there are Crystal Clear police!:))

  34. Happy birthday to Seekerville. Eight years already! This post is full of useful ideas and is one I'll print out. Thank you, C.S.

  35. Felictations and congratulations to Seekerville and all the people involved. Eight years! Amazing. And what a great post! I am going to have to buy this book. I'm working on a new story now and this is a great opportunity to put these methods into practice. I especially love the notion of emphasizing colour in a book and how a character perceives it. Very good advice on a morning when the sun is coming up in all it's pink and orange glory!

  36. Welcome to Seekerville, C. S. Great post on added texture to our writing. Thank you! :)

    Speaking of purple...

    Many years ago I was a bridesmaid for a friend's wedding. She and the wedding "coordinator" (the pianist and our Bible Quiz coach from church who'd hauled us all over the country competing in Bible drills) decided there wasn't enough time to have bridesmaid dresses made, so we all piled into Mona's car and made the trip to Jackson to look for dresses.

    Denise told us over and over that she didn't want purple, but the only dresses that we could find with sizes for all of her bridesmaids was a deep dark plum color.

    Mona assured her it wasn't purple.

    "No," she said, "It's plum purple."


  37. In Schindler's List, local employees at Kodak developed the film that shot the image of the one little girl in a red coat, among a sea of drab. And his gaze is riveted, it's told beautifully The Girl In Red, and this is a wonderful, articulate example of what C.S. is showing us.

    Also, in Anne's House of Dreams, Lucy Maude Montgomery had her troubled friend always wear a splash of red... and I've remembered that 'cue' for forty years.

    Thomas Kincade had such a troubled later life, but the light he brought to breathe life into color in his paintings... that's the kind of life I'd like to breathe into words.

    This has my mind thinking!!!! Thinking hard!

  38. Happy Birthday Seekerville!

    C.S. Lakin, thank you so much for this wonderful post. I am definitely going to focus some attention on this! I can't really think of how color has come into play in what I have been reading, but I must admit, I haven't really looked. I believe I have just enjoyed the results. Sounds have definitely been played well in what I've read recently. I look forward to putting more texture into my writing. Thanks again and please put my name in the camera case for your drawing!

    Happy Anniversary Kelly Bridgewater

    And Tina, you had me at Dunkin' Donuts. They don't have one here in my town which is almost a crime to me as I came from back in Rhode Island where there seems to be one every mile. Yum!

  39. I especially like how my buddy Carolyne spells "colour"!!! :)

  40. VINCE you always manage to say something about my writing that encourages me just when I'm thinking I can't write and shouldn't write anymore. smile. Thank you dear friend.

  41. Thanks, C.S.! I know Gone With The Wind is talked about a lot, but I love that movie lol. When Scarlett dons the green drapery to get Rhett's help, I feel her transition from desolate to empowered. She's doing something to change her circumstances.

    MYRA, I'm going to watch that movie again as well. It was after I watched it I found out and haven't gone back to see. I heard the producer say I figured everyone would catch on and would know what was going on. Did you know this same producer produced The Visit? I just saw that when I looked this up. Wonder if he's got the same thing going on in this movie?? Unfortunately, I know what happens in this movie because my daughter told me, but I have to watch it now for research purposes lol.

    This is a fun topic. Thank you so much!

  42. PAM that story is funny. I hope you use it in one of your stories.

  43. Sally, I never noticed that in The Sixth Sense.

    I've noticed it in/on book covers. Those are often blatantly dark, eerie, tormented, ethereal, Monet-calm, front-porch-sweet....

    And I've noticed the difference in writing styles, but today I'm seeing this like "Within" the style, applied no matter how you write or what you write.

    I owe C.S. some hummingbird cake, and luckily I have a fresh hummingbird cake right here!

    (No hummingbirds were harmed in the making of this treat).

  44. Good morning C.S. -- and HAPPY BIRTHDAY,SEEKERVILLE!

    "Exploring the perception of sound" is something I'd like to do moreof in my writing. It's a sense that I have to remind myself to use beyond audible dialogue, yet it contributes so much to the emotional vividness of the scene.

    I'll be rethinking the use of color, too. It's not something I've given much thought to beyond having a dark, rainy day when a character has bottomed out emotionally -- or a deliberately bright blue one to contrast with their battered emotions.

    I checked out your other books on writing and see that in addition to this one, there are a few others to put on my "to buy" list!

    Thank you for sharing these great ideas!

  45. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers had one of the most unique uses of sound that I've ever read (the nine tailors being nine church bells, not people handy with a needle). I really couldn't say much more about it without spoiling the mystery, but she used sound to its fullest potential!

    Now would that there was a way to incorporate epic theme music into a story . . . perhaps the John Dunbar theme from Dances With Wolves, or Promontory from Last of the Mohicans. I love movie soundtracks.

  46. HAPPY BIRTHDAY SEEKERVILLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    and many blessings on you Ladies for following the nudge of God to help writers everywhere. All y'all are awesome mentors who are greatly appreciated.

    Love this post. I cannot believe I've never thought of using color in writing. As a graphic artist, I can visualize how this can enrich my work.

    One movie I can think of that has striking color is The 300. Another is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (which was an idie type film that used only computer generated sets). Both have interesting color palletes that stick in my mind.

    Would LOVE to have a copy of "Shoot Your Novel". Name in camera case please.

    Again, Happy Birthday Seekerville. It's an awesome birthday month. Both Guppy and myself have birthdays this month as well. Love that connection.

  47. Fascinating!! Please put my name in the camera bag for the drawing! I remember reading a short story in college about yellow wallpaper (yellow signified illness). Never 'looked' at yellow the same...


  48. Thanks, Glynna! I hope my books help you a lot to create dynamic, cinematic-style novels!

    Ruth and Vince, thanks for sharing those examples. And yes, the title Shoot Your Novel is very deliberate with the double entendre. We often want to shoot our novels!

    I think most of us get using color, but sounds are something highly ignored, so think of some emblematic sound you could use as part of your novel's image system.

    I didn't get into talking about image systems, but my book explains them and how powerful they can be. Or you can search my blog Live Write Thrive for image systems and read some of those posts.

  49. S Trietsch, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman! The first time I read that story, I read it 6 or 7 times over and over. Loved that story!

  50. One other thought: I have twin daughters (now 22yrs old) who grasped colors early in life. Megan was purple and Katy was red. Seriously. Very little deviation. Fast forward to last week and I was shopping with Katy who kept going back to a particular sweater.

    She finally said, "Mom, why do I like this sweater so much?"

    I replied, "Because it's purple and reminds you of Megan (who now lives 14 hrs away)."

    Tears gleamed and she leaned to hang it back on the rack.

    I hugged her with words of assurance that it's okay for her to own/wear something that reminders her of her sister.


  51. Sally, I should have googled it! That's it. Intriguing then and memorable all these years later. A great tool to use in writing!

  52. Donna, that's a great example (i.e. no red until the plane crash) of using color effectively.

    As I read this, I tried to think of ways I've used color and sound...

    Color combined with weather and a tense scene: I used grey clouds, drizzly rain to slow the scene, mountains shrouded in mist, heroine's tears, deep sadness. (Claiming Mariah)

    Weather played another important part in Castaway with the Cowboy from the beginning to the end. But one side of the island is bare, dreary, windswept and uninhabitable, while the other is lush and green, and the tension and desperation is higher until they get to the other side, then there I get to use sunlight, happy scenes, brightness, greenery, sparkling waterfalls and birds cawing.

    Hmmm, sound... I've never been in an avalanche but I watched Youtube videos to get the description just right for All Aboard: Destination Christmas (Home for Christmas) by the Seekers that's coming SOON! :)

    The screech of brakes, the train fighting to stop its headlong flight, and a roar, like the sound of continuous thunder, whooshed down the pass, seconds away. Creed grabbed the girl and lunged back inside. He shoved her to the floor between two sturdy benches, throwing his body over hers seconds before a monstrous wave of snow rolled over the train.

    Screech, fighting, flight, roar, thunder, whooshed, lunged, shoved, monstrous

    Since readers can't hear the heart-pounding sounds of an avalanche, or the screams of people jumping from a burning building, or the catch in our heroine's voice as she sobs out her latest woes, we have to use strong words to paint the picture in their heads.

    More color...And sometimes those pictures are a gentle, soft, wooing....I gave my heroine a black-and-grey scarf to match her grey eyes. It's winter in the mountains between The Dalles and Portland. Snow, grey clouds, grey and white birch bark on the trees, snow-filled clouds....

    The black-and-grey woolen scarf covered the lower part of her face, and all he could see was the arch of her brows, the sweep of brown lashes framing her eyes, the exact color of the grey in her scarf. She watched him, eyes wide, trusting. Inviting.

    And I listen to a train clattering along the tracks, ocean waves, gentle rain, birds cawing, waterfalls, cattle bawling (even though I can describe that without youtube, thank you very much!), to set the mood for sounds sometimes.

    So, there you go...I use color and sound a lot and I match it to the mood of the scene or the overall story, but DONNA, I really like the idea of saving a specific color for a specific scene. It probably wouldn't be as effective on the written page as in a movie, but what a cool concept! :)

  53. It seems to me that the use of color (esp in movies) is more a psychological device than a an "Oh, he's wearing black, so he's the bad guy". I'd think that most people don't really think about what they're seeing, but internally, the colors make them feel a certain way.

    Part of this is because our culture has been conditioned to think of certain colors in certain ways...

    White is pure
    Black is death/evil
    Blue is clear, sunshiny skies
    Green is spring, etc.

    In the old b&w movies, I've always heard that they good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black. Maybe it was because the movies were so grainy and the soundtrack so scratchy that it was hard to distinguish who was who.

  54. Happy birthday, Seekerville!! Excellent post and "spot on" as the British would say!

    Personally, I was born a cinematic writer. That's why daydreaming a scene first is so important to me. I see a movie in my head as I'm throwing words on the page and have been known to write a screenplay or two. I'm especially attuned to how characters speak so it's easy for me to write dialogue. However, I have to be intentional about layering the five senses (six, but who's counting) into my narrative. As I edit, I go back and find natural places to describe scents and smells--the aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg as an apple pie bakes or the acrid smell of old urine in a dark, deserted alley behind a saloon.

    I'd love a copy of your book C.S! And please throw my hat into that huge punch bowl for the weekly and grand prizes!!!!

  55. S Trietsch, your description of your girls' color choices and the sweater made me tear up. Such emotion. I was thinking I didn't know any books that used color until you mentioned this one. Thanks!

  56. Stephanie, now THAT's powerful and even though it's a true story, it's perfect!

  57. Barbara, hi! You make a good point. One nice thing about sensory detail is we can go back into a draft of our novel and add them in. If you find your novel is lacking in theme, symbolism, motif (I write a lot about these in all my writing craft books because they're important!), you can work on that image system and then infuse your story with these elements. By making some of those smells, objects, sounds, or colors symbolic and repetitive, you add superglue that holds your story together.

    One good way to come up with those things is to picture your movie poster for your novel. What colors, objects, tones would be on that poster?

    Great comments, everyone!

  58. Happy Birthday month Seekerville! Thanks to all the Seekers who make this wonderful place possible for all of us to learn and grow as writers.

    Great post today, C.S., and challenging. Like Ruthie, my mind is swarming with the possibilities of using color more prominently in my work.

    I'd love to win a copy of your book so toss my name in the hat, or camera case as it may be!

  59. Welcome, C.S., and thanks for a great post! Happy birthday, Seekerville! I've noticed over the years that color affects me (as I'm sure it does us all, just differently). For example, I cannot relax in a red room. I notice it all the time in movies, but I only think of color in my stories when it comes time to dress a character. There are so many possibilities, though! I'll think on it while I sip my coffee and munch my donut.

  60. Packing for the Moonlight & Magnolias Conference that starts at 4PM...I need to leave the house before Atlanta traffic hits!'s non-stop! What am I thinking? Still, I'm running late and trying to read all the wonderful comments.

    Oh, Stephanie, your "story" about your daughter choosing her twin's color for a sweater had me misty eyed. Lovely! Include that in a book, for sure!!!

    Did anyone bring cake?

    I did!

    A huge birthday cake with 8 candles to celebrate Seekerville and all of you who make this blog possible. God bless you all!

    Ice cream too.



  61. Happy Birthday to me....well it IS October, and my birthday month. It's so cool you all came to celebrate both Seekerville and my birthday month. I won't ever look at A novel the same again. I think that a lot while reading posts on this blog!

  62. Happy Birthday, Seekerville! It's been another year of inspiration and encouragement and I send my heartfelt THANK YOU for providing this venue.

    Hi C.S.,
    Like many who've already posted here, I'm now coming up with ideas to add in my WIP. You've done your job with this post - inciting my creativity this morning! I try to write like I'm translating a film. The movie in my head...


    Ooooo, LOVE this topic because color and sound are so sensory, and I LOVE writing that is sensory!!

    I did a term paper in college on how color affects people and was absolutely shocked to learn that sales in a seafood restaurant skyrocketed after a color expert changed their color scheme went from sea blue and turquoise to scarlets and reds. Another example sited was a bulky briefcase that salesmen had to carry for their product, which they complained was too heavy. All they changed was the color -- from black to a very light tan, and the complaints dropped dramatically.

    As far as sound, I just read in an article yesterday that a wine shop discovered they sold more French wine when they played French music in the background and vice versa when they play German music -- more German wine. In that same article, it talked about sales on ovens and fridges going up 23% in an appliance store after they baked cookies. :)

    I recently moved to a lake setting, and I'll tell you what -- the squawks of the herons and sea gulls sure help me to write my current series, which is set on the intracoastal in Isle of Hope! :)


  64. SALLY SAID: "I know Gone With The Wind is talked about a lot, but I love that movie lol. When Scarlett dons the green drapery to get Rhett's help, I feel her transition from desolate to empowered. She's doing something to change her circumstances.

    LOL, Sally -- of course that could have had something to do with the drapery rod across her shoulders that made her look line a linebacker!! ;)

    But I totally agree about Gone With the Wind because that's the first incident of color that came to mind for me -- when Rhett makes Scarlett wear that scarlet gown to Ashley's birthday party -- WOW, talk about a statement, as is Scarlett's name, which certainly fits her.


  65. JULIE! That is so true. I've read about names of characters having meaning, mostly from my literature classes. But if there's a way to incorporate words, colors, music, images, themes, to make your story come to life and be memorable, that's the ticket! Without making it so over the top nobody believes it. Use in moderation, I guess? I've made so many comments I'm having to choose pictures in order to comment :)

  66. Good comments! Sound and color affect us tremendously, and until we can infuse our novels with real color and sound (I want to have soundtracks for all my books so readers can listen to appropriate music as they read) in a multimedia experience, we need to find creative ways to show this in our scenes. Have fun experimenting with this!

  67. CS Lakin, Thank you for a great post. I have your book on my wish list and it would be awesome if I won a copy.

    Happy Birthday, Seekerville! You have been very instrumental in my life.

    Today is a day of celebration. I finally typed "The End" on my first ever novel. I began on March 1, 2014 as part of Speedbo. When I began writing it, I had no clue what all was involved. I just had this book I wanted to write and started writing it. Along the way I have learned so much and know I have a lot more to learn. 19 months later and 117,,587 words and I am finished. I realize it is not anywhere near ready to be published and has many revisions and editing to go. I have no clue how to get it critiqued but I have finished what I started and Seekerville gets a lot of credit for what I have accomplished.

    I am thinking my next step is to join ACFW and keep striving to learn to become the best writer I can be,

    Thank you all for your help and encouragement.

  68. Hi C.S., enjoyed your post. You've explained something to me this morning I'd been wondering about. I don't have any trouble adding sight and sound to my writing, but really have to work on taste and touch. Since I see my stories playing out like a movie, naturally I'd emphasize what I see and hear. The solution is I'll have to get into the characters to experience all the senses. It makes perfect sense.

    Wow, Julie, you know every detail of Gone with the Wind.

  69. My office has a ruby red wall which sort of energizes me!

  70. Hi Elaine, it is challenging to convert sensory detail into words. Note when you see how other authors do this well in novels. I remember a book I read decades ago that had her character describe the taste of blood as rust and orange Popsicle. That resonated with me.

  71. Hi CS -

    I use sound and color in my writing, but I've never thought about the effects specific colors or sounds might have on readers. So your post is very thought provoking! Thanks for the ideas to add depth to my scenes!


  72. WILANI, you go, girl!!!! Congrats on finishing the book!!!!

    Yes, if you can join ACFW and maybe connect with some critique partners, that's another huge step in the right direction!

    Just so proud of you!!!! Keep up the great work!!!

  73. Thank you, C.S., for plenty to think about with colors and sounds. I listened to elk bugling this morning and would like to include that sound of autumn in a story. I've just read Sandra Leesmith's Love's Dream Song where colorful rock formations are vividly described. Please put my name in the camera case for your book. Thanks!

  74. C.S. this was such a wonderful post! Thank you for adding 'color' to my thinking about storycreating.

    I think what's difficult since I've begun writing more novels is trying not to repeat imagery too much. I struggle with learning how to keep the sensory descriptions fresh for sequential stories.

    Thanks so much for this insight.

  75. Hi C.S.:

    Come to think of it, when it comes to sounds, I've always been impressed by the use of leitmotifs in opera.

    To quote Wikipedia:

    "A leitmotif or leitmotiv is a 'short, constantly recurring musical phrase' associated with a particular person, place, or idea. It is closely related to the musical concepts of idée fixe or motto-theme."

    Using leitmotifs in writing could allow given sounds to foreshadow future events. The reader will probably not pick up on this but it could give the reader premonitions about what is going to happen next which in turn could make the reader feel very self-satisfied. Such a reader will also probably feel your story was well founded.

    Just an idea.

    I've just spent the morning on your "Live Write Thrive" website. People need to know that your marketing information is really great!


    P.S I just bought the Kindle version of your book. I want it read by Monday. So I don't need to be in the drawing.

  76. Great post and a very specific way to think about adding senses. I am writing a novel about a tornado, so sound is very important but you have me thinking about color. I could write a scene in which something very colorful stands out against the debris.

    Please enter me in the drawing for today.

    I am so excited about the Seekerville birthday month!

  77. I love this post! I didn't know about the way purple or orange was used in film. This definitely has given me some ideas on how to draw readers into my story. Printing this out for my keeper file.

    Please enter me in the drawing :)

  78. Hi Sandra:

    "Those with the greatest talent often have the greatest doubts."

    I once read a story about A. J. Cronin in one of those inspirational magazines that said that when he became too sick to work as a doctor, he went to a farm to write a novel. That was his best work, "The Citadel". He had great doubts day in and day out. The farmer would always encourage him to keep at it and never give up.

    Finally one day A. J. threw the whole manuscript in the trash. The farmer pulled it out of the trash, put it back in order, and secretly mailed it to a publisher. It was accepted! The book became a massive success and helped pave the way for the British National Health Service. It had a major impact on medical ethics as well.

    The greater ones knowledge is, the greater is ones ability to see faults that no one else will ever notice or even care about.

    Now, I'd like to see a few more animal folk tales.


  79. Thanks for the kind plug about Live Write Thrive! That blog is a huge labor of love. I think I write between 100-150k words a year for the blog, almost all free instruction and advice to help writers.
    I hope my books help you with your stories!

    I'm getting ready to send out ARCs for the next writing craft book: 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing (release Dec. 1) so if any of you would like a PDF to review and get an early look at the content, let me know and give me your email. This is a huge (100k words) book with more than 60 big before and after passages to help writers spot the flaws and learn how to fix them.

    Glad to meet all you in this awesome community!

  80. Wow, C.S. Your blog just Lit my Fire you might say.
    I know you're so right about color and sound, the senses in all ways. But I love how you've told it here.

    Thank you for this. It's an energizing post I'll keep in mind when I'm writing.

    I'm sorry to be so slow checking in today.

    If it helps, I spent time today in a car repair place getting new tires.

    And now I'm back and I'm late to the party!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  81. i'm struggling to come up with a sound and color example to use, though sound is better. I'm remembering some spooky movie where someone was running, no doubt for their life, and the whole sound narrowed down to hard breathing. Whether from the runner or the pursuer.
    Just this panting, gasping, maybe pounding footsteps. Really cool, really well done. How breathing could become horrifying because it means someone is CLOSE.

  82. I hadn't really thought of this aspect before. It gives some great ideas to incorporate. Thanks :) I'd love for my name to be thrown in the camera bag.

  83. I think F. Scott Fitzgerald took great use of color in writing The Great Gatsby.

    I think color is a special challenge for historical writers. I've read somewhere that colors developed over time within cultures as opposed to always being there. One of the things that always surprised me in Japan was the close relationship between green and blue. The word for "blue" in Japanese is "aoi." So, to say blue sky is "ao-zora." (I'm using the hyphen for emphasis.) The word for blue butt (the Japanese equivalent of calling someone a "greenhorn") is "ao-shiri." However, the word for green light (as in a traffic light) is "ao-shingo." And, when Japanese people visit the U.S., they tend to refer to our green traffic lights as blue lights.

  84. And for anyone who is wondering why, in Japan, a person who "is a greenhorn" is said to "have a blue butt," it's because babies of Mongoloid descent are born with blue spots on their rears. Though that fact is widely disseminated now, this has created problems, at times, for Asians with kids in daycare as concerned daycare workers, after seeing the blue spot, would occasionally call Child Services.

  85. OH! I've got another one.
    JAWS and that 'here comes the shark' music. Everyone knew so so so immediately that that low duh-DUM, that kept getting faster and louder meant AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!
    SHARK SHARK SHARK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  86. I know in my own books, when someone is in a gunfight, I try and set the scene to say, "The world slowed down. She could see everything, hear everything, she had time to think, react, decide which direction to turn and aim."
    So in what should be seconds I can describe the trees, the aiming and firing, the sound, the colors and smells. And if it works well! If I do it right! I can keep the pace blistering fast all while in slow motion.
    (at least that's my goal LOL)

  87. I would love to receive an ARC of 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing (release Dec. 1)to review if you still have spots available. My email is sallyshupe1 at gmail dot com.

  88. I have to say that Shoot Your Novel is the absolute best writing help book ever.

  89. Hi Mary:

    What a great example! That shark music was so pronounced it might be said that Jaws had his own theme song! I think that is a little too heavy-handed for the written word.

    In books you have to show the story you're telling but in films what you are showing has to tell your story. (I don't know if this is true but it would be a cool quote if it was.)

  90. I really do try and write my books as if they are movies. I want the characters MOVING. I think in terms of visual, sound, especially action scenes. I want the hero diving to the dirt under a hail of gunfire and I want the reader to feel like THEY have smacked into the ground and smelled the kicked up dust and the cordite smell of the gunpowder.

  91. Hi Walt:

    I didn't know that about Japan and not 'seeing' or having a word for the color blue. The ancient Greeks also had no word for 'blue' in their language.

    In my Greek Philosophy class we had discussions on whether this meant that the ancients Greeks could not see what we see today when we see the color blue or if the ancient Greeks did see what we see today but could not define at what point it became different from the color green.

    It was suggested in the class that if you called 'blue' green and you called 'green' green and no one ever corrected you, then why would you ever think twice about it? It's probably not until you need more colors for a given purpose that it makes sense to fine tune the language.

    As far as I know this problem has never been solved. Do you know what the Eastern philosophers have to saw about this?

  92. Here's a truth about books that I think makes them much BETTER than movies.
    Movies are easy. They ask nothing of you but your eyes and ears. They rarely ask you go to deep into your imagination and enter the story, instead, from a nice safe, you watch.

    But books require your mind to fire up, to create the images a movie provides for you, to use your mind to remember smells and sounds and touch.

    As a result you are much more deeply involved in a book!

  93. Hi Mary:

    What I really like about writing like you are shooting a movie is that you want what is on the screen to be visually rewarding. The TV show Doc Martin is deliberately shot 90% outdoors because the town and seaside location are so beautiful -- even breathtaking.

    In addition, movie scenes cost a lot of money and so does hiring actors. Producers don't want to pay for scenes that are not necessary. "Midnight in Paris" is a good example. There are sixty scenes in that 92 minute movie and each scene accomplishes 3 to 6 different objectives to advance the story. Of course, this film got the Academy award for best screenplay.

    It's this kind of creative discipline that I admire so much about screenwriters.

  94. Quite Contrary:

    I think movies are many times harder than books! In movies two hours is a long time. How much book can you write for two hours of reading time! Movies are a group effort. There are actors! Casting alone can ruin the screenplay! There needs to be music. There are investors. The viewer can't go back and read a 'page/scene' not understood in the theater. There are costs to be considered. Do you worry about the cost of filming in Yellowstone National Park when you are writing a novel that takes place there?

    If books are so much harder then why can't most books be made into successful movies?

    BTW: lots of movies have scared the dickens out of me where the book would not have fazed me. Did you see "Alien"?

    I think we should give the screenwriter his due.

  95. VINCE, if you're saying movies are harder to produce than books, I'd agree. But I agree with MARY that movies are easier than books for the consumer.

    Okay, your Alien example. This reminded me that I once tried reading a Stephen King novel. Even though I read in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight, it scared me so badly that I had nightmares.

    On the other hand, I can watch and actually enjoy a Stephen Kind movie. I think it's because the intensity is over and done with in two hours, rather than stretched out over the several hours it takes to read a 300+ page novel.

  96. Got it, Sally, thanks! And thank you, Trish. I'd be grateful if you would put a review up on Amazon, if you haven't already. It really helps to get reviews!

    Mary, I have some good blog posts (and some are incorporated in Shoot Your Novel) about how to slow time time, alter the quality of time in scenes, etc. You might like to check those out!

  97. Vince, I have no idea. I just know I'm cognizant to make sure the colors I mention would have either been readily available or extremely expensive.

  98. Oh wow! There was so much great info in this post! I definitely want to be put in the cat dish for this book. And I have a feeling even if I don't win it, I'll be buying it!!

  99. Please enter me in the drawing. You've shown me some great ways to improve my writing.

  100. Such an interesting post, C.S.! I wonder how much of what writers 'instinctively' do with color is influenced by what they've been exposed to in movies and TV. I haven't had time to read comments, so hope I'm not repeating what someone else has posted -- the most memorable use of color for me wasn't in a book but in the movie "Schindler's List." Color was used so rarely that when there was color the effect was riveting.


    Nancy C

  101. What a great post! Welcome C.S.! I loved how this made me think. Now I've got ideas brewing, especially for adding color--which I've never thought to do!

    Happy birthday, everyone!!

  102. Interesting concepts! Some steam punk novels do a really good job with sounds and colors. Please drop my name in the box for the drawing.

  103. Hi Sally:

    I did the same thing when I first read "The Yellow Wall-paper". I'm not sure how I learned about it but I was reading female subjectivists at the time: Anais Nin and Djuna Barnes. I could not believe that it was written in 1891.

    Have you heard the radio play of this story?

    It's just excellent. Not to be missed if you loved this short story. Listen to the play and see how this is a very different experience than reading it. It's a real treat.


  104. Hi Myra:

    If you mean reading books is harder on a reader than watching tv or a movie is on a viewer, I agree 100% with that. Children and adults who cannot read or even speak the language, can enjoy movies.

    I think a good compromise is listening to an audio book read by an expert reader. This way the listener can enjoy creating the 'theatre of the mind' without having to do all the work a reader must do. The audio play can also supply the correct emotional emphasis making the story come more alive than the reading experience.

  105. Hi C. S.:

    I'm reading "Shoot Your Novel" and I see where you were on the set of M*A*S*H as a child. I had a scriptwriting class from a lady who had written five M*A*S*H episodes and she used an actual marked-up script to show us what happens to a script by the time the show is filmed. I think her name was Colleen Todd but that might be her maiden name. This was back when production companies would take freelance scripts and you could even buy a copy of the show's 'bible' so you knew what themes had been written. That was one of my all time favorite college classes!


  106. Hi C. S.:

    I'm reading "Shoot Your Novel" and I see where you were on the set of M*A*S*H as a child. I had a scriptwriting class from a lady who had written five M*A*S*H episodes and she used an actual marked-up script to show us what happens to a script by the time the show is filmed. I think her name was Colleen Todd but that might be her maiden name. This was back when production companies would take freelance scripts and you could even buy a copy of the show's 'bible' so you knew what themes had been written. That was one of my all time favorite college classes!


  107. Happy Birthday Seekerville! Wow, what a great start to your birthday month. Very thought provoking. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever get all these elements in my novels. Color is definitely a new one for me to try. I'd love to have my name thrown in the camera case for this one.

  108. I couldn't agree more. I started out in video production and God has shifted me into the world of writing. Art is a beautiful thing, no matter the method. I believe I t's so important to go beyond words and create an experience for our audience. :)

  109. Thank you for opening new vistas for me in the world of writing, C. S. I'll definitely be watching the use of color and sound from now on as I read.

    Please put my name in the camera case for an ecopy of this wonderful resource.

    Many thanks

  110. Thank you for opening new vistas for me in the world of writing, C. S. I'll definitely be watching the use of color and sound from now on as I read.

    Please put my name in the camera case for an ecopy of this wonderful resource.

    Many thanks

  111. THAT was an AMAZING post!!!!! I loved reading that so much!

    Please put my name in the basket for the e-book!


  112. I have heard that when you can visualize your story as a movie inside your head or write as though a camera is on your forehead you will produce a good novel. Color and sound used for showing make it more vivid for the reader to identify with the story. Thanks for sharing, your column today is superb.

    Enter me in your generous drawing too.

  113. Happy Birthday to Seekerville and all its members. What a wonderful week of celebrations. Hard to believe another year has gone by.

  114. VINCE! I listened to the radio version of The Yellow Wallpaper. Thank you so much for sharing! Sound played such a big part of it. It brought back memories of growing up and listening to the radio late at night to the mystery shows. I can't remember what they were called or about, but I can still hear the voices. Thank you!

  115. Please put me in the camera case for the drawing. Thanks.

  116. I reread your blog. Think about the colors and sounds of my favorite book as a child: The Wizard of Oz. I loved that book and watched the movie over and over and introduced it to each of my children and grandchildren. Everyone remembers "Follow the yellow brick road."

  117. Happy Birthday, Seekerville! It's great to read not only Susanne Lakin's great ideas for adding color to our novels, but all you other wonderful authors' suggestions!

  118. Happy Birthday!
    I look forward to the whole month of celebrating!

  119. Happy, Happy Birthday Seekerville!!!

  120. "Happy Birthday", Seekerville - thanks for all you do to benefit writers and readers, alike!! We appreciate you!!

    Thanks for the interesting post, C.S.!! As a reader, I certainly enjoy those books that are full of descriptive colors and sounds.

  121. Thanks for stopping by, Dana, Suzanne, Karen, Cheryl and Bonton.