Thinking in Colours


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When I’m writing I think in colours. Every character, every scene, every plot twist is represented in my mind in shades which find their way out of my sub-conscious and into my fully conscious creative mind. I didn’t realise I did this when I was writing book 1: it struck me when I started book 2 and realised that the colours in my mind, which were influencing the tone and the look and the feel of the story were altogether different.

‘Dancing Through Fire’, set pre-dominantly in Mallorca, is all the colours of warmth: hot pinks and tangerine oranges, deep raspberry reds and golden yellows. They are colours which are weaved through the book along with cobalt blues and emerald greens, all rich, vibrant, life affirming colours. When I look back on my time writing ‘Dancing Through Fire’, I realise how much of it was spent visualising; bringing to mind the details of eyes, flowers, sunsets, oceans, food, clothes and skies. I could not write the scenes in my head until I saw them in colour – every last detail. It wasn’t that I described every last detail, I just needed to know it and see it before I could start to put it on paper. Take the following extract, a key moment in a reunion which, despite being filled with emotion, could have been flat and lifeless had I not brought it to life with the colours I saw as I wrote it in my head.

“And I can’t quite believe it, that she’s here at my table again like she never left, like it isn’t twelve long years since we last did this. It makes me feel as if I have reawakened, as if everything around me has suddenly come to life again….Even the hibiscus flowers around my garden have opened wider than I think I have ever seen them before and they are straining upwards like mini satellites searching for the sun and absorbing it into their buttery yellow petals and flame orange hearts. There is miracle in the way they respond to the heat, their tips translucent gold against the clear turquoise sky. At nights they will bow their heads ready to sleep, wrapping petals like satin shawls around themselves and I will marvel all over again at how clever they are. They are mesmerising today, in this heat and in this company.”
(‘Dancing Through Fire’, by Catherine Alexandra)

Book 2 is all neutrals; pale gold, light caramel, soft grey, dusky blue, sea green…. The setting is different (East coast Scotland) and so the weather and the environment is going to naturally be cooler but the colours aren’t just about that; they’re as much about the characters and how I see them. They walk in these colours; they breathe and love and fight and restore each other in a haze of soft, pale, muted tones. It’s hard to explain, but if I didn’t see them in colours so vividly in my imagination I do not think I could bring them to life on the page. These colours carry their experiences and emotions, everything about their lives as they shift from silvery grey dusks to gunmetal grey storms, baby blue skies to inky black nights. Each scene, each plot twist, each conversation is imagined in shades of a palette which colours the entire book.

I’ve come to realise that for me, as a writer, a mind without colour is unthinkable. I’ve often been asked what I think comes first: plot or characters. I’ve deliberated long and hard on this one and in doing so missed the obvious: it’s neither. Colours come first, for me anyway. I usually have an idea in mind, but what I see, or even feel first, are the colours which will eventually blend with words to bring life to new characters and their stories. Now that I have realised I do this, and can do it in full creative consciousness, my writing experience is all the richer. If you haven’t thought about writing this way, give it a go. It might change how your see everything; how you imagine and create and produce. It might also, as I have found, enrich how you see the world around you as you actively seek to find the colours in everyday life.

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