Yes, This Will Be On the Test

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Designing a Character: Using Color Schemes

Individual colors each have their own subjective emotional impact, but start putting them together and you can create dramatic, sympathetic, or powerful structures.  Assign your characters colors and then play with combining them into scenes to create discord, harmony, mystery, or chaos.   

Monochromatic – This is when you take a single color and add either black or white to it.  Think of it as the shadings of your character.  Your protagonist might start out their journey as a primary blue until the obstacles they face darken them into a more mysterious midnight shade.  On the other hand, a character may lose burdens and lighten into a powder or sky blue, moving closer to the white end of the spectrum.

Triads – Play colors like chords on the piano, three notes of different hues.  The color triad of red, yellow, and orange stimulates appetite.  Think about the color scheme of many fast food restaurants.  These three colors are also high value, suggesting energy and vitality.  I imagine three teen friends on an adventure when I think of this triad. (Probably all boys, stopping to eat often at fast food restaurants)

The triad black, white, and red radiates power, and may suggest villainy.  Picture the flag of Hitler’s Third Reich.  

Complimentary – Colors in opposite positions on the color wheel work against each other in dynamic harmony, red/green, orange/ blue, yellow/purple.  Complimentary schemes may signal conflict between characters.  Picture a romantic entanglement where opposites attract and join for an exciting relationship.

Analogous – Any neighboring colors on the color wheel – ex: purple/magenta/red or blue/turquoise/green.  You feel them fading in to one another and getting along.  An analogous scheme may signify the calm family life of a character before their quest/problem throws their life into turmoil.  At journey’s end analogous colors reflect the happy well-balanced land to which a hero returns in triumph after slaying literal or figurative dragons. 

Go check out Color Scheme Designer and play with color combos of your own.


  1. Very cool! Never thought of characters in terms of color (aside from their own favorite colors).

  2. This is such an AWESOME idea. Just like in costume design for example, the color of certain character's clothing can symbolize relationships and personality.

  3. how interesting! Thanks for sharing :-).

  4. Leslie, this so cool. And now I'm curious what color schemes you've assigned to your characters that I know and love.

  5. Okay, this is your coolest post yet. :D

  6. Thank you, everyone. I hope you all have as much fun messing around with color as I do.

  7. Never thought of it like this but it make plenty of sense now that you mention it!

  8. Leslie, I absolutely love the dynamics and perspective. Lisa Gail was right we definitely have similar perspectives. :-)

  9. This is SO COOL! Thank you for posting about this! My mind is already whirling with color schemes for my WIP :)

  10. Lydia - I have a blast combining my designer past with my writer present.

    PW - Nice to find a kindred spirit.

    Jess - Glad this got those creative juices whirling.

  11. I love color and this way of thinking makes a lot of sense. Although since a lot of my writing seems like it would work well for black and white movies, I also tend to think in shades of gray.

    Tossing It Out

  12. I love when an idea one doesn't normally associate with writing becomes an interesting part of it!
    Love your post, especially the examples you cited! I also enjoyed the comments and personal experiences with color/lack of color thinking.

    Our best,

    Julie & Father Tom
    Whisker Messages From a Church Cat

  13. What an interesting way to do someting! I love this!! It's great to get to know people and learn the different way things are tried out!

    I'm a new follower! Nice to meet you!

  14. Lee - I'm a huge fan of gray scale. Ansel Adams is one of my favorite photographers. His gray palette is so rich that I forget I'm not looking at the whole color spectrum.

    Father Tom - Welcome to the blog. It is fascinating what is routine for one is new to others.

    Jen - Welcome. Nice to meet you too.

  15. Wow, I'd not thought of my characters this way. Thanks for adding a whole other level to them:)

  16. My daughter is learning about color schemes in her art class, but I had never thought of applying it to the characters in my writing. Good idea. :)