Sunday, September 25, 2011

Yellow tears and skies the color of milk

I love fall. I love the colors associated with it – the ruby leaves, the khaki colored soybean fields ready for harvest, the blue, blue sky set against the still emerald grasses. When I was a kid, I used to love keeping tabs on the big crabapple tree that stood outside my bedroom window. I watched it shift from its deep green robes of summer to the confetti celebration of fall before my very eyes.

Maybe this is why, as I’m reading Markus Zusak’s Prinz Honor book, The Book Thief, I’m falling in love a little bit with his use of color. Somewhere in my head, I’ve always known that writing about any of the senses – the experience of color included – grows flesh on writing. But Mr. Zusak’s colors don’t just build virtual flesh. His use of color changes tone. Punches you in the gut. Whispers secrets in your ear. Sneaks under your skin and raises the hair on your arms.

Mr. Zusak writes of yellow tears and skies the color of milk. He shows us “orange and red embers” that  “looked like rejected candy” after a horrible bonfire. Liesel, our heroine, sees the “skull-colored part” in Hitler’s hair at a rally. Even light illuminating a man’s deathbed is “gray and orange, the color of summer’s skin.”  

Here are some others:

“A star the color of mustard was smeared to the door.”

“Still, with red tongues and teeth, they walked down Himmel Street, happily searching the ground as they went. The day had been a great one and Nazi Germany was a wondrous place.”

“The book was hot and wet, blue and red – embarrassed – and Hans Hubermann opened it up.”

Have you found examples of color used to bring such power to writing? Do you consciously work on including color – and other sensory details – in your writing?

Think in emeralds and rubies, sapphires and brass today when you sit down to write. Color your sentences with the deep red of blood or the glow of orange from a jack-o-lantern’s eyes.

Or can you color other senses? Can the sting of a bee feel a certain color? Can the scent of mildewed and rotting leaves smell a certain color? What about the heat of the sun on the back of your neck or the sound of rain dripping against a cold window pane?

Write today. Write with all of your senses – and use the colors of fall as your inspiration.


  1. love love that book - it's brilliant. must look at it again for colors....

  2. Wow, I love the lines about red and orange embers the color of rejected candy. As a writer, who is also a visual artist, I use color a lot, and love it in the work of others, especially if it's done in a fresh way.

  3. Loved your post. And The Book Thief was one of the best books I read this year.

  4. love this post -- and your color descriptions are beautiful.

  5. Thanks, ladies! I love a fault. Another reason I'm learning from Mr. Zusak. His "description" is so interwoven into the narrative. Poetry, really. Plus...any writer who can use Death as a narrator deserves the Prinz, if you ask me.

  6. Love using color in new and fun ways. I just decided to use "hooker-lipstick red" as part of the description for something I'm writing, because I wanted to portray it as bright red but with a negative connotation.

  7. Lovely post! Would you submit this to my blog carnival? I'd love to promote it: