How to use color symbolism in writing examples

The use of colour in literature dates back to the earliest examples of literature, which includes the Bible. Writers throughout history have used colour to express emotions, introduce characters or to explain cultural differences. A modern writer who wishes to employ the use of colour in her writing should take heed of the lessons that the history of literature has provided in terms of use of colour in writing. By doing this, the writer will effectively establish the right tone in her work, because she's using a language of symbols that most people are familiar.

Denote culture through colour symbols. The meaning of colours in writing and literature changes depending upon the culture from which the works originate. Writers who use colours consciously in this way can challenge their readers to look at assumptions they make based on colour and what it means in their culture. For example, the colour red has different meaning in different cultures. In Western culture, red stands for passion or anger whereas in South African culture it symbolises mourning.

Utilise colour to convey a character's leitmotif. The term leitmotif comes from German literature and was originally a piece of music that was associated with a certain character in an opera or musical. However, the term has expanded to include other literary symbols like colour. For example, the colour green might always be associated with the villain in story, which alerts the reader that he's about to make an entrance.

Play with colour in metaphor. Writers often use colour to symbolise emotion in writing. Common ones include feeling blue, being green with envy or hating something with a purple passion. Using these symbols speaks to the reader in a language with which he is very familiar.

Create the setting of a story with colour. For example, certain colours were popular in certain time periods like the psychedelic colours of the '60s, the bold colours of the '80s or even the ancient colours found in the days of Cleopatra. Writers trying to establish the setting of a particular time period should research what colours were popular during that era so that their writing carries a feel of authenticity.

Indicate matters of the spirit with colour in literature. For example, colours had religious meaning in the Bible; they functioned as a type of spiritual shorthand. Modern religious writers can mimic this by using colours like blue to describe the Holy Spirit, black to symbolise death or red to symbolise atonement and sacrifice.

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About the Author

Buffy Naillon has worked in the media industry since 1999, contributing to Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine and various websites. She received a bachelor's degree in German from Boise State University. Naillon also attended New York University and participated in the foreign exchange program at Germany's Saarland University. She is completing her master's degree in educational technology at Boise State.