Colorful Thoughts: Purple!

My friends over at Interpretation By Design have a fun series they call “Get to Know a Color!” in which they discuss colors as they are used in design.  They talk about the references that colors may have for people, as well as how people will react to the color when it is used in logos and graphics.

As a nod to them, I’d like to talk about colors as well.  However, we’re going to look at them from an author’s point of view,  in the context of how they are used in writing.  Of course, as a fantasy author, I’m going to focus on fantasy.  And I want to start with purple, because in fantasy, it’s easy.

Purple is fairly rare in nature.  I know, you started thinking about flowers like lilacs, lavender, etc.  I’m not talking about those purpley-pastel shades.  I am thinking about vivid, intense purple.  When is the last time you saw a shockingly bright purple on a hike, other than on another hiker?  Exactly.  That kind of purple is rare.

Violets are truly purple.  A few birds have purple feathers, although the color is almost entirely structural rather than pigmentation.  (This means that it is created using an optical illusion, based on the way light reflects off the feather, and that the material of the feather is not actually purple.)  There are a few gemstones, like amethyst, that are purple, but again, this is usually a bit paler purple.

All of this means one thing for your writing – purple is unusual.  When you use it in your fantasy, it is likely to stand out.

For example, how about purple eyes?  When is the last time you saw someone with naturally purple eyes?  Probably not ever – it’s not a pigment commonly created by the human body.  This means if you give a character purple or violet eyes, you are immediately marking them as unusual.  Give purple eyes to an entire race of beings, and you’ve singled their species out from the crowd.

This rarity in nature also means that it was a very uncommon and difficult to obtain color in pre-industrial times.  This is why the color is considered “royal” or “mystical” – it was reserved for those who could afford the very steep price of the dye, or those who could create it.  If you are writing fantasy that parallels human history, keep this in mind.  Don’t dress your characters in purple, unless you want them to carry one or both of these traits.

Of course, one area where you can splash the world with purple is in the realm of magical creatures.  A purple dragon?  Why not?  Purple-skinned fairies?  Sure!  Mermaids with purple hair?  Go ahead!  Again, this ties in to the whole “rare in nature” concept.  These are not natural beings, at least, not in our world.  Coloring them purple means that you are marking them as unusual and magical.

Aren’t you glad there’s yet another thing to think about as you’re writing? 🙂  What color should we talk about next?