Colorful Thoughts: Yellow!

Read the first two installments on purple and blue!

After exploring our rare colors it’s time to move on to a more common color: yellow.

Ah, yellow.  While nature’s favorite colors might be brown, green, and grey, there is no lack of love for yellow.  There are so many plants with yellow flowers, a list would take a while.  Some plants turn yellow when they are dying, and a multitude of trees have yellow foliage in the fall.  There are bright yellow birds, bright yellow fish, bright yellow frogs.  And when I say bright yellow, I’m not kidding.  Check out the prothonotary warbler or the yellow tang for some highlighter-yellow action.  Yellow dyes were common and frequently used in medieval Europe, thanks to all this yellowness found in nature.

With all this yellow going on, doesn’t that make it somewhat boring?  I mean, why would I ever dress a character in yellow or make a dragon yellow?  Easy.  Think about the last time you saw something natural that was yellow.  It was probably surrounded by brown, green, and/or grey, and that spot of yellow stood out.  It was bright, it caught your eye, and it was different from the things around it.  Imagine seeing that prothonotary warbler in the middle of a forest, and you can probably guess why birders who’ve seen it dozens of times are still happy to see it again.

Yellow is a way to make something stand out.  (Bright yellow reflective vests, anyone?)  Vivid yellow only blends in when everything around it is yellow.  This is not always a good thing!  (Think about a yellow dandelion in an otherwise perfect lawn of green, and you will understand.)  If you mark a character with yellow, you are making them something that fits in the surroundings but is somehow different from them at the same time.

While we’re on the subject of yellow, I want to touch briefly on two other variations of the color: gold and blonde.  Gold is a precious metal, and cloth of gold was reserved for royalty with serious money.  Gold was used as currency, so feel free to toss it around a bit, but remember that a solid gold coin was probably the equivalent to a $50 bill.  Not a lot of people had them in their pockets.  Gold jewelry is also an option, but unless it’s alloyed with other metals (which it usually is), it’s very soft and is easy to bend out of shape.

If you make a character blonde, keep in mind that there are modern-day stereotypes that your reader is going to place on your character.  These can manifest at either the “glamorous” end of the spectrum or the “lack of intelligence” end, and it’s up to you as an author to remember that people think this way.  It doesn’t mean your character has to act “blonde” if theyareblonde, but you need to develop them in such a way that the reader will move away from their subconscious reaction.  The yellow factor joins in here, too.  There aren’t many people who naturally stay blonde as they age, so an adult with blonde hair is going to stand out in most crowds.

Yellow is a good way to go if you want someone or something to stick out without being incredibly unusual, like blue or purple.