Colorful Thoughts: Red!

Just joining us?  We’ve already hit purple, blue, and yellow.

Red is the color of fire, blood, and passion!    There are so many connotations with red, they sometimes even contradict.  Love is red, but so is hate.  Anger is red, but so is lust.  Before we delve into the writing implications of red, let’s look at red in nature.

Red shows up from time to time in nature.  You can probably think of a naturally-occurring red rock, or red bird, or red flower.  There is even a red planet, although it could be argued to be more orange than red.  Like yellow, red stands out from its background, and even in nature this is used to an advantage.  Flowers that are pollinated by hummingbirds tend to be red, to catch the attention of the birds.  Red-winged blackbirds only flash their red feathers during territorial or mating displays.   Red can even be a warning coloration – snakes, frogs, and insects display bright red as a way to let their potential predators know that they have venom, poison, or something equally as nasty.  Whereas yellow was simply a lovely bright spot in an environment, red is a neon sign trying to get your attention.  (There’s a reason stop signs and stop lights are red.)

Now that we know red is a way to get your attention, let’s move to the writing part.  Clearly, red can be used the same way in your writing, to catch the reader’s notice.  Pairing red clothing with a cool demeanor is an interesting juxtaposition that can make a character more intriguing.  As far as magic goes, you’ll see red used a lot.  Blood is often used symbolically, in many different contexts, and blood is red.  When it comes to the four elements, fire and red are the most easily linked.  Red robes on a magic user or red traits (like eyes) on a magic being will give the reader a feeling of blood, fire, and passion.  Just be careful to clarify your usage with the rest of your character development.  With the contradictions that red brings, you can create different impressions in different readers, depending on how they interpret the color.