Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pushing the Colors of Writing

All art forms have similarities and artists in one art form can learn from artists in another. In the visual art forms, there is a phrase that is used, “push the colors.” It can mean different things, but if often implies boosting the saturation of the colors in an image to make it more vibrant. The colors in an image that might have been dull and gray will pop, making the image look clean and fresh. Pushing the colors can help the artist highlight his vision, but if we push up the saturation too much, the image will appear surreal.

In writing fiction, there are ways to “push the colors” as well. Because it is fiction, we don’t have to worry as much about overdoing it as we might if we are writing non-fiction. One thing we can do is to deepen the contrast between good and evil. In real life, people are neither totally good or totally bad. We tend to sit in this mush of mediocrity. We might have a story in which a CEO is laying off employees. Rather can making it because sales are down, we can bump up the contrast and have him do it because his father owned this business and he hates his father. It can become almost surreal, but it also becomes interesting to consider how an employee might save his job when the CEO wants nothing more than the total destruction of his father’s dream.

Along that same line, we can push the conflict between social status. It really isn’t that interesting to see two kings fighting over land or two beggars fighting over bread. What if we have a king fighting with a beggar for bread? That becomes interesting because a king should never have to beg for food.

Just putting a king in a story is one way to push the colors of our writing. Even though we know that democracy is more consistently a better form of government than a monarchy, having a royal family triggers the imagination. I think it is the symbolism that does it. The royal family is the symbol of the greatest wealth and the greatest power that is obtainable. We love to consider what life would be like if we didn’t have to answer to anyone.

The words we use also serve to push the colors of our writing. We could say, “He slammed his fist on the table.” Or “He hit the table.” They could both describe the same scene, but the first version has more impact. Now, what if we said, “He slammed his fist softly on the table.” One little word takes the punch right out of the statement. Consider, “He slammed his fist hard, but not very hard on the table.” Once more, the impact is gone. Adjectives and adverbs serve to fine-tune the meaning of statements. We need them, but removing them adds impact to the statements.