I often help writers enrich their scripts; thinking about ways they can make their action descriptions more interesting and dynamic. It’s one of those tricky areas – you want it to be engaging and help the reader enjoy progressing through your story, but at the same time it’s not a creative writing contest and to-the-point descriptions are always a good thing.
I was in my favourite charity shop, browsing their excellent selection of books, and came across Patti Bellantoni’s “If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die”. It’s an exploration of how colour is used in films to elicit emotional reactions in the viewers, and to symbolise character changes and shifts in their journeys/emotional states.
It’s a fascinating read; particularly the foreword in which Patti explains the background of how she came to explore colour in film in depth. Through a series of experiments with her students, Patti discovered that colours aren’t straight forward in their interpretations. Red may be a colour of feelings of hotness and anger and power, but the taste of red – say, a strawberry – may be another colour entirely.
Anyhow, when it comes to scripts, colour doesn’t often factor unless it’s something crucial to the story. Detailing the colour of everyone’s clothes, or dictating the colour of sets and how the director should approach colour, would be seen as a bit of a no no as it steps into the territory of “directing” the script much like including camera instructions or parentheticals to show actors how to act would be deemed an interference into other creative roles.
However, writers can use colour creatively to help immerse the reader into the story. I remember at one of the London Screenwriters’ Festivals, Julie Gray talked about this in one of her seminars entitled “cinematic writing”. Subtly introducing colour through settings and descriptions can help create the right atmosphere for the script’s genre and tone.
Red gives off a sense of unease, so is a great choice for horror scripts. Consider the difference between, say, teens setting foot inside an abandoned house to find every room painted white, or lemon yellow, and the effect created if every room were painted blood red. Whites and pale yellows would create a different response in us than if we were confronted with rooms in which we were surrounded by unconventional red walls, and this simple, uncomfortable detail may be enough to suggest to the readers how the film might look; with the actors bathed in a red tone throughout their time in that house.
Of course, it might not always be this obvious. In Patti’s book, she describes the contrasts in Billy Elliot of yellows and blues; how Billy’s happiness when dancing are backdropped by yellow rays and how the family’s situation and mindsets are accompanied by cool blues. It can be really difficult trying to imagine how we might write these things into a script without encroaching on other creative roles; indeed, decisions like this may be made by the directors and not necessarily be indicated by the writer.
However, if you think about how we describe things in scripts, depending on the mood, you might begin to see how colour can be suggested in less direct ways than my example of painted walls. The weather, for example, and characters’ moods and behaviours, can paint different images. When it comes to describing locations and things like clothing, just remember not to go overboard. Small details can be powerful suggestions.
Think of it like an infatuation or a rumour; one small hint can be built into something bigger. Likewise, a small hint in a description could be the key to setting a certain tone or mood in the story, and by changing this as the story progresses you can suggest development and change, which may well reinforce your themes.
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