Sunday, February 10, 2013

Purple Potatoes: Art of “Color-words”

Have you ever seen purple potatoes? I haven't. Do they taste like grapes? Maybe they taste like that purple lettuce in fancy salads. Yuck!  Lord, I hope they don’t taste like eggplant.

Purple food caught my attention recently for a story I am writing when I was building a scene, so I did some research. Did you know there are sixteen common plant foods that are naturally called purple? Surprised me.

I had never heard of purple asparagus or purple carrots. Of course, I would never eat asparagus, so that’s no surprise, but I do enjoy raw carrots and would probably try out the purple variety if given the opportunity.
"Blue" berries are purple? Who knew?
It was quite eye opening when I searched for purple natural foods. Some of the fruits and veggies classified as purple, don't make sense to me. They seem misnamed. Blueberries, for instance, fall under the “purple” label. Huh? Then why are they called “blue” berries? Same thing for “black” berries. Since when is black the new purple?

You're probably wondering about all this talk of purple food. How does it relate to writing?

Color. This blog is about what I call “color-words.” Not "color" as in color charts, rather, the expression “color-words” refers to single words or expressions that convey instant images, emotions or actions. They color the story. As we know, writers use words to paint scenes and stimulate emotional responses in readers. How do we, writers, maximize the power of such words? Consider the following scene…

Lisa parked her car and entered my apartment without knocking. I looked at her, surprised that she would assume such familiarity after I ended our relationship last night. She walked toward me with a mechanical gait and a blank stare. Her hand, hidden behind her back, worried me. As I stood up, she pulled a black, nine-millimeter handgun from behind her and raised it. I ran down the hall toward my bedroom weaving to be a difficult target. I saw small chalk explosions with each bullet impact in the sheetrock near me. My bedroom window shattered as my palm slammed into it, but before I could climb out, she called me a bastard and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked. It was out of ammo.
note: 26 pronouns and first-person, possessive adjectives in the scene. 125 words

What would happen if we put “color-words” (those creating an instant mental image, emotion or action) as the first words the reader experiences in some or most of the sentences?

Lisa parked her car and entered my apartment without knocking. Surprise brought me to my feet. Relationship talks in the last week ended just last night in a permanent split. Mechanical strides, a blank stare and one hand hidden behind her back gave ample warning. Sinister black lines of a nine-millimeter handgun suddenly rose toward me. I ran. Weaving down the hall toward the bedroom, small chalk explosions traced my erratic trail as bullets impacted sheetrock. My palm shattered the bedroom window, but before I could climb out, she called me a bastard and pulled the trigger. Click. The gun was out of bullets.

note: only 12 pronouns and first-person, possessive adjectives in the scene. 104 words

The second version of the same scene generates more imagery, higher tension and greater relief in the end with fewer words. It accomplishes this reader impact by employing “color-words” to lead off most sentences. Compare the first word of each sentence in the paragraphs.
Paragraph 1:  Lisa, I, She, Her, As, I, I, My, The, It.  (Pretty boring, huh?)

Paragraph 2:  Lisa, Surprise, Relationship, Mechanical, Sinister, Weaving, My, Click, The.  (Much better, and fewer words.)
Remember the term, "Color-words"
Create impact by opening sentences with color-words whenever possible. Sure, I overdid it in the second example above to make a point, but, just as one might add visual appeal to a meal by using purple lettuce or purple potatoes, do the same in writing by positioning those color-words for strong effect. Start the reader with an image, action or emotion in most paragraphs or sentences. From the first word, the goal is to build excitement, anticipation and connection with the reader.

Make those first words count!


  1. Great blog Dean! I was sitting here frustrated with my own writing and clicked over to FB where I saw your post. This was exactly what I needed to read tonight. You really made me think about how I use words. I now feel inspired to go back and write. Thanks for that! Oh and by the way....I've had purple potatoes and honestly cant tell a difference in taste to the brown ones.

    1. Hi Carrie. My writing blogs are meant to stimulate thought and encourage fellow writers to explore our art. For me, writing is an ever-expanding canvas in which I test ideas and push limits. I am deeply humbled that my musings brought you some measure of excitement and motivation.

      Thank you for taking time to comment...Dean

  2. Dean, great blog. I strive to write in "color-words," however, I never really knew that term existed. Thanks for the lesson.

    Excerpt from my novel, Mercy Me:

    "It’s a breezy Saturday afternoon, and the bookstore is surprisingly active. People order coffee or grab a book, and eventually engage in boring chatter; silly, pathetic people. I sit and wait while restraint from an urge to scream at these drones exhausts me."

    What do you think, oh master?

    1. Hi Lisa. Perhaps it is a bit assuming of me, but the expression "color-words" and the concept that goes with it are simply my own creations to help me clarify this subject. I'm sure some editor or creative writing coach has addressed this matter before, but I never found such advice, so I created my own way to illustrate and explain it. I hope it makes sense to you.

      As far as your posted excerpt, I am sending you a private note with my suggestions. I don't make critiques public as they are nothing more than one person's opinion and should not be confused with statements of fact.

      Thank you so much for your comments and support...Dean

  3. Dean,

    I really enjoyed your blog and this was very helpful to me as an aspiring writer. I really am grateful for this post and your advice. This was very insightful and made my day.


    1. Sylvia, I am so happy you found value in this blog. That's why I share my perspectives on writing. I don't claim to always be right, I merely hope to stimulate thought and open fellow writers' minds to new possibilities.

      Thank you for commenting...Dean

  4. Dean i loved this was a very interesting never thought of words as color words. I can see in just this i will enjoy learning form you. Thanks!


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