Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Color Do You Want Your Story To Be?

So, awhile back the FNC had their very first-ever write-in, where we gathered for a lot of food, a lot of laughing, and a little bit of writing and critiquing. Something that came up during the critique session was a fun little metaphor that I'm going to share with you, because I think it's something that every writer can find useful.

The metaphor begins with the question: what color do you want your story to be?

First, you need to imagine your novel (or picture book or board book or easy reader or short story) is a bowl of clear water.

Got your bowl? Awesome.

Now, think about the elements of your story. Is there romance? Adventure? Angst? Mystery? Is your WIP a comedy, a tragedy, a paranormal romance, a fantasy, a sci-fi, contemporary, urban, etc?

Once you have the big elements of your story settled, assign them each a color. For this example, I will make up an adventurous comedic fantasy that I will call All the Little Unicorns. (No comments. It's my story, after all!)

So, Little Unicorns is adventure, comedy and fantasy. I'm going to make adventure blue, comedy green, and fantasy red.

I put a drop of each color in the bowl.

Now, in real life I would've just created weird brown-ish water. But in writing life, what I've done is made a bowl that's equal parts three colors. Lovely and balanced.

Next, I'm going to think about the characters of my story. What kind of people (or unicorns) are they? What are the character traits? What makes up their personality?

Once you have that information in front of you, wash, rinse, and repeat.

Let's imagine my MC is a girl name Lovelia (like I said, MY STORY.) Lovelia is always cracking jokes, so I put in a drop of green. She's also the heroine in my story, so a drop of blue for her adventurous spirit. She also reads minds and can move objects without touching them and grows wings in chapter 37 and her half-brother is an elf. So that's--let's count--4 drops of red for all my fanstatic elements.

Taking a second look at my bowl, I'm noticing that things are looking pretty red right now. I've got a lot of fantasy, and all those red drops look like they might be bullying my adventuring blue and laughing-out-loud green.

But that's okay. Let's keep going, because I still had more drops to add.

I've thought about the genre and my characters, but of course, I still need to add in the plot.

So. Plot.

For me, the plot of All the Little Unicorns is that Lovelia journeys across a magical land to rescue the baby unicorns that have been stolen by an Evil Lord because the unicorns bring laughter and joy to the land, and without them everything is boring and grey. In my head, I imagine it to be a fast-paced, funny read with a sweet sword fight or two stuck in for good measure. BUT, I'm not doing this based on the story in my head, but by the story on the page. So I check out my book.

It turns out that I haven't written a joke in fifty pages, and there's only been one sword fight. But I have had her read the minds of four different people and move a dragon over a bridge with her mind, and enter a dancing competition with some drunken elves she met along the way, plus she's got this mega crush on this character I didn't intend on writing.

So now I add one drop for comedy (one and a half, maybe, those drunken elves are pretty sweet), one drop for my sword fight, and 3 drops for fantasy. Plus, now I need to pull out the yellow and add a drop for romance--something I didn't even consider when I started writing Little Unicorns.

I'm going to stop here, because my bowl of water is getting pretty full. Let's check my final count. Remember, I started out balanced--1 blue, 1 green, 1 red.

But I ended...
--3 drops adventure
--3.5 drops comedy
--8 drops fantasy
--1 drop romance.

Hmm. So that story I had in my head, the comedy/fantasy/adventure I was imagining had come across so beautifully on the page? Turns out it's totally unbalanced. I've gotten out of hand with the fantastic elements and ignored the other parts of my story that felt really important in the beginning. Plus, I've started adding concepts I didn't even want in the first place, like romance.

So what does this all mean? Do I hold down the delete key for 200 pages and start over? Or take a chainsaw to my WIP and carve out all those drunken elves and dragons and mind-reading sequences?

Not necessarily. But it does mean I need to take a good hard look at what's going on in my story. Ideas evolve. I know that one well--when I started my WIP my main character was 12, lived on a farm, and wanted to go to a finishing school for noble ladies. Now, she's 17, and finding out she's the key figure in a rebellion against an evil King. A little bit different, right? Right. And that's okay, as long as I keep the balance going. It can't just be about the evil King, just like it can't just be just about the mind reading.

This color trick can also work on a smaller scale--maybe you have a chapter that's not working, or a character that feels flat for some reason.

What color do you want YOUR story to be?


  1. I love this use of color metaphors to symbolize balance. I'm super color based, and I also have balance issues. My water often does turn brown. Thank you for this great tool!

  2. This is a great exercise. I will take a good look at my story and figure out my color.
    Great post!

  3. Neat way of looking at things! What a creative thought... thanks for the post. :)

  4. What a great and unique way of looking at a story! I am all about ensuring there's balance in my story, and this idea creates such vivid images.

    I've got an upcoming blog post about balance, I'm going to link to your post. It's awesome!

  5. Wow. I love this image!

    I know I want my story balanced--it needs to be, with its subject matter--but I'll have to sit down and figure it out. Maybe I could give each scene "points" for points with positive vs. negative emotion.

    I don't think I'll use your color metaphor when looking at my story, but I'll definitely be pulling some evaluation ideas from that.


  6. Charlie--no problem! It's definitely been helpful for me.

    Christine--Thanks! As one who often writes and then doubles back and rewrites, it's certainly a useful thing for me to keep in the back of my mind.

    Guinevere--You're welcome! Hopefully it will be useful :)

    Tabitha--Thanks for the heads-up and the linking!

    Carradee--The points system sounds like a really good idea. That's useful, because if there IS something that you want to stand out more than the others, you can award it more points for using it consistently.


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