Dec 13 2010

Colors of the Desert

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I admit that I’m not adept at artistic interpretation (a few trips through the Phoenix Art Museum made that fact abundantly clear, as did my undergrad interpretations of Romantic Era poetry).

But when I saw this rock in the Tucson Mountains, it reminded me of a watercolor painting. I’m not too far off, am I? I was drawn to the turquoise, rust and golden hues. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind enlarging this photo and hanging it on my wall (it’s prettier when you click and zoom below).

This iron-rich, magnetic basalt was photographed in Arizona's Tucson Mountains at the Sus Picnic Area – the site of a geologic resurgent dome. Click to enlarge.

Looking beyond the colors of this rock reveals even more meaning. What you’re seeing is solidified lava (basalt), colored by hydrothermal reactions – i.e. the trickling of water through hot rocks to create fluids rich in copper (the blue-greens) and iron and manganese (red-oranges). The final product: this beautiful patina, visible only years later, when the top rock layers of limestone and granite eroded away from the basalt.

For Writers: If you were to assign a “color” to your novel, what would you choose? Like the rock above, colors have more depth beneath their shiny surfaces. They’re much more than today’s technologically driven hex definitions, the print world’s Pantone Matching System codes, and the primary and secondary color wheels of our youth. They’re symbolic and powerful and can evoke emotion.

To help you decide the color of your novel, I’ve included, below, a few symbolic interpretations (you can see more color interpretations here). But keep in mind, colors have different meanings in different cultures, as noted on

Color Meanings & Interpretations:

  • Red: anger, excitement, energy, passion, love, desire, strength, power, heat, aggression, danger, fire, violence, all things intense and passionate.
  • Blue: Peace, tranquility, cold, calm, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, confidence, conservatism, security, cleanliness, order, loyalty, depression.
  • Yellow: Joy, happiness, betrayal, optimism, idealism, imagination, hope, sunshine, summer, jealousy, covetousness, deceit, illness, hazard.
  • Green: Nature, environment, healthy, good luck, renewal, youth, spring, generosity, fertility, jealousy, inexperience, envy, misfortune, vigor.

Does the overall feel of your novel shout a single color, or does it metamorphose like the basalt above, based on the changing moods and plot twists in your story? And what about the use of color as a symbol in your novel? In what ways have you applied color – to your setting, to character moods, to objects? What other ways might you incorporate color into your WIP?

For the record: My current work in progress would follow a black-red-green-blue progression … not too dissimilar to the iron-rich basalt pictured above.

9 Responses to “Colors of the Desert”

  • M. McGriff Says:

    What a cool find! Those colors are gorgeous! I like finding things like that in nature. It’s a reminder of just how beautiful (and mysterious)the environment is!

    My novel on the surface would be a bold red color because the actions, storyline, and the main character is very intense and passionate. Once you get past the red you will see the blues and yellows. Red and yellow are very significant in my WIP.


    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Couldn’t agree with you more about the mystery surrounding nature. And how great that you know your novel well enough to assign colors to it!


  • Julie Johnson Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I love the picture of the rock and the idea of approaching my novel from an “emotional color” perspective.

    The over all color would be yellow, I think, with red and blue thrown in. I’m also going to go back over my WIP and see how I’ve used color to represent my characters (I know one of them wears gray a lot). I think I’ve probably assigned colors intuitively, not consciously. I would like to be more aware and deliberate of its use.

    Thanks for the tip!


    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I do think we have an intuitive sense when it comes to colors. But always fun to analyze and look at new ways to make our writing come to life!


  • Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Hi Melissa, you have me stumped.. as I won’t be able to tell you the single color of my WIP: its a mismash of several colors, depending on my Protagonist’s mood and her emotional state.

    The overall color would be purple: for self confidence and determination to achieve her goal. Its also the color my MC chooses for her Secret Society Members. They have to wear something purple.

    Great Post! Its making me think hard to see if more colors fall into my WIP. 🙂


  • e.lee Says:

    A very insightful post- I suppose sci-fi and fantasy novels are silver, blue, green and purple (no reference to the sort of prose intended…haha)


  • K Says:

    Although I am not a novelist, I do write a journal for myself. I typically think of people as coming in different colors. Often they do change colors but I find it interesting that the association is even there at all. This is a great thing to think about. Thanks


  • Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I love this! I’m going with a blue/green theme for my WIP… blue because of the ocean color, but also because there’s a coldness about the relationships and a touch of depression… green because there’s much wandering in nature and the environment with renewal but also tinged with misfortune and youth. I love the idea of incorporating color in my WIP, and you’ve given me some great ideas for my current draft in edit! Thank you!


    Melissa Reply:

    Oh BOY, Julia. I really, really, really can’t wait to read your novel now. The general description you’ve painted sounds terrific! This kind of novel is right up my alley – a mix of emotion and intrigue … and NATURE! I can ‘see’ the color of your book already!


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