Writers spend lots of time playing with words in order to help readers see what we see in our mind’s eye – and to avoid using the same word over and over again to describe something. Take the word blue, for instance.
The first decision is – which shade of blue? Just trot on down to your local paint store and you begin to understand the dilemma. Are we talking about a light range – like powder blue – or a deeper shade – like a midnight blue in the chart below? (And I must admit that the navy and midnight blues look a lot the same to me.)
To compound the problem, blue often invites its color friends over to play. On one end of the spectrum when tinged with red, blue fades into purple (see Indigo). At the other end of the spectrum when tinged with yellow, blue transitions to green (see Teal).
The reason this is important is that we all have preconceived notions about what the things described look like. If I describe the blue as looking like the sea, which image below comes to mind? The more cyan blue of the image on the right or the more steel blue of the one on the left?
Since most works of fiction don’t include pictures, I have to find a way to trigger an image in your mind of the scene I’ve invited you to join. If I tell you the water is the deep blue of the pacific, chances are you’ll think of something like the photo on the left. If I tell you the water is the clear blue of the Mediterranean, you’ll probably envision something like the image on the right.
The reason I started thinking about this is that one of the heroes in one of my books had blue eyes – more the light blue of a robin’s egg or a soft summer sky – but because it’s boring (to both me and the reader) to keep using the phrase 'light blue eyes,' I wanted to use another descriptor. I went with 'topaz eyes' because in my experience, topaz is a light blue. Apparently, not so to everyone. One of my beta readers made a note in her copy, “I thought his eyes were blue?” In her experience, topaz fell into the honey category.