They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Give me a thousand words, and I’ll paint you a picture. You see, I am a writer. Every word is a color on my palette; the blank page is my canvas.
Now mind you, some things are easier to paint then others. I can paint a scene with an azure blue sky, a shining yellow sun, and white cumulus clouds looking down on the indigo and turquoise of the ocean surrounding the pink sands, green trees, and brown huts of a Pacific atoll, or I can shroud the granite gray castle walls in an enveloping white-gray fog, draining the scene of life.
And I can paint furniture and clothes, cars and horses, hair and eyes.
But painting eyes—now we come to an interesting problem. I can paint Frank Sinatra blue eyes or Elizabeth Taylor violet eyes, but I can’t paint Bette Davis eyes—eyes that are the window of the soul. How do I paint a character with a black soul or one green with envy? Not with purple prose. And not with the verbal painter’s paint-by-number set—not with “telling.” No, I “show” the evil growing; I paint the power of sin taking root, of slowly twisting tendrils winding their way into the human heart.
But how? I color the characters’ world with sufficient shading and perspective that you see them changing before your mind’s eye. If you look closely, you’ll still see the narrator in the shadows, but your attention will be drawn to the characters. I won’t tell you that Sam is feeling blue, but you’ll see the hanging head, hear the sigh, almost feel the drizzling rain as he leaves the house to walk and sulk for no reason other than because the weather matches his mood. I won’t tell you Ruth is excited, even giddy, over her promotion, but you’ll see her paint the town red. You’ll hear the banter between Ruth and her friends as they hop from bar to bar. You’ll watch as too much alcohol is consumed. You’ll cringe as sexual advances are accepted. I won’t tell you Stanley has a yellow stripe down the middle of his back, but you’ll hear his wife’s scathing diatribes, his boss’s unethical demands, his neighbor’s bullying threats against Stanley’s children and dog; you’ll hear Stanley’s braggadocio over lunch with his one good friend and see him rehearse his defiant speeches in front of the mirror; but then you’ll see his wilting, milquetoast responses every time his wife, boss, and neighbor read him the riot act.
Now when you look at my picture, notice the people. You’ll see there’s something missing. That’s hard to paint. How do I paint what’s not there? How do I paint the God-shaped void? Well, I paint what the characters use to try to fill the void. It might be the light blue of sloth, the purple of pride, the green of envy, the red of anger, the blue of lust, the yellow of greed, or the orange of gluttony.
Or I might just use the more generic scarlet of sin. But be aware when you look at my pictures: there are different rules for combining colors when painting with words, just like there are different rules when combining colors with paint and when combining colors with light. For example, with paint, the primary colors are cyan, magenta, and yellow; with light, the primary colors are red, green, and blue. With paint, when you add the primary colors, you get black; with light, when you add the primary colors, you get white. But with words, the most important rule is that when you add the scarlet of Jesus’ blood to the scarlet of sin, you get the white of redemption.
So be careful not to misinterpret my word colors. Look for hints from my context colors. Look for the brown of the groundwork. Try to find the reds and orange of the rising conflict mixed with the deepening grays moving towards black as the protagonist descends into the dark night of the soul. The reds and oranges will give way to the flash of white at the climax. And don’t forget the blues and greens of the anti-climax.
And just to make things more intriguing, I may add a bit of color as symbolism. It could be the scarlet of a letter or Great Gatsby green or the white of a whale.
So you can have your picture. I’ll take my thousand words. You see, I am a writer.