Monday, July 5, 2010

Color Wheel Characters

Did you get your fill of red, white & blue this weekend? If not, I’m going to discuss the trio, in addition to an entire color wheel of hues. I’ve noticed more and more lately authors are getting gutsy with increasing POV’s. I enjoy reading a book fashioned with several strong voices…that is if it’s done right.

Today I’d like to share the importance of making color wheel characters. Do colors blend into one another on a color wheel? Nope. In nature, absolutely. When painting, sure. But when you look at a primary color wheel one thing you’ll notice is the separation of one color from the next. They are distinct. You can tell which color is which.

This is imperative to accomplish as you write characters. Few things can be more frustrating than reading and experiencing confusion about which character you are reading about.

Even when you’re not writing in multiple POV’s, but are hoping to delineate one character from the next it’s essential to pay attention to the behavior, quirks and defense mechanisms of each character you write. Do you have a hot-headed red character quick to spit angry words? Or how about a cool-tempered blue one, slow to speak, a lip-licking wise soul? Do you have a feisty orange or a mellow yellow? There are so many ways to have fun with individualizing the people in your neighborhood (scratch that—I mean novel).

Perception is one of my favorite modes of tackling this. Take one instance and play with how each of your characters would respond. How would they perceive the event? For example: A player in the World Cup match wrongly receives a red card.

Does one character get up from the couch, arm flailing, swears flying while another sits cross-armed, hmphing while shaking their head? Does one insist, “He deserved it” while another starts to cry? Is one character sleeping, missing all the action? Are you aware why they react the way they do?

Can you calculate how your characters would respond to that?

Off the top of my head I can think of three books that handle multiple POV’s with skill.

The Help. The Poisonwood Bible. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons.

As a reader, do you enjoy when you can easily tell the characters apart? What books do this well?

If you’re a writer, what are some ways you like to Skittle your characters?
*photos by flickr
**check out my articles in
Exemplify and Sage this month


  1. Good look at making "colorful" characters. :O)

  2. I really like to be able to clearly tell the characters apart-- just read a book about a lot of church characters driving a pastor's wife nuts and the author had done a nice job describing them so that they didn't all blend as one.

  3. My most recent work has three POVs. I like books with strong narrators, the more the better, to get the inside view. I'll be thinking about the color wheel. Excellent topic, Wendy.

  4. Skittle your characters--I like that. :)

    I really liked the way Judy Blume handled different POVs in SUMMER SISTERS. Almost every chapter was devoted to a different character even though she still had one MC. I've never seen it done like that from anyone.

  5. Excellent post! Yes, I need to be able to tell characters apart because I don't pay attention to visuals, in life or in writing. So I really need their personalities to bounce off the page.

  6. What a fantastic illustration!! Nothing annoys me more in a book than having the characters sound and feel the same... within the same book, or from book to book with the same author.

    I read a book with multiple POVs not too long ago where the publisher published each POV with a different font. It was necessary because I couldn't otherwise tell who was talking. That was poorly done characterization!

  7. Nice post! I'm tweeting this one, Wendy. :)

  8. I love the way you compare this to a color wheel. I think creating characters that are individuals unto themselves is essential for multiple POVs and even regular stories. It adds a whole new dimension of realness and makes for a stronger story. Love this!

  9. I read A long way down by Nick Hornby which is a lot of different POV's and really liked it. I think when I first started writing, I was better at making my secondary characters stand out. I'm hoping with my newest project, my main characters stand out.

  10. I'm writing my first multiple POV novel (I know I'm slow) 3 POV's to be exact. 2 men and one woman. It's amazing at how challenging this task is! It's much harder to transition from one to the other in the same day. I think that's why it's taking much longer to write this novel.

  11. Wow, this is some excellent post, Wendy! You know I love colors--to compare them to characters is genius on your part.

    I thought the author of The Help did a tremendous job of dilineating her characters.
    And I'm reading one now by Tammy Barley, Hope's Promise, that is a great example of Skittling characters.

    BTW, How long did it take you to make all those letters different colors? You are patient.


  12. Very good analogy! One of my characters is morphing as I write her, which is not as desirable as it may sound. It's one thing to have a character arc, but I need some fixed points to anchor the arc! Sigh. Right now, I'm leaving those early chapters until the next edit.

  13. I love distinct characters. I think that's why I become attached to a novel. I read for the characters, more than anything else.

    (BTW, sent you an email on the post. Did you get it? Do you want something different?)

  14. Hi Wendy -

    Your exercise with the sporting event piqued my interest. I'm going to put my characters through their paces. All of my books have multiple POV's.

    Susan :)

  15. The characters in Poisonwood Bible were amazing. A class I took, had us get into a conversation with our characters, writing down what they would say to us and each other. Eye opening.

  16. Wendy:
    Good thought,I haven't tried multiple POVs, yet.

  17. I've done the multiple POV and yes, yes, yes, great examples.

    I'd add ONE--My Sister's Keeper by Piccoult.
    If my memory didn't explode with all of last night's celebrations, she managed SEVEN POV in one book. Brilliantly!

  18. Diane, It keeps life playful.

    Terri, The church really is full of characters, eh? ;)

    Thanks, Kathy. I'm curious if you are writing all female POV's. I'm chomping at the bid wanting to write from a male POV...just to test the waters.

    Jennifer, I'm clapping for Judy Blume. Her name brings up so many fond memories. I must. I must. I must. Oh nevermind.

    Jessica, Loved the image of bouncing personalities. Reminded me of a romper room or sumo wrestling. Is that wrong? Probably.

    Heidi, I've seen the famous font trick before too. It helps, but I agree, the personalities should shine their colors bright on their own.

    Elizabeth, I'm honored to be tweeted by the tweeting queen! :D Thanks.

    Danyelle, It also shows the integrity of an author--how well they know their characters or it they are writing stiff.

    Patti, Great goal. Let those MC's sparkle! I'll have to check that book out. I'm big on ordering something b/c someone else mentioned it.

    T.Anne, I notice on other blog comments you and I adore the same authors. That doesn't surprise me at all. I want to know more, MORE about writing a male POV. Must know more.

    Jeanette, Will check into that one. I still wonder about Minny--hope she's okay. That's the power of a good book. And the colors--it took 6.4 seconds. Yes, I am a patient one. :D :D

    Rosslyn, I'm all about character change, but I get you on the abundance of change. Editing is at least becoming more enjoyable for me. Yeah for that.

    Cassandra, We're on for Wed. BEAUTIFUL. You brought it and made me proud. I heart characters too!

    Susan, I think I got it when my husband and I watched the shoot out the other day. I felt so sad for the men crying and he was like, "Okay, let's go eat." Our personalities jumped out big time.

    Karen, I can honestly say I'm not sure I've read a book that nails characterization like that one! AckAckAck!!! That's a good ack.

    quietspirit, It can be challenging. I did in novels two, three and four but I try to limit my peeps.

    Patti, Also one of my favorite books. Hits home!!! And seven--great reminder Picoult nailed that.

    So fun meeting with you here like this. We should do it another time. Perhaps Wednesday when Cassandra will wow you with her poetic prose.

    Go buy Love is a Flame published by Bethany House. Like Prego pasta (or Ragu, I always forget which) I'm in there!!!

    Sleep and try not to sweat. 97 here today and no air.

    See you when I see you.
    ~ Wendy

  19. Ha! Skittle your characters ~ love it! I thought Angry Housewives did a great job with that too.

    I'm afraid this is probably an area I could stand to do more work in. Really appreciated your thoughts on it! Thanks!

  20. I love this!!!! Great points. I also love your new pic... you are beautiful!

  21. Great post, and welcome back from vacation. Can't believe you were at Lakeside. I was there a couple of years ago -- it's such a magical place for kids. Like going back in time 50 years!

  22. Good stuff! I like this and can see where it would be very helpful. Thanks!
    Karen :)

  23. Skilled authors can develop great stories with multiple POVs. I've read some of the ones you and the commenters mention. It needs to be clear, though, so we don't have to pedal back a few pages to know who's talking.

  24. I love the color reference! It can be tricky to handle different characters points of view. I try to really get to know my character before I even start writing to make sure I know what makes them tick:)

  25. Just stopping in to say "hello." June was a busy month and July promises to be even busier - 2 weeks of Bible camp and a VBS. So, I many not make it around for a while again. Hope all is well with you and your family. And keep writing! Looking forward to reading your book one day.

  26. I love this perspective, Wendy! I'd love to use this as a guest post on my blog, if you don't mind. Just let me know.


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