19 Apr

True Colors

Posted in Art, Creativity, Design, Inspiration, Writing

As you might have noticed, I’m really into design.  A graphic designer and product manager in a past life, you could say I’m a little bit obsessed with clean lines and balanced designs.  I love problem-solving so that form and function work together seamlessly.  One of the areas that most fascinates me in design is color theory and color symbolism.  I find it remarkable that certain colors seem almost to have certain personalities or identities.  Much like characters in a story.

Colors and their meanings:

Certain colors have intrinsic meaning.  Red means “stop” or “warning.”  Orange is an attention-grabbing color, green suggests growth and life, and blue generally has a calming influence.  Even before we add the layers of other influences, these colors already have a certain symbolism inherent in the color itself.

Traditions and cultures help shape symbolism.  In Western culture, the color white implies innocence and purity while in other cultures it is actually the color of mourning.  The phrase “green with envy” has added a different layer of meaning to the color.

Combining colors lends nuance.  Blue alone might symbolize peace and calm, but add red and yellow, and you get the primary colors which imply youth.  Replace the yellow with white and you get a patriotic color combination.  When you pair colors together, their meanings can change or acquire nuance.

A little color theory:

Red, Yellow and Blue are the primary colors.  They are called primary colors because you cannot mix any other colors together to get these three.

Note: red, yellow and blue are primary colors for pigment.  When you’re talking about color and light, the primaries are actually red, green and blue but that gets us into crazy physics stuff and I’m not going there.

Orange, Green and Purple are secondary colors.  They are called secondary because you can make them by mixing only two primaries.

See the color wheel below for primary and secondary colors.  Primaries are marked with a 1 and secondaries are marked with a 2.

Image Credit Tiger Color: Color Lab

Opposites provide good contrast.  Colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors because they complement each other well and provide contrast.  Each of the primary colors has a secondary color as its complement.

But, what does this have to do with writing?

Color can set a mood.  It can inspire a feeling or set the tone for a piece of writing.  You can use individual colors or a color scheme to capture the essence of your story without words.  Think of it as a wordless summary.

Characters are like colors.  Often the best way to draw a character out is to pair it with someone completely opposite.  If your character is best represented by a shade of purple, try pairing her with someone who’s a yellow and watch the sparks fly.

How I use color: When I develop a new character with an acrostic bio card, I tape a paint chip to the back of the card.  The color becomes like a wordless bio for the character, telling me almost as much as the written bio on the other side of the card.

Homework: Field trip!  Next weekend, take a half hour and go to a hardware store to browse the paint aisle.  Most stores give out free paint chip samples so grab a few.  No wait, grab a bunch.  Try to find the perfect paint color to represent your character or your story.  If you’re really ambitious, pick out colors for each of your important characters.  See where the contrasts are, as well as the harmonious combinations.

If you’re really really ambitious, skip the paint store and browse a fabric store instead (where you can play with color as well as pattern and texture).  If you don’t have time to browse the stores, break out the markers, colored pencils or better yet, paints!  Mix and match and play with color.  The point here is to have fun and to look at your characters and story in a new and different way.

What did you discover about your story by playing with color?


25 Jan

Agent Panel: Quit Obsessing

Posted in Conferences, Inspiration, Writing

Every time I go to one of these “How to Get an Agent” panel discussions, I always end up feeling a bit like this:

The experience is often a bit like that child psychology class I took in college where I got a whole semester of “101 ways you WILL ruin your child’s life before it’s even born.”  The only difference here is that instead of ruining your child’s life, you’re destroying your book before it’s even published.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The agent panel at the Writer’s Digest Conference taught me that finding an agent boils down to 3 principles:

  • Do Your Homework
  • Don’t Be Stupid
  • Quit Obsessing

Here are a few priceless gems I learned from that panel discussion.  (By the way, the amazing agents on this panel were: Janet Reid, Donald Maass, Jud Laghi, Mary Kole and Chuck Sambuchino as moderator.)  Now for the pearls of wisdom.

Do Your Homework.  This includes obvious things like researching the agents before querying or knowing the word count parameters for your genre or target age group.  It also means finishing the book before you query (for fiction and memoir) and sending material to the agent the way he or she wants to get it (i.e. don’t snail mail if he asks for email, don’t send an attachment if he prefers pages in the email text).

Don’t Be Stupid.  There are no-brainers like: “don’t send naked pictures with your query” (do people actually do that?) and “don’t make claims about your internet presence if you don’t have the numbers to back it up” (i.e. don’t lie).  But some mistakes they mentioned were also more subtle.  For example: if you have an editor at a publishing house who’s already looking at your work, let the agent know.

Notice how there is a significant correlation between this principle and the previous one.  In short, if you do your homework and use common sense you will seriously cut down your chances of doing something incredibly stupid.  And that’s a good thing.

Quit Obsessing.  This was probably the principle that most made an impression on me.  A few examples:

  1. Of course you want to know what the word count parameters are for your genre but don’t obsess if your book lies a little outside the limits.  As Donald Maass put it: “When a book is powerful, I never hear editors comment about length.”
  2. It’s a good idea to have your book professionally edited, but that doesn’t mean you have to shell out a gazillion dollars to do it.  A couple of insightful beta-readers can be just as professional.
  3. Don’t apologize for not having credentials.  Most authors have had one book that came before they had “credentials.”  It’s called a first book.
  4. As for genre, you worry about all those fancy marketing terms like “commercial women’s fiction” (stuff for women that sells) but in the end, it’s about figuring out where your book will find a home in the book store.  And in the words of Donald Maass: “Genre is a 20th century concept.”  Considering how book retail is changing, I think he may have a point.  In other words, don’t panic if your book falls outside the genre pigeonholes.

    In the end, these three principles of querying are just a tiny slice of the pie, because what really matters is the writing.  As Janet Reid said: “Write beautifully and send the query.”

    I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel a lot better.


    24 Jan

    How Reading Can Change the World

    Posted in Conferences, Inspiration, Reading, Writing

    OK, we’ve already established that reading is awesome, but imagine my surprise when I went to the Writer’s Digest Conference and the most inspiring talk of all was not actually about writing.  It was about reading.

    Richard Nash, who gave the lunch keynote speech on Saturday, gave a fascinating talk about how writers have to be readers, how reading and writing are the opposite sides of the same interaction.  All I have to say is: OMG did he read my mind?  This is exactly the sort of stuff I’ve been obsessing over for the last few weeks.  In fact, after hearing Richard Nash speak, I am completely convinced that reading can, in fact, change the world.

    A few weeks ago, I posed the following statements for discussion.

    Writing is the ultimate form of manipulation.
    Reading is the supreme act of defiance.

    Some of you got the writing part of the equation right away.  When we write, we can control the words and how we express them to guide the reader in whatever direction we choose.  Writing–if you really think about it–is no more than a few inky scribbles on a page.  Lines and dots.  But if we’re strategic in how we use those lines and dots, we can actually put ideas into our reader’s head.  We can direct and manipulate what our reader imagines and how our reader responds.  Richard Nash had a great analogy for this concept in his keynote: “Our words are hours that we can take up inside someone’s head.”
    I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a powerful thing (and not a privilege to be taken lightly).
    But what about the reading part?  How can reading be an act of defiance?  I addressed this when I talked about types of readers last week.  Some people might read to get the information or to figure what the author’s trying to say, and that’s fine.  But the moment you realize that everything the writer’s doing with his words is essentially an act of manipulation–a way of taking up real estate inside your brain–then you can start reading like a revolutionary.  All it takes is awareness, knowing that the writer’s doing some slight of hand tricks and is trying to direct your mind this way or that.  Once you’re aware of this, you can step back and decide if you actually want to be directed.  And once you do that, you’ve become a rebel.  You’re fighting the machine.  You’re Reading.
    And how, exactly, can Reading change the world?  That’s easy.  One of the biggest problems I see with the world is that everyone out there is trying to be a writer.  Everyone’s got an agenda; they’re trying to use their words and take up mental real estate and get people to listen to what they have to say.  The problem is, very few people out there put effort into Reading-with-a-capital-R.
    I totally get why that happens, though.  Reading like that can be exhausting, sort of like watching a magic show and constantly trying to figure out how the magician pulled off the last trick. Our world is so saturated with information that it would be impossible to read like a revolutionary all the time.  We’d all lose our minds.  The trouble is, a lot of people have stopped Reading all together.  They just accept the information they see at face value and move on to the next thing.  I call this voluntary illiteracy.
    In the end, Nash’s speech came down to one important point: “Writing and reading are behaviors.  Most people do both.”  I agree completely and would add only one thing:  To change the world, we need to do both but do them responsibly.
    I thank you all for the privilege of letting me take up a small slice of your mental real estate.  Now go out there and do something amazing with your words.


    24 Jan

    Sharing the Awesome: Writer’s Digest Conference 2011

    Posted in Community, Conferences, Inspiration, Writing

    Hello friends of iggi!  How I missed you and your smiling bloggy faces while I was at the Writer’s Digest Conference.  It was such a great weekend though and I had oodles of fun.  I met lots of amazing people and learned tons and tons.

    Oooh, and guess what…  I’ve brought back prezzies!

    There was so much awesome stuff to learn at this conference and I want to share it all with you.  After all, what’s the fun of having something awesome if you can’t share it with your friends, right?

    The bad news is, I can’t give you exact transcripts of all the sessions I saw.  First off, I didn’t manage to take notes on every last detail of awesome because I can’t write that fast, so I only wrote down the really good stuff.  And secondly , I’m not sure it’s actually legal or good-sportsman-like for me to transcribe those sessions anyway.  (And lawyer-hubby reads this blog, so I gotta stay on the nice side of legal.)

    But the good news is, I can give you the really super bits of awesome.  And when it comes to the other stuff… really, do you want to hear the boring parts?  Didn’t think so.

    What does this mean for the iggiLand?  For the next whatever-many days, I’ll be doing recaps of all the super-amazing tools, tricks and ideas I picked up at the conference.  This means I’ll be breaking out of my usually-scheduled post topics, but I have a hunch you’ll forgive me.

    Here’s a preview of what’s in store:

    • How Reading Can Change the World
    • Agent Panel: Quit Obsessing
    • Every Book Can Get Better
    • Writing Conferences: Don’t Be “That Guy”
    • Two Words about Social Media: Don’t Panic
    • How to Survive the Revision Process
    • Blogging 101
    • Writing: We Are All in This Together

    In the meantime, you can find more awesome at the Writer’s Digest live conference blog.  Oh, and if you were at the conference and you couldn’t see a session because it conflicted with another one, you can always check out the live conference blog to see the ones you missed.  (I know I’m going to…)

    And on twitter, check out the #wdc11 hash tag for conference-related tweets.

    Oh, and if you were at the conference and are doing recap posts on your blog, feel free to leave the link in the comments so we can all share the awesome with you!

    Now, here’s a round of iggi-tinis for all.


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