Color Show


While researching sight in horses, I learned that horses can’t distinguish as many colors as humans can. The human retina has three cone photoreceptors while the equine retina has two (dichromatic vision).

Horse SightHorse-Eye

One of the articles I read is “Vision in horses: More than meets the eye” by Neil Clarkson for The following line from the article made me sit up and take notice:

The research showed that horses, with their dichromatic vision, cannot distinguish red.

love-red-colorHumans with protanomalous (red-weak) vision have the same issue. And since red is my favorite color, well, you can see why I took notice, especially since the color red led me to research the topic in the first place. While writing a story with shape-shifters, I wanted to know which colors a teen in his animal form (horse) could distinguish. Could he distinguish the color of blood on snow?

I guess it’s up to me whether or not he retains his trichromatic color vision or switches over to dichromatic while a horse. (This is a fantasy book after all.) Since I wound up dumping the snow in the scene, the color aspect became moot anyway. But it caused me to think of how enriched my own world is due to having trichromatic color vision. Since I love bright colors (note the nail polish in the first photo), I have to fight the temptation to make every person, place, or thing I write about brightly colored. But I love using colors as symbols to show the emotional landscape of a character or to show mood in general.

Color choice can be very important when you’re using an objective correlative. If you’re wondering what an objective correlative is, here’s a handy definition from

Something (as a situation or chain of events) that symbolizes or objectifies a particular emotion and that may be used in creative writing to evoke a desired emotional response in the reader.

A great post on objective correlatives with a helpful (and color-filled) example can be found here at Ingrid’s Notes. I can wait while you jet over there. I’ve got coffee to drink anyway.

You’re back? Good. Moving on, I also love to use color in an ironic way; for example, a depressed character who has the most colorful hair or wears the most colorful clothing (or both).

Color is one of the reasons why I love superhero ensemble shows or movies—all of those colorful costumes. Yet some of the most interesting heroes are the ones in basic black (or “very, very dark gray”; if you’ve seen The Lego Movie, you probably recognize that line). Here are some of those heroes:

Black-Panther-marvel-comics-4005356-1024-707lego batman

Black Panther (in front) and Lego Batman


Black Widow and Hawkeye

(Still wondering about the “dark gray” line? Watch this video.)

How do you use color in your stories? What, if anything, have you admired about another author’s use of color?


Hello Kitty and Jordie wanted to be part of the color photo shoot, since they’re colorful as well. However, if this post were a magazine, this photo would be one of the alternate covers.

By the way, I mentioned in another post that I was going to make myself a puppy hat. Mission accomplished. And yes, I wear it proudly.


Horse eye from Color wheels (which had the same photos from the Horsetalk article). Red wallpaper from Batman from Jeremy Renner from Hawkeye from Black Widow from Black Panther from fanpop.

22 thoughts on “Color Show

  1. I like how colours are used to describe our emotions-feeling blue, seeing red, green with envy, black hearted, etc. I can feel a rainbow…. 🙂

    • I do too, Andy. But I wonder how people who are color blind view some of these labels. Anything with red probably has little meaning.

  2. I use colors for a lot of stuff like hair, eyes, clothes, buildings, etc. It’s one of the first things we notice and everything has a color. Though now I wonder how many colors are out there that humans can’t see. We probably think we’ve seen every color, but how would we know if there’s one we can’t perceive?

    • We could always make up our own color combinations. But it’s hard to get past the Crayola company, which seems to invent new colors every year.

      • Infinite number of shades it seems. I wonder if many of them are the same, but we see it differently because of the name. The name causes our mind to create a difference.

  3. The best part about painting is picking colors ~ the possibilities are endless, even if you’re feeling blue. When we break free of self-imposed constraints and paint with riotous abandon, we utilize the full palette, including your favorite color . . . red.

    “Artists can color the sky red because they know it’s blue. Those of us who aren’t artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we’re stupid.” ~ Jules Feiffer

  4. Yay for the puppy hat! Your comment about color used in ironic ways reminds me of Eleanor in Eleanor & Park, with her bright red hair. And I never thought about the fact that animals have different color receptors and how that can be used in fantasy.

  5. I never thought about their color vision, but I have wondered how horses percieve the world with eyes that face out instead of forward. Do their two fields of vision ever merge, or do their brains have to make sense of two seperate visual images flooding in all the time?

  6. Red is also my favorite color. It’d be a shame to not see it.

    I haven’t thought a lot about using color in my stories. I’m always obsessed with how things sound. I think that’s because I don’t see very well, but it could just as well be I’m leaving out an important component of writing. Thanks for making me think about that, Linda!

    • Sure, Stephanie. I didn’t know that about horses either. I’m learning more about them now. I didn’t go through the horse phase when I was younger. I’m catching up on what I missed.

  7. I’m sorry for horses and anyone who’s color blind. Color is such an enjoyable part of life. It’s the first thing I notice, so, naturally, my characters frequently mention color. I probably could use it more often in symbolic ways, though.

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