Color. What does that have to do with your manuscript?  

Nothing, if you’re writing contemporary fiction.

Everything, if you’re writing historical fiction.


The issue of color was brought to my attention by none other than Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary, Inc.. So, what’s the deal?

Not all color names existed at every period in history. If you’re writing a historical romance set in the Middle Ages (ie. Medieval Period; commonly designated as the 5th – 15th Centuries), and your heroine pulls a moss green gown from her wardobe, pairing it with a jade necklace that happened to be a gift from courtly visitors… well, sorry honey, but you’re writing in the wrong time period.

That’s not to say that the gown isn’t green and the necklace doesn’t have this precious stone inlaid, but the fact of the matter is your character wouldn’t think of the colors in those terms.

Language isn’t static – it’s fluid, and changes over the years. Just because you wouldn’t use the term ‘vehicle’ or have a character say ‘what’s up?’ in your Medieval fiction, doesn’t mean that every other word is fair game.

Color names are particularly important in order to realistically set the scene and establish credibility for yourself as an historical fiction writer.

How do you find out if the word you wanted to use was in use during the time period you’re writing about? Word study!

You can:

  • Google the information (make sure your source is reliable)
  • Visit a university library
  • Send an email to a university professor who specializes in the time period (honestly, they’ll probably be thrilled to answer your question, or could direct you to another reliable resource)
  • Send an email to a local history group in your community

There are plenty of ways to figure out whether ‘primrose’ was used as a color name before 1759 A.D. or not… and living in the internet age makes getting the information you need a whole lot easier than it used to be – so, no excuses!

Get your colors right, and you’ll write a better story!

Question: If you’ve written a historical… have you considered color names before? Is this something you’re actively checking on when you write?

This entry was posted on Friday, August 20th, 2010 at 8:10 am and is filed under Creating Coldcuts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 comments so far



And that right there is why I write books that take place on other worlds. Because details are awkward enough as it is. ;)

August 20th, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Ugh, I know, it’s like you’re cheating! LOL. Historicals are just so much WORK. Okay, fantasy is just as much work in a different way in terms of worldbuilding and making sure modern dialect doesn’t infect your characters, but still…!

August 23rd, 2010 at 1:14 pm

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