How do you describe hair colours?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Chilari, May 26, 2011.

  1. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

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    Seriously. All I can find online for the colour I'm thinking are things like light honey blonde and other such hairdressing boutique labels. My characters aren't hairdressers. They certainly wouldn't think along those lines. And also, that colour does NOT look like honey.

    How do you to do it? At the moment I'm thinking of saying something like "the colour of weathered oak" for this particular character's hair colour. But, in the absence of sensible names for hair colours, how do you go about describing the colours represented? Do you describe hair colours at all, or just fall back on black, brown, blonde, red? Do you describe a character's hair at all?

    I've noticed that I am somewhat sparse in physical descriptions of characters, you see, so I'm making an effort to describe all important characters, and not just in terms of height, build, hair and eye colour. One of my main characters has been described thusly, for example:

    So far, I'm not having too much trouble. It's just that I want to be more varied that describing hair as "light" or "dark", or even by the four standard hair colours mentioned above, with light and dark amended as necessary. I guess I could just go with "light brown" for the character I'm having trouble with, but that feels a bit dull; nor do I want to use the same phrase everyone uses: mousy brown.
     
  2. balthore

    balthore Journeyman

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    I always have trouble with hair as well. Usually I stick to the simple "light, dark, brown, black, white, grey, blonde" type descriptions unless I want to really point out something special.

    Any advice on this would help me as well.
     
  3. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Dark Lord

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    I don't. :p I think one, maybe two, character/s in my entire story has their hair color told to the audience. And they are told as such, "Alge joked that I could only stand the sight of blood since my bangs were always in my eyes, tinting the world red." "You could tell we were brother and sister on looks alone."
     
  4. Kelise

    Kelise Scribal Lord

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    If I mention it, I relate it to something they know - tree colour, honey, other natural things. Since usually my novels are set in non-technological times, so all they really have is natural things anyway :)
     
  5. Kate

    Kate Lore Master

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    Basically. As other have said, stick to the brown, black, blonde, light, dark, red kinds of descriptions unless there's something particular about the hair the story needs to be explained. Maybe if someone is fixating on someone's hair you could go into more detail, but for the most part detailed description of something so minor will get in the way.
     
  6. Donny Bruso

    Donny Bruso Mystagogue

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    Usually I only go into specifics on my female characters, because while I have no experience with being inside the female head, I know guys don't typically get picky about what color their hair is. We pretty much stick to the basics. It's black, brown, blonde, red, etc.

    Women (yes, I know I'm generalizing here. I fully acknowledge that not all women are this way) are the reason why we don't have simply blue, light blue, and dark blue. In an effort to be more specific, women developed sky blue, ice blue, periwinkle, forget-me-not blue, cerulean, cyan, sapphire blue, lapis blue, cobalt, ultramarine, azure, cornflower blue, Prussian blue, royal blue, navy, and baby blue.

    Anyway, that's why I only go into detail on my female characters. When I do, I tend to refer to it in passing. I never describe my characters in total. One paragraph will get a mention of eye color as they glare at someone. Another gets hair color when it irritates them by getting in their face. As far as colors, I tend to stick to one-off colors. Instead of red I'll go with auburn or copper. Brown, I generally go with chestnut or caramel. Black gets raven or, well... dark. Midnight is just too cliche for me.

    As a side note yes, I know neither auburn nor copper is technically red. Please feel free to not correct me on that. Color is entirely based on perception, and most people when they see the word 'auburn' think of a darker red-head.
     
  7. At Dusk I Reign

    At Dusk I Reign Mystagogue

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    Unless the hair comes alive and eats people I have no interest in it beyond a cursory description. Just like eyes. Or physical descriptions in general. Imaginative fiction should, at the very least, involve some use of the imagination. I'm not interested in connecting dots for people.:)
     
  8. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Dark Lord

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    Though even then, I'm not sure I'd care about the honey blonde coloration of said hair, eh? :D
     
  9. James Chandler

    James Chandler Master

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    Generally, you're safe using basic descriptions, unless the hair color is particularly important, i.e. it sets the character apart from all others around him/her. If you want the description to really stand out, that's when you dig into your inner artist and pull out a great metaphor. Of course, if you're writing humor, it's a good place for a great laugh. =)
     
  10. Meka

    Meka Journeyman

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    I tend to describe hair colour for only main characters, otherwise its unnecessary. What I do is I describe the colour, rather than the hair ... if that makes sense. I try to think of the connotations of a certain colour, for example, black: darkness, evil, mystery, unknowing; and I would use these words to help paint a picture of the character. I'm making this example up on the spot, so don't judge ;) :

    'Her hair colour was at odds with her pale skin, black, blacker than the darkness itself and it fell across her face in a scruffy, unkempt fashion. I know they say 'don't judge a book by its cover' but I cannot help but feel disturbed by her appearance. The way she uses her hair as a curtain, a curtain of shadow behind which she hides and I cannot see past it.'

    I dunno if that helps at all, you may not like that style but I find it works. Describe the hair itself as just black or blonde or red, but if you want to give it more without just using more adjectives, try comparing it to other features or perhaps to emotions.
     
  11. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I like to say "John had red hair and a beard." But I suppose I'm a minimalist in certain regards.
     
  12. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Grandmaster

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    By describing appearances too much, you're preventing the reader from using their imagination. I have a friend who said that covers shouldn't have graphics because part of the fun is in visualising the world and characters for yourself. That said, I think terms like 'dark', 'light', and specific, simple characteristics (e.g. how the hair moves, or feels) with exceptions, if you need someone to be perceived in a certain way, are fine - but if there is no reason to deny readers of their imaginative participation, then don't.

    When you start writing that 'her hair was a saturated honey-blonde with a brown hue enveloping her roots, and soft white highlights glimmering in the sun. As the layers moved with the turn of her head, you could glimpse the more earthly tones hidden beneath", then I think you're doing the readers work for them.
     
  13. Lord Darkstorm

    Lord Darkstorm Mystagogue

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    I've done several stories where I never describe the main character, and only rarely describe the prominent features of any of the people the character sees. Maybe I just haven't written a character that finds those things important...still, no one has complained because they didn't know what someone looked like...
     
  14. Codey Amprim

    Codey Amprim Staff Article Team

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    It's never bad to go with the simple common colors stated already in this thread, HOWEVER, I found myself a nifty tool to help you find that right color for anything, not just hair color.

    Quite simple really, all you need is some Googling and some typing and...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colors - Crude, but easy and simple. I use it when I am feeling anal and want to get that color just right.

    Cheers
     
  15. Shadoe

    Shadoe Mystagogue

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    Oddly, I don't think anyone's going to get "pink" if you describe something as "awesome-colored." ;)
     
  16. Lord Darkstorm

    Lord Darkstorm Mystagogue

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    hmmm, I must pose a question to this, if you need the internet to look up the name for a color...would that mean the reader would need the internet to figure out what color you are referring too?
     
  17. Codey Amprim

    Codey Amprim Staff Article Team

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    LMAO! I can't believe that's in there hahaha! Well, that's Wikipedia for you. Come to think of it however, I think that is the right label for it. I think it's "Awesome Pink," but common sense should dictate that you shouldn't use that.

    I can see it now.

    "The giant brute warrior lifted up his awesome-colored maul and as he went to strike down his opponent, he lifted his hand and said, "Wait, you're weilding a pink warhammer? Ha!" The warrior then smashed in his foe's skull to a gory mess.

    Well, aside from not being able to resist that, I used pretty good a context clue there... yep.

    ; )
     
  18. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Grandmaster

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    Well it depends, some colour-names 'reveal' themselves when mentioned - but people might need help finding the right term to use. 'Banana yellow', and 'brilliant lavender' are fairly easy to imagine - to pick two examples from Codey Amprim's link.
     
  19. Lord Darkstorm

    Lord Darkstorm Mystagogue

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    To be honest, besides an interesting conversation, I can't think of a single instance where a color was so important that it needed additional adjectives to describe it. Not saying it isn't possible, but if my character is looking at something in the 'Awesome' coloring, and I felt the need to make it clear, I'm betting 'bright pink' would do the job.

    If you are putting that much into the descriptions, it is possible it might be too much. Brings to mind some of the boring descriptions of elf clothing in a series I read. The story was good, but the details on the elves clothing and rooms were overkill.

    Of course, the awesome hammer did bring a chuckle...
     
  20. SeverinR

    SeverinR Valar Lord

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    If it matters then compare it to some known color.
    If not simple quick note of color and shade is all I do.

    I do have one elf that has blue hair, but blue hair is not a natural color in nature except for poisonous creatures, so I specify it is so dark blue it is almost black. The way I see hair color is meant to blend with nature. I could see green hair grass and leaf colored. Blond the color of dry grass, straw or hay. Red hair like fall leaves. black like coal, brown-from light brown of leather to the darkest of hardwoods. Like any other description it would depend on how important it is to the story.

    The stock boy with blond hair had a green tunic on.
    vs;
    The stock boy with straw colored hair adjusts his forest green tunic before returning to work.

    If it matters to the reader the extra words matter, if not the extra words are fluff.
     
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