Memory Catcher

Braiding memory and imagination to craft your story.

The Palette of Place Brings Writing Alive

Let the colors of a place add zest to your writing.

It's a drizzly afte

rnoon in Venice, cold and gray, on the cusp of autumn and winter. I board a vaporetto, one of the city's waterbuses, to take me across the Grand Canal. As we plow the sea green water, past pink palazzos and creamy villas, a domed Palladio church emerges ghostly through the mist, floating above the waterline.

Everywhere in Italy, I have taken notes, describing what I've seen. The silver-green olive groves of Puglia, where gnarled trees grow heavy with ripe black fruit. A Byzantine church in Ravenna that sparkles like the inside of a jewel box with its lapis lazuli mosaic ceiling, strewn with gold stars, 3,000 bits of glass per square yard.

The palette of place infuses my experience. I am happy in Italy, where the colors, softened by time or design, are subtle and soothing, warm and alive.

My home in California is bathed in the colors I found there - sea green, umber and ochre, a faded shade of brick they call mattone. It wasn't a conscious decision to bring the Mediterranean home with me. I chose this palette long before I began to spend periods of time abroad, drawn to them because they made me feel good - peaceful, yet energized and creative.

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I contrast this with my memories of East Berlin when I traveled there in the Sixties to see life on the other side of the wall: a drab, gray city, a concrete barrier topped with barbed wire, an ominous guard tower at Check Point Charlie. People walked the streets unsmiling, heads down. I felt tired and empty. At the other end of the color spectrum, I remember visiting a gallery at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, where the canvases in bright reds and greens seemed to pop off the walls. They brought my energy up, but were too bold, too electric for my home.

Color, like texture, temperature and light, creates mood and adds emotional content to our writing.

When you write, think about the environments in which you place your characters. What colors are the walls, the furniture, the dishes, the clothing they wear? Are they walking on carpets of burgundy silk or rough brown jute mats? Is the upholstery taupe chenille or a pale blue polyester blend? Is the room warm and bright or cold, dark and damp?

Writing prompt: Describe how the colors in a room of your house make you feel. Why did you choose them? Is there a story in that room?

Copyright © 2011 by Laura Deutsch

Laura Deutsch is a San Francisco-based writer. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and More magazine, among others.

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