“The Crow’s Pen” – Burnt Orange in My Box of Crayons

Writers Block - Burnt Orange in My Box of Crayons
Writers Block - Burnt Orange in My Box of Crayons



One of my fondest memories is sitting at the kitchen table with my mother and sister, selecting coloring books and then scattering a box of crayons across the table.  Choosing which page to color was a delicate process.  Sometimes it was just too hard to decide, so we would simply choose the first un-colored page we encountered in our books.  Once we had chosen our respective pages, we faced another important decision – which color?  Our mother (“Ma”) didn’t simply choose brown for the tree trunks and green for the grass.  She would choose any color she darn well liked and colored her own fantastic world.

She didn’t “stay in the lines,” either.   She showed us how we could easily create circles of color by twisting the wrong end of the crayon onto the paper.   A bunny could have polka dots.  The sun could have stripes.  She delighted in exploring her creativity in this way.  She once remarked that she wished she could color for a living.

We found it hilarious that the crayons had such unusual names:  cadet blue, raw sienna, burnt orange.  I mean, who burns oranges?!  If you want to explore more fantastic color names, look at women’s nail polish.  For instance, I have a bright pink bottle named “shrimply devine.”  Crayola has had their share of crayon name changes:  “Prussian blue” was renamed midnight blue, and “flesh” became “peach” as a result of the civil rights movement era.  Clearly, color evokes emotion – especially the color of our skin.

When writing with color, therefore, be sure to bring the reader into your world by choosing the right crayon.  Below are some alternatives:

  • Orange = pumpkin, carrot
  • Blue = azul, turquoise, aqua
  • Yellow = golden, sunny, daffodil, maize (corn)
  • Green = pine, shamrock
  • Purple = violet, lavender
  • Red = crimson, auburn, apple flesh

Look around you and see how the colors affect your mood.  Which descriptors or objects could describe the color?  You can certainly substitute “tangerine” for “orange,” but is this simply an expression of your wit or does tangerine really fit your writing?  Below is an example:

  • GOOD:  He looked up at the overcast sky and felt a sense of sadness.
  • BETTER:  He looked up at the nickel gray sky and felt a sense of sadness.
  • BEST:  Under an oppressive cement sky, he was crushed with the weight of sadness.

See how the ‘cement’ can give a sense of weight while hinting at color?  Other ways to weave color into your writing includes ‘sunny’ dispositions, a youthful ‘rosy’ glow, or being infected with the ‘greenness’ of envy.

Ma is in heaven now, and I’m certain that she is coloring fantastic astral worlds, armed with a full box of crayons.




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