Living With Primary Colors

[[Herbie’s Note: The original version of this appeared at The Odd Ramblings of AJ Brown way back in January of 2010. End Herbie’s Note]]

Before reading, please understand that these thoughts are purely my opinion. Not fact. I have not researched this in any way shape or form. This is just the way I see writing in its most basic form.

There are thousands of self help books out there. Maybe more. People read them to better themselves and, honestly, most of those books worked for the person that wrote them. They may not work for you. This is why I don’t read self help books of any kind. Not even the writing ones. I know what works for me and I know when I deviate from that, my writing becomes stale and uneventful and truly boring.

So I’ve chosen to be my own writer, to listen to the voices in my head. Most folks would say that’s a bad thing, but I think, at least for me, it’s all good.

For me it’s all about living with primary colors.

Writing, in its simplest form is like the primary colors and the two neutral ‘colors.’ Let me see if I can explain this the way I see it in my head. Hold on a second…

“Hey, Herbie, are you up there?”

[Checks watch]


“Ummm… yeah, wha’do yah need?”

“Do you still have that film on primary colors?”

“Uh … yeah, right here.”

“Can you roll it?”



Herbie. He’s a good guy, but he often falls asleep on the job.

As you can see, all colors are based on one or more of the three primary colors of Red, Yellow and Blue. Primary colors are your most basic colors and without them you can’t make other colors.

I look at writing in its most basic form kind of like the Primary Colors. Without the basics you can’t write. The basics, in this case, would be words and putting them into sentences. The See Spot books are a great example of basic writing and a good place to start when learning.

See Spot run.

Basic. Red, blue and yellow.

Keep this in mind.

From the Primary Colors you can form the Secondary Colors of Orange, Purple and Green. I probably don’t need to break it down but I will:

Red + Yellow = Orange
Blue + Red = Purple
Yellow + Blue = Green

By mixing primaries you take them out of their most basic form and create a different color. You’re taking two colors and expanding them, or in writing, expanding on a basic sentence.

Spot ran across the yard.

Not only do we see spot run, we now know where he is running: across the yard. It is no longer a basic sentence, but one that begins to paint a picture.

From the secondary colors you can create Tertiary Colors. These colors are formed when mixing a primary color with a secondary color. They include colors such as Blue-Green and Yellow-Orange. It’s a little more complex than just mixing two Primaries together. The same goes for writing. When you start mixing in details, sentences become stronger.

Now, let’s change that sentence just a tad, giving it a little more detail as to what Spot is really doing:

Spot chased the ball across the yard.

The original sentence has now morphed from seeing Spot run into not only seeing him run, but also knowing that he is chasing a ball and he is doing it in a yard. We’ve just given Spot a reason to run. The sentence has morphed into something with a little more depth.

There’s more.

Throw in your two main neutrals of Black and White. By mixing colors with black and white they can become richer or blander. It’s really up to you. Add some White to the Red and you have Pink. Go the other way and instead of White, add Black and you form more or a Brick Red color. The variations are practically limitless. Writing, in my opinion, is the same way. By adding or taking away from sentences you can strengthen your writing.

Spot chased the soccer ball across the green grass.

We’ve just described the ball in its most basic form and the yard Spot is running in (grassy). It is still very basic in sentence structure, but slight descriptions have been added and we know what Spot is doing. You can add to this or subtract from it and make the sentence pop or fizzle. Or you could stick with the basics—sometimes that works best.

Don’t go away yet. Sit back down. Keep sipping that coffee or water or whatever it is you are drinking.

The basics are important but there is one other thing that takes the basics even further and, in my opinion, is the most important part of the entire Primary Colors Writing Philosophy.


In order to become better writers, we must understand Harmony. In essence, it is a pleasing effect produced by an arrangement of things, parts, or colors, at least according to Webster. In color schemes Harmony produces interest in a piece. Harmony in art is easy to view, pleasing to the eyes. It holds your attention longer than a chaotic blend of colors.

We, as writers, need to find the Harmony in our words. It’s not just writing the words to a story that counts; it’s writing the perfect words and putting them in the perfect spots. An almost perfect word in an almost perfect spot doesn’t have the same effect. Finding the right spot for each word creates the Harmony you want when penning a story.

One of my favorite writers is a guy named John Mantooth. I’ve often thought he is a master of word placement, or word Harmony. If you’ve never read him, you should look him up. Brilliant writer. Brilliant.

Like colors, there are schemes and contrasts and textures that go with writing. By adding descriptions and emotions you can layer your stories, make them come alive, make the characters believable. But, it all starts with the basics. Red. Yellow. Blue. See Spot run. Go with it. What do you have to lose?

Until we meet again, my friends…

2 thoughts on “Living With Primary Colors

  1. Thanks for your incite. Self help books are popping up everywhere of late. While one writer might have sold a million ebooks, it doesn’t mean reading his book on how “he” did it will help you much. John Locke is a perfect example. So he generated an email list of people that he can contact when he publishes a new book, that doesn’t mean that will work for us. Shucks, I can’t even get people to follow my blog or like my facebook page. When it comes to grammar, many of us just don’t get it. This goes back to elementary school for me. I never picked it up or understood it a bit. The only way I even managed to make it through high school english class was because I was good at reading comprehension. I’m learning more all the time, but I have decided awhile ago to quit buying those books.


    1. Madison, I’ve said it a million times before, what works for someone may not work for me or you or someone else. Your examples are great examples. For me, I hated writing for the longest time, so in school I put the barest of efforts into it.

      The only ‘self help’ book I’ve ever read is King’s On Writing and i think it’s the only one I will ever read. I enjoyed it and learned a lot from it, but most of those things were reinforcements of stuff I already knew or did.

      The best thing I can say to anyone is study the stories you like and figure out why you like them. I’ve often thought, if we don’t study or practice at all, then we’ll never get anywhere. I think that’s why those See Spot books always do well–they are great beginners for children… and writers as well.


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