Writing Blind for Those Who Can See

Published by: TheWeyMan on 9th Jun 2018 | View all blogs by TheWeyMan

As a colour-blind person, the nature of colour has never been something of particular importance to me, unless it serves a challenge – unfortunately, as with other conditions, the challenges are imperceptible to those around you. I’m not saying that I am comparable to a paraplegic or those completely without sight, but there are certain things that are ever so slightly tainted as a direct result.

My nan and her sister (and parents) were all talented artists in their own way. Granny, as she prefers to be known, would tell me how she and her sister would argue over the name of a shade of purple for example. ‘No, it’s mauve.’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous, it’s lilac.’ This baffled me as a child who had never - and still hasn’t - witnessed the colour purple in it’s true form.

I have ‘deuteranopia’ or by it’s common name ‘red-green colour-blindness’. I’ve never been completely sure whether colour-blindness is a spectrum or a ‘you have it or you don’t’ kind of condition. I suppose this is hard to tell when you have unreliable participants for studies. How can you compare perception? Either way, mine is significant enough that when I show people what I can see, there is an immediate sympathetic response. It’s not what I’m after, I’m just helping them to understand. (See picture – if I’m allowed to post it).

The first real challenge this (disability?) gave me was drawing. One particular event has stuck with me since it happened. I was probably five or six. We were learning about the Victorians at school and part of our lesson consisted of us drawing what we thought the Victorians looked like. I wasn’t bad at the sketching part, though I doubt it would have made it onto the fridge! It was the colouring that tested me, so I sought help. I asked my best friend, Dan, to pass me the pencils I needed. Blue for the sky – I drew the strip of blue for the sky, leaving the middle white, of course. Why would there be sky behind people? Then I asked for brown for their clothes. I coloured in their rags, complete with holes to show their hard, poverty-stricken lives. A bit of green for the grass.

Then he started laughing.

‘What?’ I asked, but he didn’t tell me.

More laughs from a few others. What was it? Their hands weren’t particularly well formed, but they definitely weren’t the worst effort in the class.

‘Why do you think they all wore green?’ asked my teacher. ‘And why is the sky purple?’

I just shrugged.

Red and green are not the only colours affected, though they do play an important part. I can’t tell the difference between blue and purple due to the red element, brown and green are the same depending on tone, orange and yellow, red and brown, pink and grey (which can be odd sometimes – I once thought I saw a pink poodle but was swiftly corrected).

People ask me how I know when to stop for traffic lights and I joke that I know the red light’s at the top and the green’s at the bottom. This isn’t the case. Bright tones such as these I can tell the difference between. Murky tones are the hardest to distinguish and this becomes easier as they get brighter, traffic lights are no problem at all.

And this brings me to writing – sorry it took so long…

I’ve not been writing for a long time, less than two years, but one of the things that challenges me the most is description of colour. I can have a vivid picture in my mind of what I would see, but not what the majority of my readers would see. How do I know if I’m describing the colours, the tones correctly? I find myself searching my memory for words used in other books or on TV or by Granny. If they’ve said it, it must be right. But I want to make it my own, so I twist and change the colours to fit in with my imagination, and of what I think colours should look like if it weren’t for my useless retinal cones. I hope others see what I want them to see, not a poor translation of my dulled version of reality.

I’ve come to realise, recently, that it doesn’t matter too much. Perhaps, in fact, I should think of it as a novelty for my readers and, in my second WIP, I’ve even woven it into my main character, who happens to be colour-blind. I’ve described it as a different way of seeing the world (which it is) and one that assists in the story (via some embellishment).

I’m sure most people wouldn’t even realise they were reading the work of a colour-blind writer. No matter how descriptive one’s work, the reader will always have their own perception of how it looks, feels and even smells (maybe tastes if they’re extra creative).

Colour is just another aspect that can be filled in by imagination and I’ve decided not to let it concern me.

I can always seek council, though probably not from Dan! (we are still in touch, and I’ll never let him forget).


Picture 1 - Matt vision = deuteranopia

Image result for colour blind photo


Picture 2 - All of these look exactly the same to me other than darkening tone from left to right.

Image result for colour blind photo balloon



  • mike
    by mike 2 months ago
    I wonder if the difference in perception - either sight, hearing, colour or taste - increases the senses of the other preceptors. What a confused sentence! I hope it makes sense, But does it make a difference when you write? If you write green, then the reader will hsve his own sense of what green means. But I don't know! It could add confusion of your green is blue and you describe the sky as green.
  • Mat
    by Mat 2 months ago
    I think he's suffered enough, Mike..

    Why are all the pictures black and white?
  • TheWeyMan
    by TheWeyMan 2 months ago
    Thanks for your concern, Mat and your monochrome vision.

    Mike - I can hear chips from a mile away so I guess this may be heightened?

    I don't tend to use block colour in description like that - I think sometimes I'm using comparisons for example in my current WIP I've said something like 'his knuckles are as white as the precipitation' - but hopefully better than that. Obviously white I can manage, but I just hope that all of my similes are accurate!
  • Mat
    by Mat 2 months ago
    I think ‘white as snow’ for that one. I will read if you like, Wey? But maybe a section at a time. Whole novel is overwhelming for me, up to you :)
  • David
    by David 2 months ago
    I like the idea of a novel where the colour scheme is 'wrong' in the way you said you painted as a child. Just a matter of being consistent throughout. Like a lot of children brought up on tv and the movies I thought the world was black and white pre-1960s, anyway : )
  • Barny
    by Barny 2 months ago
    In the balloon-assisted house images, Protan seems slightly bluer than deuteran at 3 o'clock and 9.15. I don't have much experience, but vivid description doesn't rely completely on the colours involved - more on your characters reactions - so maybe this not exactly doesn't matter but maybe doesn't need to be visible to the reader. Or you hang it (the difference in perception) out up front and help the reader grok it right from the start. But I'm not sure the difference in perception really matters, it's how your MC reacts and behaves that involves your readers.
  • TheWeyMan
    by TheWeyMan 2 months ago
    Mat - snow features quite heavily in the previous paragraph - felt it might jar if I kept using it. There will be a lot of revisiting anyway. Thanks for the offer, I'm sure I'll take you up on it when it's ready!

    David - That does sound like an interesting idea - I think it would be easier for someone who sees colour to decide on the wrongness of it, seen as I can't tell if it's wrong or not a lot of the time!

    Barny - I'm glad there's some hope yet, but I agree - colour definitely isn't a major issue, I suppose I would like to see what my reader's are picturing to know that I'm giving them the right cues. This probably matters very little and is just a form of doubt, but none of my beta readers have commented so far. I'll worry about it when they start!
  • Nibs
    by Nibs 29 days ago
    Matt Finish!!!, This summer you're seeing the grass the same as the rest of britain. brown hay-like and dry.
    As for the mauve or lilac, you're not on your own there. I see colours fine but descriptions like that often fox me! I accept that people see colours differently to one another because it's how their individual colour spectrum works. I have a friend, (Not seen in years) he had the same as you. To our shame, and his communication skills we often forgot he saw colours so different to the rest of us because he had a unique way of describing what he looked at with out adding colour. I'm glad you wrote this blog, and now I've had chance to read it. Sometimes we need reminding of the simpler things in life that make us all individuals.
  • TheWeyMan
    by TheWeyMan 28 days ago
    This is very true, Nibs! Brown all round!
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