Now Playing Tracks

writingwithcolor:

image

We discussed the issue of describing People of Color by means of food in Part I of this guide, which brought rise to even more questions, mostly along the lines of “So, if food’s not an option, what can I use?” Well, I was just getting to that!

This final portion focuses on describing skin tone, with photo and passage examples provided throughout. I hope to cover everything from the use of straight-forward description to the more creatively-inclined, keeping in mind the questions we’ve received on this topic.

So let’s get to it.

S T A N D A R D  D E S C R I P T I O N

B a s i c  C o l o r s

image

Pictured above: Black, Brown, Beige, White, Pink.

"She had brown skin.”

  • This is a perfectly fine description that, while not providing the most detail, works well and will never become cliché.
  • Describing characters’ skin as simply brown or beige works on its own, though it’s not particularly telling just from the range in brown alone.

C o m p l e x  C o l o r s

These are more rarely used words that actually “mean” their color. Some of these have multiple meanings, so you’ll want to look into those to determine what other associations a word might have.

image

Pictured above: Umber, Sepia, Ochre, Russet, Terra-cotta, Gold, Tawny, Taupe, Khaki, Fawn.

  • Complex colors work well alone, though often pair well with a basic color in regards to narrowing down shade/tone.

For example: Golden brown,russet browntawny beige

  • As some of these are on the “rare” side, sliding in a definition of the word within the sentence itself may help readers who are unfamiliar with the term visualize the color without seeking a dictionary.

"He was tall and slim, his skin a russet, reddish-brown.”

  • Comparisons to familiar colors or visuals are also helpful:

"His skin was an ochre color, much like the mellow-brown light that bathed the forest.”

M o d i f i e r s 

Modifiers, often adjectives, make partial changes to a word.The following words are descriptors in reference to skin tone.

D a r k - D e e p - R i c h - C o o l

W a r m - M e d i u m - T a n

F a i r - L i g h t - P a l e

Rich Black, Dark brown, Warm beige, Pale pink…

If you’re looking to get more specific than “brown,” modifiers narrow down shade further.

  • Keep in mind that these modifiers are not exactly colors.
  • As an already brown-skinned person, I get tan from a lot of sun and resultingly become a darker, deeper brown. I turn a pale, more yellow-brown in the winter.
  • While best used in combination with a color, I suppose words like "tan" "fair" and "light" do work alone; just note that tan is less likely to be taken for “naturally tan” and much more likely a tanned White person.
  • Also note that calling someone "dark" as description on its own is offensive to some.

U n d e r t o n e s

Undertones are the colors beneath the skin, seeing as skin isn’t just one even color but has more subdued tones within the dominating palette.

image

  • Mentioning the undertones within a character’s skin is an even more precise way to denote skin tone.
  • As shown, there’s a difference between say, brown skin with warm orange-red undertones (Kelly Rowland) and brown skin with cool, jewel undertones (Rutina Wesley).

"A dazzling smile revealed the bronze glow at her cheeks.”

"He always looked as if he’d ran a mile, a constant tinge of pink under his tawny skin.”

Standard Description Passage

"Farah’s skin, always fawn, had burned and freckled under the summer’s sun. Even at the cusp of autumn, an uneven tan clung to her skin like burrs. So unlike the smooth, red-brown ochre of her mother, which the sun had richened to a blessing.”

  1. Here the state of skin also gives insight on character.
  2. Note my use of "fawn" in regards to multiple meaning and association. While fawn is a color, it’s also a small, timid deer, which describes this very traumatized character of mine perfectly.

Though I use standard descriptions of skin tone more in my writing, at the same time I’m no stranger to creative descriptions, and do enjoy the occasional artsy detail of a character.

C R E A T I V E  D E S C R I P T I O N

Whether compared to night-cast rivers or day’s first light…I actually enjoy seeing Characters of Colors dressed in artful detail.

I’ve read loads of descriptions in my day of White characters and their "smooth rose-tinged ivory skin", while the PoC, if there, are reduced to something from a candy bowl or a Starbucks drink, so to actually read of PoC described in lavish detail can be somewhat of a treat.

Still, be mindful when you get creative with your character descriptions. Too many frills can become purple-prose-like, so do what feels right for your writing when and where.

Not every character or scene warrants a creative description, either Especially they’re not even a secondary character.

Using a combination of color descriptions from standard to creative is probably a better method than straight creative. But again, do what’s good for your tale.

N A T U R AL  S E T T I N G S - S K Y

image

Pictured above: Harvest Moon -Twilight, Fall/Autumn Leaves, Clay, Desert/Sahara, Sunlight - Sunrise - Sunset - Afterglow - Dawn- Day- Daybreak, Field - Prairie - Wheat, Mountain/Cliff, Beach/Sand/Straw/Hay.

  • Now before you run off to compare your heroine’s skin to the harvest moon or a cliff side, think about the associations to your words.
  • When I think cliff, I think of jagged, perilous, rough. I hear sand and picture grainy, yet smooth. Calm. mellow.
  • So consider your character and what you see fit to compare them too.
  • Also consider whose perspective you’re describing them from. Someone describing a person they revere or admire may have a more pleasant, loftier description than someone who can’t stand the person.

"Her face was like the fire-gold glow of dawn, lifting my gaze, drawing me in.”

"She had a sandy complexion, smooth and tawny.”

  • Even creative descriptions tend to draw help from your standard words.

F L O W E R S

image

Pictured above: Calla lilies, Western Coneflower, Hazel Fay, Hibiscus, Freesia, Rose

  • It was a bit difficult to find flowers to my liking that didn’t have a 20 character name or wasn’t called something like “chocolate silk” so these are the finalists. 
  • You’ll definitely want to avoid purple-prose here.
  • Also be aware of flowers that most might’ve never heard of. Roses are easy, as most know the look and coloring(s) of this plant. But Western coneflowers? Calla lilies? Maybe not so much.

"He entered the cottage in a huff, cheeks a blushing brown like the flowers Nana planted right under my window. Hazel Fay she called them, was it?”

A S S O R T E D  P L A N T S &  N A T U R E

image

Pictured above: Cattails, Seashell, Driftwood, Pinecone, Acorn, Amber

  • These ones are kinda odd. Perhaps because I’ve never seen these in comparison to skin tone, With the exception of amber.
  • At least they’re common enough that most may have an idea what you’re talking about at the mention of “pinecone.” 
  • I suggest reading out your sentences aloud to get a better feel of how it’ll sounds.

"Auburn hair swept past pointed ears, set around a face like an acorn both in shape and shade.”

  1. I pictured some tree-dwelling being or person from a fantasy world in this example, which makes the comparison more appropriate.
  2. I don’t suggest using a comparison just “cuz you can” but actually being thoughtful about what you’re comparing your character to and how it applies to your character and/or setting.

W O O D

image

Pictured above: Mahogany, Walnut, Chestnut, Golden Oak, Ash

  • Wood is definitely an iffy description for skin tone. Not only due to several of them having “foody” terminology within their names, but again, associations.
  • Some people would prefer not to compare/be compared to wood at all, so get opinions, try it aloud, and make sure it’s appropriate to the character if you do use it.

"The old warlock’s skin was a deep shade of mahogany, their stare serious and firm as it held mine.”

M E T A L S

image

Pictured above: Platinum, Copper, Brass, Gold, Bronze

  • Copper skin, brass-colored skin, golden skin…
  • I’ve even heard variations of these used before by comparison to an object of the same properties/coloring, such as penny for copper.
  • These also work well with modifiers.

"The dress of fine white silks popped against the deep bronze of her skin.”

G E M S T O N E S - M I N E R A LS

image

Pictured above: Onyx, Obsidian, Sard, Topaz, Carnelian, Smoky Quartz, Rutile, Pyrite, Citrine, Gypsum

  • These are trickier to use. As with some complex colors, the writer will have to get us to understand what most of these look like.
  • If you use these, or any more rare description, consider if it actually “fits” the book or scene.
  • Even if you’re able to get us to picture what “rutile” looks like, why are you using this description as opposed to something else? Have that answer for yourself.

"His skin reminded her of the topaz ring her father wore at his finger, a gleaming stone of brown, mellow facades.” 

P H Y S I C A L  D E S C R I P T I ON

  1. Physical character description can be more than skin tone.
  2. Show us hair, eyes, nose, mouth, hands…body posture, body shape, skin texture… though not necessarily all of those nor at once.
  3. Describing features also helps indicate race, especially if your character has some traits common within the race they are, such as afro hair to a Black character.
  4. How comprehensive you decide to get is up to you. I wouldn’t overdo it and get specific to every mole and birthmark. Noting defining characteristics is good, though, like slightly spaced front teeth, curls that stay flopping in their face, hands freckled with sunspots…

G E N E R A L  T I P S

  • Indicate Race Early: I suggest indicators of race be made at the earliest convenience within the writing, with more hints threaded throughout here and there.

  • Get Creative all by yourself: Obviously, I couldn’t cover every proper color or comparison in which has been “approved” to use for your characters’ skin color, so it’s up to you to use discretion when seeking other ways and shades to describe skin tone.
  • Skin Color May Not Be Enough: Describing skin tone isn’t always enough to indicate someone’s ethnicity. As timeless cases with readers equating brown to “dark white” or something, more indicators of race may be needed.
  • Describe White characters and PoC Alike: You should describe the race and/or skin tone of your White characters just as you do your Characters of Color. If you don’t, you risk implying that White is the default human being and PoC are the “Other”).

  • PSA: Don’t use “Colored.” Based on some asks we’ve received using this word, I’d like to say that unless you or your character is a racist grandmama from the 1960s, do not call People of Color “colored” please. 
  • Not Sure Where to Start? You really can’t go wrong using basic colors for your skin descriptions. It’s actually what many people prefer and works best for most writing. Personally, I tend to describe my characters using a combo of basic colors + modifiers, with mentions of undertones at times. I do like to veer into more creative descriptions on occasion.
  • Want some alternatives to “skin” or “skin color”? Try: Appearance, blend, blush, cast, coloring, complexion, flush, glow, hue, overtone, palette, pigmentation, rinse, shade, sheen, spectrum, tinge, tint, tone, undertone, value, wash.

Skin Tone Resources

Writing & Description Guides

I tried to be as comprehensive as possible with this guide, but if you’ve asked a question regarding describing skin color that hasn’t been answered within part I or II of this guide, or have more questions after reading this post, feel free to ask!

~ Mod Colette

pro-choice-or-no-voice:

The Importance of Comprehensive Sexual Education:

"Research has identified highly effective sex education and HIV prevention programs that affect multiple behaviors and/or achieve positive health impacts. Behavioral outcomes have included delaying the initiation of sex as well as reducing the frequency of sex, the number of new partners, and the incidence of unprotected sex, and/or increasing the use of condoms and contraception among sexually active participants. Long-term impacts have included lower STI and/or pregnancy rates." [x]

We need to equip people with knowledge and resources to maintain a healthy and safe lifestyle. By teaching comprehensive sex education we are allowing people to make informed decisions about their health and and personal lives. - Paige

image

The Basics (Anatomy and Biological functions):

Menstrual Cycle:

Vaginal Hygiene:

  • The vagina, is in fact, designed to keep itself clean with the help of natural secretions (discharge). But there are ways you can help maintain the cleanliness of your vagina (i.e. avoiding perfumed soaps and gently washing the vulva area, not the actual vagina.) Click the link for more information.
  • *Vaginal odors and discharge; what’s normal and what’s not?
  • What is douching?

What are Pap Smears?

  • "A Pap smear, also called a Pap test, is a procedure to test for cervical cancer in people. A Pap smear involves collecting cells from your cervix — the lower, narrow end of your uterus that’s at the top of your vagina."
  • When do I need a pap smear?

What are vaginal orgasms? Clitoral orgasms? G-Spot orgasms? How can you achieve an orgasm?

  • "A “vaginal orgasm” is the notion that [people] can have an orgasm through stimulation during intercourse or other vaginal penetration, entirely without clitoral stimulation. However, the vagina has few nerve endings, and therefore cannot create an orgasm on its own. Instead of thinking of the vagina and clitoris as separate entities, try thinking about them as a network of nerves and muscles."
  • "There’s some disagreement about the size of the G-spot; it may range from a quarter inch to a couple inches along the upper wall of your vagina, about an inch or two past your vaginal opening. Underneath it is highly sensitive tissue that, when touched the right way, triggers feelings of sexual happiness, explains Debby Herbenick, PhD."
  • Myths and facts about orgasms.
  • Tips on how to have an orgasm.
  • Having trouble reaching an orgasm? No worries, there is help! [x][x]

Female Genital Mutilation Information:

  • "Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons."
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.”
  • "Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths."
  • "FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women."

image

The Basics (Anatomy and Biological Functions):

Penile Hygiene:

  • "Gently wash the penis with warm water each day when you’re having a shower or bath. If you have a foreskin, pull it back gently and wash underneath."
  • "Gently washing your penis once a day with warm water is sufficient to maintain good hygiene. If you want to use soap, choose a mild or non-perfumed soap to reduce the risk of skin irritation."

What is an erection and ejaculation?

What is circumcision & is it medically necessary?

  • "Circumcision is the removal of a simple fold of skin (the `foreskin’ or `prepuce’) that covers the head (glans) of the un-erect penis."
  • While there are benefits of being circumcised, it is not medically necessary.

image

The Basics:

image

What is sex?

  • People define “sex” in different ways. Some people believe that it only counts as sex if a penis goes into a vagina, but this isn’t true for everybody. There are lots of different ideas about what sex can be: Vaginal sex (penis-in-vagina intercourse), Oral sex (mouth-to-genital contact), Anal sex (penis-in-anus intercourse), Dry humping or genital rubbing, Fingering or hand jobs (hand-to-genital contact), and Masturbation.
  • What is oral sex?
  • What is anal sex?
  • Why do people have sex?
  • How to have safe sex.
    (STI and pregnancy prevention goes more in depth below!)

What is Consent and is it mandatory?

  • "Whenever you have sex, you need to make sure that your partner is just as enthusiastic about having sex. In other words, that they give their full consent.” Consent is an enthusiastic, freely-given, uncoerced, sober, “yes”.
  • Consent is ALWAYS mandatory, whether you’re married, dating or just met.
  • What is sex without consent? Rape/Sexual Assault.

What is sexual assault? What is rape? (Resources below.)

Is sex supposed to hurt the first time?

  • "While it’s common for [some] to feel pain or discomfort with sex, it’s not “normal” in that it has to happen or there isn’t an alternative. Sex is not supposed to hurt: it’s supposed to feel very good.”
    [Inside the link above, it does explain what to do to make sure sex is not painful.]

Are there benefits to having sex?

image

What does MOGII mean?

  • Marginalized Orientation, Gender Identity, and Intersex.
    It’s a synonym for LGBTQIAP+ and is inclusive for people who don’t have or don’t want labels, rejects allies, and uses no reclaimed slurs.

What is a sexual orientation?

  • "Sexual orientation describes to whom a person is sexually attracted. Some people are attracted to people of a particular gender; others are attracted to more than one gender. Some are not attracted to anyone."
  • Affectional orientation is a term that describes to whom a person is romantically attracted, acknowledging that for many people there are more components to attraction than just sexual desire.”

What is gender identity?

  • "The ways in which a person identifies and/or expresses their gender, including self-image, appearance, and embodiment of gender roles. One’s sex (e.g., male, female, intersex, etc.) is usually assigned at birth based on one’s physical biology. One’s gender (e.g., man, woman, genderqueer, etc.) is one’s internal sense of self and identity.”
  • Some gender identities.
  • Some more gender identities.
  • Genderqueer and Non Binary Identities.
  • Resources for most Gender Identities.
    (Resources for understanding gender identity, figuring out yours, how to come out to parents and friends, transitioning resources, local supports, and more!)

What is asexuality?

  • "Some people who identify as asexual do not experience sexual attraction to other people, while others experience sexual attraction but no desire to act on these attractions."
  • Asexuality and Celibacy are not the same. Many people who are asexual live a celibate life, meaning that they do not engage in sex with others. But while Celibacy is a choice, asexuality is not.”
  • "Asexuality is not a dysfunction, and there is no need to find a "cause" or a "cure."" [x]
  • Are all people who identify as asexual sex repulsed? No!
  • Asexual Visibility and Education Network.

What does transgender mean? (Resources below!)

What does intersex mean?

image

What are STIs, how do you get them, and what are the symptoms?

How do you protect yourself from STIs?

image

What is pregnancy? When are you considered to be pregnant? How do you get pregnant?

  • To be pregnant is to have an embryo/fetus developing in your uterus. “A pregnancy is considered to be established only after implantation is complete.”
  • "When engaging in unprotected vaginal intercourse during which ejaculation of sperm occurs in the vagina. The sperm can then travel up through the cervix, into the uterus, and, if an egg is present, the sperm may fertilize it."
  • "It is also possible — but less likely — for a person to become pregnant through any kind of sex play in which semen, or ejaculate, comes in contact with the vulva. The sperm can travel through the moisture on the vulva into the vagina."
  • WebMD’s Online Pregnancy Center.
  • What to Expect: Pregnancy.
  • Pregnancy Resources.

What are my options if I get pregnant?

How do you prevent pregnancy? (Check out birth control masterpost below.)

image

We make Tumblr themes