The colour of happiness: emotions as colours in the Isla’s Inheritance trilogy

Those who’ve read my debut novel, Isla’s Inheritance, will be aware that one the talents Isla discovers is the ability to read people’s emotions via their auras. Until she gets used to and learns to interpret the colours, this is quite overwhelming for her.

Over time, Isla built a mental list of what the different colours mean. As for me, as her creator, I had a physical list that I often referred to while writing, to make sure that I kept the colours consistent. Building this list meant I often wrote Google searches like “what is the colour of happiness?” It was interesting to see the variety of responses this turned up, and of course everyone is going to attach different moods to different colours, depending on their cultural background and personal associations. (I had happiness as a shade of pink when I wrote the books, but now I’d make it canary yellow.)

IslasOath-CPage-MD-SMLA good example is red: in Western countries it tends to be associated with passion; with strong, hot emotions. Because Isla is Australian and has that cultural filter, those are the associations she has with shades of red, whereas if she’d been from an Asian background she would probably have associated red with happiness and prosperity.

Isla’s experience of emotions of colours is almost — but not quite — like synaesthesia. I have a friend who has grapheme-color synaesthesia, meaning that her perception of numbers and letters is shaded by a colour (she doesn’t associate numbers with colours; she sees numbers as having colours). The difference in Isla’s case is that she doesn’t experience every emotion she sees as a colour. She observes it in more of a detached fashion — albeit one that swamps her vision until she gets used to it.

Here is a sample of some of the different colours I used in the trilogy, and the emotional associations that I made with them. I often used adjectives, because as you can see, you can have the same basic “colour” meaning a few different things. (Wikipedia was a fantastic resource for this!) The examples below are all toward the red end of the electromagnetic spectrum:

Sickly yellow – fear

Amber yellow – caution

Vibrant orange – terror (beyond fear)

Soft pink – compassion

Salmon pink – embarrassed, like a blush

Deep pink – happiness

Scarlet – lust

Blood red – angry, aggressive or enraged

Rose red – love

Red shot through with black – when fury has crossed over into mindless, ragey violence

For me as a writer, the most fun part was finding creative ways to describe emotions and colours mingled together. Here are some examples from Isla’s Oath, which comes out on 20 January:

Jack seemed calm—his aura a uniform light blue, like a winter sky—and I resolved to emulate him.

Jealousy and grief clashed in her aura, lime green and silvery grey.

His aura was primarily the deep blue of suspicion, but a slow tendril of sickly yellow fear curled there too.

I’d seen fear before, sickly yellow and pulsating. This boy’s fright was beyond that, a blazing orange that hit me like a punch to the gut, knocking the wind from my lungs.

What emotions do you associate with different colours? Are there any I’ve listed that you disagree with? I’d love to hear from you!