Nope, I’m not here to tell you about the brightest new nail polish or trends in summer dresses—I want to tell you about how using paint-chips has helped me with my writing this summer.

I read a great article in Writer’s Digest magazine about using paint chips to help you clarify character. Yes, I’m a subscriber. (I also wrote an article for them once, actually.)

Here was the assignment: go to the hardware store and look at all the chips to find the color that feels like your character.

I went and had a ball. As you may remember, I’m hard at work on Ransacker, the sequel to Berserker. What I found was that the characters I had already written extensively for Berserker were very easy for me to identify.

Here’s what I chose:

Here are the two central characters of Berserker: Hanne and Owen. I wasn’t trying to be all pink/blue = girl/boy, but these were the colors that spoke to me for my two heroes. Both are decent, kind people, and these colors felt very grounded and amiable.

Next door, are the chips for the antagonists: Rolf and Ketil. These two guys are about as different as different can be. The combinations they make with Hanne and Owen felt right to me. That Ketil is a real SOB, and this bright color felt dangerous.

But when I went to pick out the colors for Sissel and the two men she’s in conflict within Ransacker, I discovered a problem.

These were the colors that felt like they represented the characters. But… hmm… no contrast. No drama between these colors.

Doing this exercise led me to see that I had a weak character on my hands—JP (John Patrick), who is the love interest! I saw that he was too dull, too safe, as I had been writing him.

Even before I did this exercise I had suspected that I didn’t have him quite right, but my trip to the paint store confirmed it. I got back to work and took the character in a new direction.

After I had worked with him for a few chapters, I went back to Herb Lack paints, here in Nyack, NY.

Look what I came home with:

Hey, hey, hey! This is working! This trio feels like romance and suspense.

Now I was cooking! These colors play together as the three characters do in the book. They’re not pure colors—they are a bit complicated and hard-to-know. This fits for the three young people I’m writing about. And I like the way they react with each other.

I had so much fun working with the swatches, that I brought them to the writing workshop I lead here in town. I even made two prompts based on them.

Here are the prompts, for your writing or teaching pleasure. Take 5 minutes for each.


At the hardware store, pick several swatches that start fairly light.

When you are ready to write, draw one of them at random.

Write a scene that begins in the emotional timbre of the lightest color and deepens in intensity as the scene progresses.


At the store, get swatches in bright, contrast colors. Cut them into single-color squares.

Put one from each swatch into an envelope.

The prompt is to write a scene where two of the colors have a disagreement.

When you are ready to write, dump out the colors and pick two.

Before I go – remember, we are still accepting members for the BERSERKER STREET TEAM. This is a super fun initiative Macmillan is hosting. The first 400 people to sign up get an awesome welcome packet with tons of swag. You’ll get missions and will have chances to win an ARC and other prizes.

Love to You!