What color is “teal”? Imagine, for a just a moment, trying to describe that color, or any color, for that matter, to a blind person.
I grew up with blind parents. This had its disadvantages, of course, but the older I get, I realize that there were important advantages, too. More on that later…
A few years ago, “teal” became very popular in fashion, design, and decorating. I took my mom shopping for a new outfit one day, and was describing an attractive suit to her as she gingerly touched the dress, feeling the collar, the sleeves, and the way the dress was made.
“What color is it?” she asked.
“Teal,” I responded.
“What color is teal?”
Have you ever tried to describe a sunset to someone who has never seen a sunset? Have you ever tried to describe a color to someone who is blind?
And what does that have to do with my writing?
As a reader, sometimes I find myself getting annoyed with long, detailed “description,” and begin to skim the page.
As a writer, I admit, I am guilty of superfluous description, and spend a great deal of time editing my manuscripts to correct that issue. It is a natural tendency I possess, and more often than not, I’m unaware that I’m doing it. I suppose that is the result of having spent my life describing the world that I see to my parents.
My mom was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina. As a young girl and through her teenage years, she could see well enough to see colors (she has a vivid memory of the primary colors) but she quickly lost her remaining sight as she became a young woman. For a while, she still had “light perception”… best described as walking into a dark room where there is a light on and being able to see the contrast between dark and light…but lost even that bit of her remaining vision when I was a young child.
My dad lost half of his sight as a child due to deep cataracts on his eye. At that time, they didn’t remove the cataract, they removed the eye. He had a prosthetic eye, and developed another very large cataract on his other eye, which progressively diminished his remaining vision.By the time the laser surgery for cataracts was perfected, the cataract was so large and so deep, the doctors were afraid to remove it, fearful that he would lose what little vision he had left. Dad had what we call “travel vision”… he could see just enough, in most cases, to get around by himself without a guide dog or a white cane.
My brother and I have had a wonderful life, despite our parents’ handicaps. My mom has always said, “My biggest problem with being blind is a sighted person’s misconception about blindness.” I have tons of stories to illustrate that point. Perhaps some day I’ll write a book about it.
But back to the subject at hand…
I have had writer friends ask me to read their WIP, asking if they have enough “description” in a particular passage. This always makes me laugh, thinking “You certainly asked the right person about that!”
Hopefully, in my own writing, I have avoided droning on and on in my description of a scene. Maybe I’ve reached the right balance, since many who have read my book have made comments like “I felt like I was in the room!” or “I could literally see your book unfolding like a movie before my eyes as I read it.” These comments, while completely unsolicited, make me smile, and make me feel as if I’m successfully avoiding “description overload” with my writing. It truly is like fighting something that is part of my nature…something unconsciously ingrained in the way I write and the way I talk.
So, what color is teal? What color is fuchia? Burgundy? Silver? Turquoise? Azure?
How would you describe a sunset, or the ocean, or a shuttle launch, or a tabby kitten’s fur to someone who is blind?
Just think about it…