Dressing up Description: Harness the Power of ‘Red’


Personally, I absolutely LOVE to write long descriptions of places and events, but I know that for many this can be a slog. It’s difficult to translate what you see in your mind into words on the page, not to mention writers are expected to do so in an interesting way that engages and informs the audience to boot! And even if you feel like description comes naturally to you, it is easy to fall into the trap of cliches and redundancy if you don’t watch out.

Take the color red, for instance. There are tons of red things in this world, but by far the most common thing that is referenced in descriptions is blood. I am sure you have come upon this before while reading, and I read enough fiction that it has become a pet peeve of mine. On the one hand, it is totally understandable that we would feel moved by this particular simile because of the importance of blood to the functioning of our bodies and its automatic visceral response. On the other hand, been there, done that.


I gave myself a few minutes to brainstorm, and I came up with a list of things that are red that aren’t blood. These sorts of little bursts of brainstorming can be really helpful to keep you in a writerly mindset even if you don’t have a chance to sit down and write anything with a story.

Feel free to use any of these in your own writing, your readers will thank you!

  • raspberries, apples, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, currants, grapes
  • merlot, cabernet, burgundy, port, sangria and any other variety of red wine
  • cardinals, a robin’s breast, a rooster’s comb
  • taillights, police lights, and Christmas lights
  • lipstick, rouge, and fingernail polish
  • roses, geraniums, tulips, poppies
  • stop signs and stop lights
  • clown’s noses and shoes
  • rubies, garnets, and agate
  • lady bugs and ants
  • fire trucks
  • sunburn
  • bricks
  • clay

If you feel like having a little adventure, take a trip to a big hardware store and look at the paint chips. The folks who name paint colors have a hard job, and they have a lot of creative solutions.

Unwilling to leave the couch? No problem! There are also some wonderful charts online to help you pick the exact shade of red and how to express it. I like this one, but there are a lot of others out there with more of the spectrum from pink to purple represented.



Here are a couple of idioms that have become cliches, and alternate ways to express the same idea using synonyms and similes.

‘Going red in the face’
She did not smile at his joke, but he could tell by the ruby burst on her cheeks that she had heard it.

‘Seeing red’
His anger boiled to the surface and flashed bright and unexpected like taillights on an empty highway.

 I couldn’t help but stare at the woman who entered the room. Her hair, a cascade of mahogany shot through with a garnet sheen, flowed over her narrow shoulders and nearly to the floor.

Just for Fun

In the comments or on your own, pick something that is red and describe it without ever using the word. See how many different ways you can find, even if it gets a little complicated or goofy. This is just about stretching yourself as a writer, so take chances!

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s