They following is from a short story I'm writing. The main character and his friend are sitting in a bar while discussing about the the former's wife:

“I see,” he said, thinking this over, as if trying to solve an intricate puzzle. “You must have really upset her. But weird, it seems like she hasn't told anything to my lady. They tell each other everything, you know that. And the strangest thing is that she acted normal when she came to the house yesterday. She just avoided talking about you. Well, that's the extent of what I know. Sorry. Wish I could be of more help.”

I told him it was OK. That this was something I had to deal with myself. We didn't say anything for a while. I watched the fluorescent light of the counter pass through my glass and split itself into a rainbow. I fixed my eyes on it. Curiously, when you grab paint and mix all the colors together (in equal amounts), you get the color black. In this case, however, the combined result was white. I wondered which one was the real nature of rainbows.

“Anyway, it'll pass.” Mr. Kondo sipped his Corona. He drank nothing but beer. “Women are cyclical creatures. The moon rises and sets, the tides go up and down. After they've gone through the full cycle, they always come back. So don't worry too much.”

I'm not sure if I'm being clear enough, or whether the passage is confusing. What I want to say is that when light is split you get the colors of the rainbow, but when you mix many colors together you get black. Which is a bit strange (at least for the protagonist). This can be interpreted as the character wondering what's the true nature of the human heart: light or darkness. This reflects his own behavior: he isn't sure if telling his wife about his perverted fantasy makes him posses a dark, twisted heart.

  • This is tough to understand out of context. Would you be willing to give us some of the surrounding text, or to explain the context of this passage? Feb 9, 2014 at 14:49
  • @NeilFein OK, I updated. Ha, but I think the surround text doesn't add much for clarity. I explained the context a bit.
    – wyc
    Feb 9, 2014 at 16:14
  • BTW, I'd love to read this when it's done. Feb 10, 2014 at 23:12
  • @Neil Fein♦ I can post it here as a comment once I finish it. Or should I use the chat instead?
    – wyc
    Feb 11, 2014 at 10:55
  • Have you actually looked at the result of refracting a fluorescent light? It is not a full rainbow as with sunlight or incandescent light. Our eyes can only detect three weighted color components, so the original fluorescent light can still look white if these components are in proportion, but the difference is seen when all the colors are split.
    – nanoman
    Sep 11, 2022 at 8:38

3 Answers 3


I think this passage works brilliantly to set the mood. The transition from the bolded paragraph back to the story is a little abrupt, but this may be smoothed over by the momentum of reading this in context.

Your attempted metaphor - additive versus subtractive color - may or may not be obvious to people. I went to art school, and I got what you were saying immediately. Others may not, but it's okay to use something as a non-obvious metaphor. Whether you echo this elsewhere in the story is up to you.

Practical matters: I'm not sure if white light would split into a rainbow cleanly in this situation. But a messy refraction of color could also be a nice device.

  • I didn't go to art school, but I knew this from physics. I thought it made a nice metaphor too. I wasn't sure what it was a metaphor for, but it felt like one, so it would cause me to look for that theme in the story.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Feb 10, 2014 at 17:56

I had no trouble following what you wrote, but I am not typical in that I have a engineering and physics background and spent my childhood in a print shop, so I know about all three color wheels and recognized that your character was confusing the additive and subtractive color wheels with the artists. by the way mixing of paint like that will result in grey brown as expected with the artist's color wheel. Ink uses the subtractive and will give black.

  • This was my difficulty reading the passage too. I am an engineer, so I was wanting to explain it to him while reading about his musings.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Feb 10, 2014 at 17:54

It makes sense, though I think there's a lot of repetition that doesn't add to the message. 'I watched' and then 'I fixed my eyes on it' relays the same information.

I think (in equal amounts) also takes away from the strength of your statement because it's information not needed to get the analogy across.

It might also be good to change the wording from "when you grab.. you get" to the character reflecting about when they have done that. If the character themselves is contemplating the nature of good/evil in himself, I think it's appropriate to link the mixture of paint to their own personal experience instead of the objective-scientific view of saying 'you'.

The reflection of the glass is something that character internalizes to their own experience, and the mixing of the paint is externalized as something that happens to other people. Does the character think his own experiences are light and white, while the experiences of others are black/paint? I'm thinking along the lines of judging oneself by their intentions, and others by their behaviors.

I'm probably reading too into it - but I wanted to give you a thorough, honest opinion. I liked the piece too!

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