Visual Storytelling


Sight and Sound

Storytelling in film demands two of ours senses: sight and sound.

Sound is everything from dialogue to music and effects.  (More on use of sound and music cues in your screenplay later.)

Sight is everything that the audience sees when they watch the film. As we’ve discussed, it’s why description and narrative matter in your script.

Metaphors Be With You

One important yet subtle aspect of your description/narrative is the use of visual metaphors that resonate with an audience.  “Isn’t that the director’s job?” you might ask.  And you would not be wrong.  It is!  But, as the screenwriter, it’s also yours!

Imagine All the People

Specific images stay with us long after the film has ended.  They serve to give the story additional information and emotional content.  The best images become representative of what’s memorable or appealing about a film.  For example, Tom Cruise in Ray-Bans for “Risky Business,” or the ruby red slippers in “The Wizard of Oz.”

The best visual metaphors recur throughout a plot plotline and add meaning for the audience as the images repeat.

Thematic Metaphors

A Thematic Metaphor is an image that may be used one or repeated.  It’s symbolism is clear and generally accepted.  Like the use of colors to signify moods.  Or the vistas of the ocean or open land to suggest ideas of isolation, desperation or calm and soothing.  A structure like the Empire State building to represent a city.

Thematic metaphors usually reflects a specific idea or characteristic and/or they recur and represent a specific character.  Its dramatic value is limited.  Instead it is used as a short-hand or a reminder to the reader or viewer.

Dramatic Metaphors

A Dramatic Metaphor is one in which a character or group of characters have a specific relationship to that image.  As your story evolves, the emotional content in the symbolism of that metaphor will change.

Often times, these kind of metaphors are object or amulets.  They often reminder a character of something or someone; and they come to mean something different and more personal by the end.

Over the course of the story, these images become imbued with new information as the characters face new challenges.  Sometimes, the relationship to an object or image is wholly personal to one character; other times, different meanings are put forth as different characters interact with that image.

When done well, a dramatic metaphor can be used to communicate to the audience a glimmer of what is going on internally for a character.  It is almost always done without dialogue.  It is demonstrated by showing the character’s reaction to the image or object.

A good example is a miner’s tag in “October Sky.”  Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) gets help from an older miner, Ike.  They put their tags side-by-side on the board when they go into the mine.  After Ike dies in a mining accident, Homer keeps Ike’s tag to remind him of his mentor.  At the end of the movie, when Homer wins the big science prize, he looks at Ike’s tag in his hand to remember his friend but, more importantly, to remember the lesson Ike taught him: that Homer could do it if he tried.


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