As we discussed last time, a Dramatic Metaphor is one in which a character or group of characters have a specific relationship to an image or symbol. (For a more detailed understanding of Semiotics see Umberto Eco’s, Articulations of The Cinematic Code). The point is: as your story evolves, the emotional content in the symbolism of that metaphor will change.
Dramatic Metaphors change over the course of the story.
Like everything in a screenplay, Dramatic Metaphors are plotted out. They usually start as simple images taken on face value. But with repetition and re-occurrence, they begin to suggest ideas about the point of view and emotional content of a characters internal journey.
Less is More
One trick when working with metaphors is to not over-use your images. The “rule of three” is a good guidepost to start with. If you introduce an important image in the beginning, the audience or may not notice it. If they do, they will merely register it as an interesting image in the film.
But 90% of information transferred to the brain is in the form of visual information. And 50% of one’s brain capacity at any time – other than while inside a deprivation tank – is occupied processing visual information.
This means that the second time that image appears in your film, your audience will remember it. It will draw them into the story. It will make them aware of the narrative of your film in a positive way. They will recognize that information beyond just the image is being communicated. They will start to pay attention to this type of image. They will begin to both hunt for clues in your story as to what the image means; and they will project their ideas of what they – and the characters in your script – think and feel about this image.
The third time the image appears, they will have an idea of what it represents to the characters. This will engage your reader/audience on two levels. First, they will identify their understanding of the image with the evolution of your story. And second, as a result, they will understand the main character’s feelings about this image, which will make your reader/audience feel as if they are more connected to that character, that they understand him/her more clearly.
The more your audience identifies with your characters on any level, the more they will invest and enjoy your story.
Even Less can be Even More
Another way to use a Dramatic Metaphor is to create a singular image that has a direct impact on one or more characters. This can create a memorable moment that readers and viewers will take away from your story and imprint it in their imaginations.
This kind of metaphor often serves to sum up in a non-verbal way what your entire story is about. Sometimes, that metaphor may even be in the title. It might even end up in the poster for your film.
(One exercise that writers often use when trying to figure out what their screenplay is really about is to imagine what is on the poster. This can serve a double purpose. Whatever imagery you imagine might be used to sell your script may often be the same images that you want to uses to create the Dramatic Metaphors in your script.)
Some famous examples are the image of the fishing vessel trying to crest the giant wave in “The Perfect Storm.” Another is in the title of “The Towering Inferno.” The image of the San Francisco high rise on fire was on the poster and in the title.
Plan for Impact
The best metaphors are carefully planned so that they emerge naturally from a story. Rather than try to force a metaphor into a story, good writing will find an imagine that is organic to the world of the story and then look for ways to imbue it with evolving meaning as the story progresses.
It’s important to know what metaphors you would like to see in your screenplay. But metaphors only work if the characters and the plot work. Metaphors reflect the interior journey of your characters. If your story or your characters are muddled and unclear, the metaphors will only serve to enhance that confusion.
If your characters and story are well hone and thought out, metaphors will further inform the audience and, hopefully, give them something to discuss after they’ve read your script or seen your film when they compare their personal interpretation of what your metaphors represented for them.
How many metaphors can you come up with from different movies? What are some of the metaphors that you remember from your favorite films?
How can you apply your appreciate of those metaphors to your own writing? Do you have a favorite metaphor that you like to use in your script?
Next week, we’ll look at three famous films and their iconic Dramatic Metaphors.