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Writing A Great Script Fast In A Nutshell

Step 17: Symbols & Metaphors ............ . . .....................Next Step 18

Step 17: Using Symbols & Metaphors

What types of symbols or metaphors can you add to your story to show plot, character and theme?

Metaphor = Action/Sound. Visual or auditory representation of a separate action, experience, or idea. A character blows out (action) a candle in a bedroom to show death of a loved one.

Symbol = Object/Sound. Visual or auditory representation of another object. The candle (object) is in the shape of a ballerina to show grace and beauty.

Symbolic Meaning
Authority, sacrifice, punishment
Beautiful but fragile object, non-permanence, childlike happiness
Cosmic totality, wholeness, seed, food
Psychic ability, fertility, seductive
Danger, anger, speed
Pleasure, sweetness, fertility
Pleasurable, sensual tastes, kid treat
Becoming more powerfully expressive, crystal clear
Grounding, in touch with life. Weird shoes mean new change
Ups and downs of life
Stability, grounded, sanctuary
Warning, disaster, death, alarm, religious
Passion, desire, anger, destruction
Rebirth, learning, evolution, path.
Sun Creative energy, male, transformation, higher consciousness, light,
Moon Unconscious, Intuition, female, cycles, changing
dent Unfortunate event
drowning Overcome by emotions
East Birth, consciousness
kissing Acceptance approval, respect
Banker Authority, manager of resources, wealth
Doctor Healer, authority, respect, care giver
lightening Unexpected changes
floods Chaos, destruction, welled up emotions overflowing

List any Symbols and/or Metaphors ideas for your story in the following areas:

Objects/props. Household items, flags, T-shirts, games art in room, statues, furniture style, shape of windows, magazines, pictures, weapons, wall hangings, books, instruments, pets, cars, people, houses.



Music/sounds. Background sounds, songs atmospheric music bed, music in scenes, street noises, weather sounds, sirens, people crying/laughing/screaming in the next room, weird unexplainable sounds, heaters, equipment, natural sounds, animals, event sounds.



Color. The color of everything in the frame may mean something.

Words. Heard in dialogue or appearing on sets or otherwise onscreen.


Character types.
People who represent the theme or plot to the extreme (positive or negative, even an extreme mix of the two).


Lighting. Colored lights, light sources, brightness, lighting subjects specific to metaphor. Good characters may be in bright light, whereas evil characters may be darkly lit. Quality of light (time of day as a metaphor). Glows around certain characters, face-lighting strategies to evoke emotion, source of light (sun, spaceship, flaming building) as metaphor, spinning ambulance lighting in room to represent emergency situation.


Staging. Placement of characters and metaphoric objects inside the frame to represent relationships. Where are your characters in relationship to each other metaphorically? You could have three characters who form a love triangle standing around a fire to represent a secret affair about to be uncovered. What metaphoric items surround the characters? Are they talking while walking through a field of sunflowers or in between cactuses? What metaphoric objects could you place between characters to show relationship or emotional state during a scene? Two characters on opposite sides of the frame with knives hanging on the wall between them may represent conflicting emotions.

Fables. How could you interject little stories into scenes to show plot, theme or character? You might want to have just pictures of parable characters or allude to them visually through stuffed animals, statues, paintings, cartoons, or drawings on the set. Try to think of new ways to incorporate parables visually into your films. Perhaps you could make your own little cartoon fable to play on a TV in the background during a scene. You might make up your own original Aesop-type fable, which the characters could discuss, see in a play or on TV, read in book, hear about in dialogue, or be relayed by a magical object. Create a fable or use an existing one.

Symbolic Settings: Location as character

What does the setting say about the mood of each scene? A conversation in a junkyard has a different context than one at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Think about how all of these places below feel different symbolically when you think about them:

National monuments, natural settings (swamps, waterfalls, caves, rivers, ocean, desert), cities with different personalities, small-town local flavor, visual themes, types of businesses, geographical themes, amusements parks, clubs, bars, graveyards, temples, stores, abstract interpretations of the Internet, art galleries, circus tents, fantasy places.

Symbolic Setting Possible Meaning/ Emotion/Mood
Arch Gateway to new beginning, entrance to heaven or hell (depending on the design)
Attic Past experiences, hidden things, family patterns
Backyard swimming pool Suburban life, comfort, similar to others (conformity)
Cave Unconscious, contacting inner self, deeper understanding
Church/temple Sacred space, sanctuary
Cliff Danger, decision, risk, unknown, edge
Dark city alley Danger, underworld, uncertain, violence
Expensive house on a hill Rich, money, success, power, exclusiveness, above the law
Family dinner table Family dynamics, seating shows relationships, atmosphere shows emotional mood of family
Freeway freedom, labyrinth
Foggy pier Edge of known world, mystery, unclear, things are not what they seem
Top of mountain Where important things happen, realizations
Train Wandering, change, on a track returning again and again, always moving
Train or train station Restlessness, inability to settle down, roaming, new beginnings, endings, passing by

Pick one symbolic setting for each of your 9 basic plot points.
Describe the mood, visual style or color of each symbolic location:

1) Hook:


2) Setup:


3) Inciting incident:


4) Journey Into Unknown:


5) Investigation:


6) Twist:


7) Final Confrontation:


8) Climax:


9) Resolution:

(Optional) Pick one Main Story Symbol
that changes throughout your story like the purple star thistle flower in Braveheart used to symbolize the theme of freedom:


List Changing Symbol States and what they represent:






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