Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Today in my Screenwriting session at LV Prasad Film & TV Academy, one of my students, Guru, asked me an interesting question: What if there’s a ‘metaphoric conflict’ in a screenplay? Of course yes; as long as it’s a conflict, I don’t care if it’s a metaphor or not. If there’s no conflict there’s no story.

But do we really know what a ‘metaphoric conflict’ is? I told Guru I’ll write this out in my blog today; though it’s a little tiring to write amid my other screenwriting commitments.

Do we really know what metaphor is? And conflict?

The roots of metaphor are in storytelling. As far back as AD 400 storytellers would explain information and philosophies to villagers by way of stories, using words to inspire the imaginations of the people who rarely saw anything beyond their village. Even Jesus spread his doctrines mainly through parables (metaphoric stories).

Metaphors draw resemblances. Tiger: a ferocious person; Pussycat: a gentle person. Metaphors paint pictures with words and so add vigor to a screenwriter’s range to picture-making-words or picture-writing craft.

Metaphors state that one thing is another thing. ‘Arun leaps around playfully, a young colt in spring’ or ‘he’s is a tough old battleship, battered but still floating’ or ‘there’s mummified twinkle in the dead man’s hand’. You’re not actually saying that the woman is a horse, the man is a boat or the twinkle has gone through the ancient mummification process, but the equivalence still work.

In talking, if a picture paints a thousand words, in screenwriting a metaphor paints a thousand pictures. It’s a word or a phrase which provokes imagery in the mind. The more you make readers ‘picture’ themselves in a situation, the easier it is to draw them into the heart of your story.

Metaphors which have become part of everyday language like “the ball rocketed into the back of the net” are known as dead-metaphors. This term may suggest lifelessness, but in practice, such metaphors, like a set of juggler’s balls, remain in the air.

MIXED METAPHORS combine two separate metaphors into one bold (or somewhat peculiar) statement. This blend of ideas even has its own unofficial name: a mixaphor. If each part of the ‘mixaphor’ relates to the other and if you don’t over do it, it’s worth experimenting with the concept:


For so many years
I was good enough to eat:
The world looked at me
And its mouth watered.

Brunch – (Breakfast + Lunch)
Brangelina – (Brad Pitt + Angelina)

EXTENDED METAPHORS: An extended metaphor occurs when writing a series of metaphors, one after the other, throughout a piece of story telling. Poets seem to like them, as do lyricists. Here’s an example from Christina Rossetti, where sleep is used as metaphor for death:

Sleeping at Last

Sleeping at last, the trouble and tumult over,
Sleeping at last, the struggle and horror past,
Cold and White, out of sight of friend and of lover,
Sleeping at last.

No more a tired heart downcast or overcast,
No more pangs that wring or shifting fears that hover,
Sleeping at last in a dreamless sleep locked fast.

Fast Asleep. Singing birds in their leafy cover
Cannot wake her, nor shake her the gusty blast.
Under the purple thyme and the purple cover
Sleeping at last.

There are allegories to cousin metaphors.  It’s actually the ‘next step’ to an extended metaphor. This often gives a moral message by telling the story under the pretext of another subject. Many fairy tales and fables are examples of allegory.

The best way to use metaphor (of any kind) in screenwriting is in passing, rather than focusing too much on its explicit creativity. More often than not, the more you point the reader to an obvious metaphor, the greater the chance of it coming across as joke or even parody of itself. So, like most techniques it’s better to use metaphors wisely and sparingly.

(To be continued  . . .)


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