I once read a script from a novice writer who chose to include heavy-symbolism to tell the story and reveal truths about characters. At first when he was telling me about his screenplay, I was very interested in how this was going to play out. When symbolism is handled correctly, it can be amazing and add such an interesting layer to the story. Unfortunately this was not the case for this young man.
Symbolism has the potential to add depth and subtext into your script; however, if improperly carried out it will do nothing but make your script seem strange and novice.
Symbolism is Subjective
While symbolism in screenplays does provide an opportunity to tell a story without having to spell everything out, if it’s unknown symbolism or symbolism that’s too deep or complex for the average audience member to grasp then its meaning is completely lost. This was the problem with the young writer’s script. He was unable to provide symbolism that was universally understood or detail the symbolism so readers could put two-and-two together.
Mystery Does Not Mean Success
A common thought trail circulating through the novice screenwriting community is the notion of enhancing the likelihood of success by incorporating “story mystery” through the use of symbolism. Again, this screenwriting element can be very successful in telling an unpredictable and smart story; however, it has potential to fall flat.
The intention behind using symbolism to provide a aire of mystery and intrigue to a script may be well thought out, yet the delivery of such elements is rarely achieved. When you wish to add symbolism to your screenplay, take a moment and consider these tips:
(1) Use symbolism that’s well-known amongst most viewers. Religious and pagan symbols are often effective, but there’s a host of other symbolism elements you may use to tell your story while keeping audience members fully engaged.
(2) Don’t create symbolism that’s too deep for most to understand. While you may find that this level of symbolism is interesting and provides a unique aspect to your screenplay, the majority of audiences will likely tilt their head in confusion.
(3) When in doubt regarding a symbolic element within a scene, have a trusted friend or colleague read over the scene/script. This is the best way to ensure someone who’s disconnected from the script will benefit from its symbolism.