“Symbol is a technique of the small.” John Truby
When a character is in an unfamiliar external or internal environment, familiar creative pursuits such as gardening, cooking, music, or art can become mirrors, reflecting a spiritual alliance to another place. They can translate the characters’ soul landscape into some sense of stability as they respond to these metaphors. Sometimes these responses come in action, sometimes in desire or longing, sometimes in a symbol. These images often find a ‘voice’ within the small common ground creativity built into everyday activities.
The movie Green Dragon has an abundance of metaphoric symbols that on the surface are not at first recognized as connected. For one, the commanding staff sergeant takes photographs throughout the camp. He thinks he is doing so to keep a record of the historical circumstances and of the people who have been impacted. But it is through the photos and their images that he himself comes to terms with his own secrets and need for healing.
And in another small action, an elderly refugee general plants a seed. An orphaned refugee boy, Minh, watches intently as the old man daily waters a tiny dirt patch. Minh tries to understand why he is even trying to grow anything in the makeshift camp. But like a living photograph Minh is drawn to watch the daily routine. And when the old man dies Minh takes his place, watering and waiting to see what exactly lies under the ground. The general had lost his ‘voice’ to give to his people, and turned instead to a symbol of hope. When Minh presented the first offering from the tiny growth it shook the camp.
1. Choose two different movies from your personal favorites and watch the immediate opening of each with the sound on mute. What images stand out?
2. Re-watch with sound. What changes—if anything?
3. Apply to an ongoing activity for your character. What are some repetitive common actions? Make an image list for them.
4. Choose details that turn them into metaphoric symbols.