lightbulb metaphor: A Conversation About Metaphor With Roger Wolf

Want to get started writing?  Join guest contributor and professional writer Roger Wolfson and for this series of articles on how you can create your own cinematic masterpiece from concept to script! 

In my last two articles, I’ve reviewed the starting points toward writing a science fiction classic on your own.

The first step is to decide what is it you most want to say.

The second step is to figure out what you want to say, about what you want to say.  That means, what is the furthermost wisdom you have to offer on this subject that you hold so dear to your heart?  What insights do you have that I do not have?  That America does not have?  That the world doesn’t have?

You may say, “Hey, Roger Wolfson, your encouragement is friendly and all, but although I do have lots of things I care about, I’m not sure what I have to say about these things is really all that ground-breaking.”

And to that, I’d say maybe not yet it isn’t.

But it can be.

This is a great time for research.  For meditation.  When a professional writer sells a script to a studio or a network, they get paid quite well for it.  A script tends to sell for about the price of a Ferrari.  So, let’s take a look at a Ferrari.

A shit-ton of work goes into a Ferrari.  Research.  Models.  Mock-ups.  Test drives.  Innovations.  Refinements.  Nothing is overlooked.  Ultimately, a Ferrari is an exquisitely designed piece of machinery that someone can actually sit in and drive. It is useful.  It is inspirational.

Such must be a script.  In my own process, I cultivate what I call a brain trust.  I bounce ideas off dozens of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.  I ask for people’s opinions.  I listen to everyone.  And I keep developing my ideas – sometimes for months, if not years – before I open Final Draft (the industry standard scriptwriting program) and begin to write.

I’ll share more about my process more as this series evolve, but for now, what I want you to take away is this: Talk to people about your work.

Don’t just write the first idea that comes into your head – nor should you shy away from that idea.  The process of writing is all about recognizing the balance between inspiration and effort.  There is room for both.  But neither should supplant the other – both are required.

For me, I divide my brain trust into four groups: (a) people who love me and are nice to me.  (b) tough people who are looking to be critical.  (c) professionals and long-time colleagues, and (d) professional readers – like my managers, agents, attorneys, or producers, studio execs, or network execs.

I share my ideas in that order – a, b, c, then d.  Of those four groups, which do you think is the most important?

If you guessed (b), you are correct.

The people who have no interest in sugar coating anything for you can be your best friends in this process because they are likely to call out the unnoticed issues that you want to ferret out long before you get to group (d).

That said, don’t start with group (b).  You need to romance your own writing process; you need to dance with the muse.  Start off by treating your idea with velvet gloves. Nurture it a bit before you expose it to a harsher climate.

Take the time now.  What is it you want to say?  What is it you want to say about what you want to say?  And what is the metaphor that you want to use to make that statement?

We’ll be working with metaphor and re-enforcing the procedural points I’ve made above.

Let me start with the simplest lesson about choosing your metaphor: Make it something personal to you.

This is an anathema for many writers.  They think, “If I want my project to be relatable to a large audience, my metaphor should be universal. Everyone should be able to connect to it.  It shouldn’t be something that I (and perhaps only I) connect to.”

That assumption is mistaken.  The more personal a concept is to you, the more YOU connect to it emotionally, the more it moves YOU, the more it becomes impactful to all of us.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule.  There is a slippery slope between personal and self-indulgent, to be sure.  That’s why we all need our own brain trusts and our own group (b)s to guide us.

And that’s what I want you to think about at this stage: What do I want to say; what do I want to say about that; and what is the metaphor that illuminates this that is emotionally impactful to ME.

To comment on spirituality, in the original ‘Star Wars,’ George Lucas was intentional even in his use of the word “force.” Force comes from the Latin word fortis, or “strength.” That fit his own personal world view of how to approach spirituality. That seems to involve, to him, self-mastery.  You can see this in his own life – Lucas is a force of nature.  That is what is required, perhaps, of a director so far ahead of his time.  Meanwhile, in the ‘Mandalorian,’ Jon Favreau uses the metaphor for spirituality as being a human connection (even if it is between a human and Baby Yoda). Each of these writers picked metaphors personal to them.

To comment on spirituality, James Cameron was intentional even in the naming of his most successful franchise – yes, the second best-selling movie of all time is named after a Sanskrit word that means “descent.”  The blue bodies and the dimensions of the Na’vi, their connection to their ancestors, bespeak a fascination with Hindu philosophy.  And regardless of whether Hinduism is a “universal” metaphor (one could argue that no individual religion is universal), it is a philosophy that deeply affected Cameron.  And we can feel it and see it when the characters say namaste to one other in the most essential moments of the film: “I see you.”

Now let yourself see what comes up in you.


Roger Wolfson is a TV and screenwriter most notable for writing for the TV series ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,’ ’Saving Grace,’ ‘Fairly Legal,’ ‘Century City,’ and “The Closer,’ where one of his episodes earned Kyra Sedgwick her first Emmy nomination. You can follow Roger on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram