Tell, not show?

Hello everyone.

I am re-reading some classic sci-fi, to get a feel, and I just watched an episode of the old "X-files".

Sci-fi often involves thought experiments, as in "what-if" something was true or something happened. In many of the good stories, including the X-files, I see people talking and discussing the possibilities, as opposed to those possibilities being shown in dramatic fashion. So, for example, in the classic Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, there is an iconic confrontation between the villain, the Mule, and the First Citizen of the Second Foundation, where they talk - not show - of who would be outwitting whom, and it turns out that the First Citizen convinced his opponent that he had won (which is correct).

Any thoughts on this?


IndieTalk's Resident Guru
"Show. Don't tell" doesn't mean characters cannot talk or discuss. That
advice applies to action.

For example: Bob wakes up and needs to pee.

In a screenplay it's good advice to show what Bob DOES when he wakes up
rather then tell. If the writer wants to use dialogue, "Damn, I just woke up
and have to pee!" they can. But is that the most effective and creative way?
Can the writer show Bob doing something that lets the viewer know that
he has just woken up and needs to pee?
"Show. Don't tell" doesn't mean characters cannot talk or discuss. That
advice applies to action.

Agreed. It's a common misconception that "show don't tell" means "no talking." Little or no talking is extremely tough to pull off, and when it's not done right can make your script/film very boring.

But I'd add a small caveat, if you find that you have a long monologue or conversation discussing possibilities of "what if?" questions, it's not a bad idea to see if there's a way you can represent these ideas visually instead of or in addition to the dialogue.

Think of the way the heist plans are laid out in the OCEANS trilogy. It's a mix of one or more characters explaining the plan while we see the plan being executed.

Or something that maybe better fits your specificity about scifi "what if" discussions, in the penultimate episode of the recently released second season of STRANGER THINGS (don't worry I won't spoil anything), there's a scene where a big group of characters are all in a single room discussing just what they are up against. While the scene is extremely dialogue heavy, there are a lot of visual cues that help us understand what the characters are saying and thinking. For instance, one character has a book with a particular illustration that we cut to many times during the discussion, without that illustration a majority of the audience would be lost as to what was being discussed.

Point is, it's necessary sometimes for characters to "tell," but thinking of ways to also "show" will help the audience understand better.