SG1 Series Part Three: Action & Dialogue

All Show, No Tell – The Audio/Visual Experience

One of the greatest lessons writers can gain by watching television series (and movies) is the importance of action and dialogue. In today’s world, we expect richer, active, even sensual experiences. We fill our entertainment hours with games, movies, soap operas, drama, theatre, ballet, situational comedy and reality television. Tangible, engaging experience involves interactions with all of our senses.

Thankfully, written media offers a wonderful opportunity to reach readers on a level of expression that goes far and beyond other forms. With words we can cause readers to see, feel, taste, smell and hear. The only way to truly allow a reader to experience a story is to show it, rather than tell it.

The Stargate Series, thanks to its audio/visual medium, is ALL SHOW AND NO TELL. Viewers watch the characters through every interaction, through every scene. We never experience internal monologue or exposition. Every vital element must be expressed to viewers through action and dialogue. The writers and producers of the Stargate SG1 series have mastered the subtlety needed to get the vital facts to viewers. They cut the chaff and engage viewers in this rich, science fiction environment.

ACTION – Something is ALWAYS happening.

In fiction we can resort to other forms of narration to tell the story but the most engaging, interesting and enriching is to ‘show’ the story through a series of SCENES. (Note: Fiction isn’t ‘all show’ and ‘no tell’ – read more but “show, don’t tell” is a vital writer tip – learn why.)

Every move your characters make, everything they see and experience, everything that happens to and around them is action. Whenever the SG1 step through the Stargate they’re taking action. What they do on the other side is action-packed.

Action isn’t always about guns blazing and car chases. Simple things like dinner, work and even sex involve action. The important thing to remember is anything you show happening must move the story forward. Every scene should take the story toward its climax, its ending.

DIALOGUE – Communication with purpose.

Getting characters to communicate is a significant action that offers writers a chance to use language between characters to share other important information. All dialogue should serve a purpose in your story. It could be character development, fact expression, or relationship based but it must move the story forward.

I’ll go into dialogue more in future Writer’s Round-About entries. Meanwhile read more about dialogue, writing dialogue, dialogue tips, and dialogue in scripts vs. novels.

Television series are rich with elements that involve viewers. We reach into the stories, interacting on a cerebral level that generates interest in the characters and what happens to them. We see it happening, we hear it happening and the audio/visual cues pull us into the action. The exact same scene could be written in two different ways, ‘show’ or ‘tell’.

If you tell the story to someone it creates the distance of a second-hand account. As writers we want to close that gap as much as possible. Sometimes it’s appropriate to give your readers distance but most of the time readers want to be fully engaged. Pull them in by showing them the action. Then they can use all their senses to experience a story, rather than just read about it.

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Rebecca Laffar-Smith

Rebecca Laffar-Smith is a publisher, children's writer, and novelist. In 2010 she gave up a successful 12-year freelance career to focus on her three loves; family, community, and fiction. She self-published her debut novel The Flight of Torque in June 2014 and the first three titles in the P.I. Penguin series in from Aulexic in May 2015. At The Craft of Writing Fiction, Rebecca shares her journey of creation and learning with readers. She loves getting to know her fellow readers and writers and can be contacted through Twitter and Facebook, or Email.

18 thoughts on “SG1 Series Part Three: Action & Dialogue”

  1. Very good post, Rebecca! Everything you say is true. I drift off in my writing sometimes and try to “tell” when I should in fact be “showing.” This is something I’m working on 😉

  2. Thanks Michele! Don’t hesitate to add your own thoughts if you have more ideas or suggestions! For me, I often feel a little challenged by dialogue. I have tag issues. I’m still in the habit of using creative tags like denounced, shouted, whispered, hissed, ranted… I’m trying very hard to SHOW rather than tell when it comes to body language associated with speech.

  3. A very well thought out piece and very informative not just for beginning writers but for all writers. Showing as opposed to telling is pivitol when writing a story although nothing but one or the other is never good. A delicate balance of the two could make the story go a long way without being inundated in descriptive text or flat telling (to use extremes). Your notion, I think, can be applied to to most anything we see on screen. Actually, I think it’s one of the reasons why I don’t like the show Moonlight. The internal monologue of the female lead is just annoying and most of the time downright redundant. She thinks what she’s going to do just before she does what she just thought of doing. It’s not giving the viewer enough credit to deduce such a notion on their own. Anyway, excellent piece!

  4. Thank you, Kate. I’m glad you enjoyed this entry. Sometimes what we learn is so basic that it seems insignificant but it’s amazing how much dispute has errupted over the “Show, don’t tell” concept. Beginning writers feel like it means they can’t ever tell which is ineffective. It’s the careful balance that creates the most compelling stories.

    I haven’t had a chance to see Moonlight (I don’t think it’s out in Australia yet). I can’t imagine why they’d feel like they need to preempt all her action with internal monologue. In a way it defeats the showing aspect completely if she’s shown to think about it all first. And who does that anyway? Do we really run a conversation in our head plotting out every detail about the action we’re about to take? I certainly don’t. But perhaps I’m rather compulsive. Perhaps it’s worth writing a letter to the producers to express your concerns with that aspect of the series. I wonder how their writers/producers would handle critique from fellow writers.

    Thanks again for reading and I hope you’ll continue to enjoy The Writer’s Round-About.

  5. Hi Rebecca,

    I found your site through your link to my piece on Roses & Thorns. It will take me ages to go through all the great information you have here. What a useful site. I hope you’ll consider guesting for us.

  6. Thank you so much Nannette. I am certainly going to guest for you and I have all the details you send me. If only I could carve out the time. Why are there never enough hours in the day? 🙂 I’m glad you enjoy my blog. Feel free to drop a line to let me know if there is anything you’d like to read more about or have a guest post of your own to offer.

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