Created By: Zernik on January 23, 2012 Last Edited By: Zernik on February 2, 2012

Pop-Up Text

When people get a text message, it shows up on both their screen and ours.

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Needs More Examples - if they're out there.

Text messaging - known to our non-American readers as SMS - is very different from the normal kinds of dialogue seen in TV and film. Speakers are in different locations, like a phone call, but they're communicating in writing. Unlike with e-mail or letters, the writing is usually so short that switching to voice-over would provide some very jarring transitions. Some creators resort to cutting to a shot of the screen, but that hides the setting and character reactions.

One solution (rare, but slowly catching on) is to show the text as an animated effect, either with cartoon-style speech bubbles or just text fading onto the screen.


  • Used massively in Sherlock
  • In the American version of Shameless (season 2 episode 3) when Fiona gets some text messages they show up as iPhone-style speech bubbles on-screen.
Community Feedback Replies: 10
  • January 23, 2012
    Needs A Better Title, I think, though YMMV. Definitely Needs More Examples - anyone have any?
  • January 25, 2012
    Think it could be pegged as a sub trope to Fun With Subtitles
  • January 25, 2012
    Huh. The only place I had ever seen this was on Sherlock, so I didn't think it was trope-worthy just yet. Might be too new to trope, since texting (and thus, depictions of texting) is a relatively recent phenomenon.

    If you can find more examples, though, then yeah, this is definitely a trope. I agree it needs a better title though. Maybe Fourth Wall Text Message or something?
  • January 26, 2012
    ^ Hmmm. I was hoping it had caught more traction than just two works. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what creators choose to do with in-show texting over the next few years.
  • January 27, 2012
    I've certainly seen the effect used in a couple of cell phone commercials, though I can't recall which ones. Though in most straight shows, I believe creators still prefer to just have the characters read the texts out loud.
  • January 27, 2012
    In the description: "Unlike with e-mail or letters, the writing is usually so short that switching to voice-over would provide some very jarring transitions."

    Actually, I'm pretty sure I've seen shows use the "read text aloud" thing and purposefully read every emotion or abbreviation as a way to play it for comedy. Like a character getting a text and then reading, aloud, "'I love you open bracket number 3'? What does that mean?"
  • January 29, 2012
    ^ "Reading text aloud" and switching to voice over are two different concepts. But as I said before, I believe that the reading of the text message is the most common way of handling the situation.
  • January 29, 2012
    Pop Up Text, as a name, made me think of Alt Text.
  • January 30, 2012
    I think I saw this on an MTV movie, dated either 2010 or 11. It was a prom movie, with Two Girls And A Guy in a non-love triangle, that was basically a wacky hijinks adventure of the three mentioned before after their respective dates all dumped them. In any case, near the start of the movie, one of the characters is seen walking and texting. Beside her, we see incoming and outgoing messages between her and an unspecified friend.
  • February 2, 2012
    This is used in a series of John Hancock commercials.