In a movie, action is one of the biggest selling points to most blockbuster films. Trailers are the biggest indicator of that. They are filled with the big cgi/explosion heavy set pieces that cost millions of dollars and, between them, there are hints at an actual story.
When we watch a film, the big action sequences are what we often remember. Visually, we can experience a variety of emotions from sadness to excitement to fear within a few seconds.
This isn’t the same on the page (or tablet). In literature, action has traditionally been implied and the experience – until a few years ago – did not have the quick pace and range of emotions that popular culture is used to.
The trend has shifted somewhat in recent times. Writers are increasingly being able to create thrilling, exciting prose that compels the reader to flip through pages, absorbing the descriptions of catastrophic falling cities, space ships engaged in battle, a chase through a forest or a duel between the hero and the villain.
It is a unique art of the modern author to be able to create action in literature. Unlike film, you aren’t just concerned with how it looks. Mixed in between describing what is happening, writers are also painting a picture of the mindset of the characters.
A woman being stalked in a dark alley is enhanced by describing the little details she notices in the wall, shadows that startle her, the smell of sewage, the chill of the night air. All of these things draw the reader in, and if done well, allow them to actually feel what the character is feeling by touching on sensory cues we are all familiar with.
Just as much as this is part of describing a climb up a mountain, it can be used to describe a battle between two fighters.
Modern horror writers are uniquely aware of setting tension of a climactic sequence in the final chapter of a story. Just as much as authors in prior eras could creep out a reader with atmosphere and mood, they can scare them with visceral descriptions of terror.
While action in literature may not be as instantly gratifying as other forms of media, it has the ability to create even more of an impact. As literature continues to evolve, readers can expect to be treated to even more thrilling prose.