When we compare books and movies in regard to genres then both forms of entertainment have a lot in common: there are romances, dramas, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy stories and many more. But one thing seems to be reserved for movies only and this is the action category. This is no surprise since it’s so much easier to impress the audience with spectacular explosions, wild chases, epic battles or breathtaking duels and especially big blockbusters with a big budget have a lot of options to create quite a spectacle on screen and have movie fans on the edge of their seat.
Naturally it’s a much bigger challenge to tell action scenes when you can’t use any visual means so that it seems only logical that there’s no such thing as „action books“ but fortunately that doesn’t keep authors from using action scenes to make their books more exciting and add suspense to their stories. But how do actions scenes in books work for you? Do you find them as exciting as in movies or are they rather a filler to increase the number of pages?
Here’s what we think about action scenes in books:
Maraia: I hadn’t really thought about long action scenes in books until Sebastian brought up the topic, and to be honest, it’s because I tend to zone out during them. I zone out to the point that I might even miss an important death at the end of an action scene, as happened just the other day. Often when I’m discussing a buddy read with people, they’ll reference a certain shocking event, and I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about. If it happened in the middle of a long action scene, there’s a good chance I skimmed right over it. This is true no matter how much I’m enjoying a book.
That’s not to say I don’t want any action in books. I definitely enjoy a good action scene to speed along the plot, and I want my favorite characters to be badasses who do exciting things. When written well and of the appropriate length, they can be as exciting as in a movie. But often long action scenes are just fillers. One of my favorite books, for example, ends with non-stop action out of the blue, and it doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. It reminds me of when I had to write skits for Spanish class back in high school – my friend and I always ended them with everyone dying because we didn’t know what else to do. If an author runs out of ideas or needs more pages, an intense action scene tends to be the default. Unfortunately, this usually backfires. There’s only so much action our brains can handle and, at least for me, that amount is smaller in books than in movies.
I think there are also different expectations for movies than there are for books. When we watch a movie, what we want most is to be entertained. I can watch an entire movie without knowing anyone’s name and still love it. (That happens with books, too, but in those cases, it usually means I didn’t like the book.) With books, we still want to be entertained, but we also expect to get to know and grow attached to the characters. With constant action, there’s no real chance for either character development or world building. I guess it’s no surprise, then, that my very favorite books – the ones I read over and over – tend to be character- rather than plot-driven. I’m in it for the feels.
Sebastian: I’m not really a fan of action scenes in books because I always find it hard to stay attentive when I read longer scenes that don’t really add any progress to the story. I have to admit that I have the same problem when it comes to movies so that I’m always having a hard time not to fall asleep when I watch epic (and endless) action scenes like in the Transformers or James Bond movies – don’t get me wrong, I actually do enjoy watching those movies a lot but when I don’t really have to pay attention because it’s all just explosions and shootings and fights without any lines of dialogue I just get super tired.
That’s why I often skim through action scenes in books because it usually seems like nothing really important happens until the end of these passages and I often just don’t care who has the upper hand in a fight or who just suffered an injury or who jumped where or blocked a hit with a sword or whatever. The problem with this superficial reading is that I sometimes miss important things and wonder how someone suddenly ended up dead and then have to go back in the scene to see what I’ve missed – oops 😀
I’m definitely not against action scenes in books and many thrillers or scifi or fantasy novels would be missing something without chases, artistic sword fights or epic battles but really long action passages such in Pierce Brown’s „Red Rising“ trilogy, Jay Kristoff’s „Nevernight“ or Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series often just don’t work for me the way they’re supposed to.