Action (narrative)

In literature, action is the physical movement of the characters.[1][2]

Action as a literary mode

"Action is the mode [that] fiction writers use to show what is happening at any given moment in the story," states Evan Marshall,[3] who identifies five fiction-writing modes: action, summary, dialogue, feelings/thoughts, and background.[4] Jessica Page Morrell lists six delivery modes for fiction-writing: action, exposition, description, dialogue, summary, and transition.[5] Peter Selgin refers to methods, including action, dialogue, thoughts, summary, scene, and description.

While dialogue is the element that brings a story and its characters to life on the page, and narrative gives the story its depth and substance, action creates the movement within a story. Writing a story means weaving all of the elements of fiction together. When it is done right, weaving dialogue, narrative, and action can create a beautiful tapestry.[6] A scene top-heavy with action can feel unreal because it is likely that characters doing something—anything at all—would be talking during the activity.[7]

See also


  1. Kempton (2004, p. 67)
  2. Turco (1999, p. 81)
  3. (Marshall 1998, p. 142)
  4. (Marshall 1998, pp. 143–165)
  5. (Morrell 2006, p. 127)
  6. Kempton (2004, p. 67)
  7. Kempton (2004, p. 75)


  • Kempton, Gloria (2004), Write Great Fiction: Dialogue, Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, ISBN 1-58297-289-3
  • Marshall, Evan (1998). The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. pp. 143–165. ISBN 1-58297-062-9.
  • Morrell, Jessica Page (2006). Between the Lines: Master the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 978-1-58297-393-7.
  • Turco, Lewis (1999), The Book of Literary Terms: The Genres of Fiction, Drama, Nonfiction, Literary Criticism, and Scholarship, Hanover: University Press of New England, ISBN 0-87451-954-3
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