Balancing Description and Action

Have you ever read a book that had you spellbound with its beautifully detailed descriptions but left you yawning when it came to the action? Or maybe you’ve come across a story that was all action, no pause, like a runaway train? Let’s talk about why it’s important to strike the right balance between description and action in your storytelling.

Description vs. Action

Description vs. Action

The descriptions are the sprinkles of your narrative, adding color and texture. It draws readers into your world and makes them feel like they’re living it right along with the characters.

But action is the meat of your story—the plot, the events and the happenings that keep your readers on the edge of their seats.

Importance of Balancing Description and Action

Imagine you’re making a sandwich. Too much bread (description), and it’s dry and boring. Too much filling (action), and it’s overwhelming, and hard to chew.

But the right balance of bread and filling? That’s a satisfying sandwich! Your story works the same way. Without enough description, your world feels flat and uninteresting. Without enough action, your story lacks momentum.

Tips for Achieving That Balance

  1. Know when to show and when to tell: Vivid sensory descriptions are great when you want to immerse your readers in a scene or highlight a significant moment. But during action sequences, keep descriptions brief and focus on what’s happening.
  2. Use description to enhance action: Use descriptive details to make your action scenes more vivid. Instead of “He ran,” try “His heart pounded in his chest as he sprinted across the deserted street.”
  3. Avoid over-describing: Every detail in your description should serve a purpose. If it doesn’t add to the scene or character or slows down the pace too much, consider cutting it.

Remember, every story is a balancing act between description and action. It’s about knowing when to immerse your reader in the rich tapestry of your world and when to pull them along on the ride of the plot. And like any balancing act, it just takes practice.


Here are three excerpts from the same scene. Can you figure out which one has too much description, too much action and the right balance?

Excerpt A: “Adam’s heart pounded like a leather drum in his chest. The sound of it echoed in his ears, louder than the police sirens wailing off the city’s buildings in the distance. Sweat ran down his face, stinging his eyes and soaking his lips with a salty resin, but he didn’t dare slow down to wipe it away. The wind roared in his ears as he raced down a dark, empty alley filled with heaps of putrid garbage.”

Excerpt B: “Adam ran down the alley and jumped over a garbage can, slid under a ladder, and dodged a stray cat. The cop sirens wailed in the air somewhere.”

Excerpt C: “Despite the dangers, Adam turned and darted down the dark alley, his heart pounding in sync with the distant wail of several police sirens in pursuit. The cold autumn wind stung his face, but he ignored it as he wove around dented trash cans and piles of garbage.”

Answer Key

“Excerpt A is a little too heavy on description, focusing more on Adam’s internal sensations and less on the action of him running.

Excerpt B has too much action, detailing Adam’s movements but giving the reader zero sense of his feelings or what the scene even looks like.

Excerpt C perfectly balances description and action. It gives the reader enough sensory detail to paint a picture while focusing on Adam’s desperate escape.