An excerpt from the recently updated edition of The Big Book of Writing, available as a comprehensive guide to writing (click right) or in sections (click images below).
Do we need action verbs to describe passive scenes? Yes, only more so. Look at Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov, a classic chronicle of indolence:
Ilya Ilyich Oblomov was lying in bed one morning in his flat in Gorokhovaya Street. … Thoughts promenaded freely all over his face, fluttered about in his eyes, reposed on his half-parted lips, concealed themselves in the furrows of his brow and then vanished completely—and it was at such moments that an expression of serene unconcern spread all over his face. This unconcern passed from his face into the contours of his body and even into the folds of his dressing-gown.
Notice the active verbs—promenaded, fluttered, reposed, concealed, vanished, spread, and passed. If Goncharov simply described Oblomov as lazy or inert, we would not care to read about him. But Goncharov describes inaction with action. We see things happen, even if the lead character does nothing.