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Barrett
04-27-2009, 11:34 PM
While checking the main page at absolutewrite.com, I noticed the new release from literary agent Donald Maass, "The Fire in Fiction". Since I've recently purchased his "Writing the Breakout Novel," I was interested and I read the excerpt posted, which deals with what Donald Maass calls micro-tension.
Donald's premise has always been been about tension in one form or another, for the simple fact that page-turners sell. His particular focus with micro-tension is the page by page tension that successful books need (despite the fact that Donald did find numerous books that lacked that tension, at least to his standards.)
This appears to be directly related to the ol' "throw the pages on the ground and read them out of order-is there tension and reader interest?" trick that Donald describes in his earlier workshops.

I intend to try the approach. I think it has a lot of merit.

My question is, do you strive for page by page tension and if so, how do you do it? What techniques do you use?

Feidb
04-27-2009, 11:55 PM
I read plenty of stuff out there that doesn't necessarily have tension on every page.

I just like to tell the story and see what comes out in the wash. To me, too much tension can get old and tiring, instead of the other way around. However, given the supposed market, if this is another one of those annoying "rules" that all new writers have to comply with (where established writers don't), then I guess we'll all have to do it until we get an established audience.

I can see tension in every scene, but am not sure it has to be on every page.

There is usually no tension for the characters in describing a scene (unless it's a horrific one). However, if you take up an entire page describing a scene, you have another problem!

I tend to inject humor into my stories, but even then, one might consider that tension, just another kind.

My technique, if you want to call it that, is to lay it all down when I get the inspiration, and worry about the details later. The more practice, the less you have to change afterward. However, do not let it get in the way of your creativity. I probably add conflict and tension as a matter of habit now, where before, I would have to go back and add it in if either I or someone else spotted a lack of it (said a section was slow, for instance).

Conflict was something that came up a lot at the Las Vegas Writer's Conference. I heard over and over again, you have to have conflict all the time, or nobody will continue reading. I'm glad that as a reader, I'm not that demanding and can be happy with a lull now and then.

I heard one guy complaining that this whole conflict problem was because of the 30 second MTV-induced attention span of the average reader (must have been talking about the 18-49 demographic). I've joked (and not joked about it)plenty of times in the past, and was kind of surprised to hear someone else say it. Is that what's going on here? I don't know. All I know is if I come to a page with no tension in a book I'm reading, I don't throw it down and go on to something else. I keep on reading.

Sorry to get off on a tangent here.

The bottom line is to do what feels right to you.

Barrett
04-28-2009, 12:14 AM
No, I can see the reason for the tangent. I always felt that if I had a reader's attention and had given them a strong start, the reader would then be a little more trusting when I needed a slow build. They'd treat it like the slow click-click-click up a rollercoaster hill, knowing the descent would be worthwhile.

To be fair, I haven't read "The Fire in Fiction", so I don't know what techniques Donald outlines in the work. I don't believe it's explosions, chases, misfires or shocking language every page. I think it boils down to addictive word flow.

I'll do what feels right to me, naturally. I'm just curious what others have tried to attain it, what methods they've employed to spice up the page.

Gillhoughly
04-28-2009, 01:31 AM
I respect Don as a literary agent, but will point out that he himself has never written a "break out" novel.

Use whatever device appeals to you, whatever works for you as a writer, but write what turns you on, not what you think will sell or is in style.

He tried to shift one of my books into the "break out" mode, but my stuff is character, not plot-driven. He wanted bigger and bolder, and that's not my style. I don't write about Man, but about *a* man.

Because of that and some other things I let Don go as my agent and got another who "gets" my work.

Sales are goooooooood!

Break out books tend to be plot heavy with stock characters and not much strain on the brain.

Da Vinci Code is a good example. I didn't like it, and can't recall the name of any of the characters. There's a professor, a girl, a bad guy, a crazy bad guy, a lot of travel, and pi**-poor climax for the wait, IMO. His research was pretty sloppy, too.

But ask me about anything by Lois Bujold or Jim Butcher and I will give you lengthy character biographies + family histories! :D

maestrowork
04-28-2009, 01:42 AM
My question is, do you strive for page by page tension and if so, how do you do it? What techniques do you use?

I strive to tell a darn good story. Yes, I want to immerse you in my world and hold you there. But as far as micro-anything goes, no. I think that kind of micromanagement of plot development or characterization can lead to paint by numbers or stifle creativity: "Oh, there should be tension on every page." Sometimes a nice, long stroll is great, too, to break off the tension.

Tension is important, but I think something like "tension on every page" is a bit of an overkill and too restrictive.

I respect Maass as an agent and certainly he knows his stuff, but on the other hand, one size doesn't fit all. If that's the case, then everything will read like a Michael Bay movie. It's not to say, if you want to write the next Da Vinci Code, you shouldn't study how that's done and done well. There's nothing wrong to want to be Michael Bay -- his movies sell tickets. But there are all kinds of stories and all kinds of treatment. A writer needs to learn his tools, then find the RIGHT tools for the right material.

So, if your story needs micro-tension on every page, do it. If not, don't sweat about it.

brokenfingers
04-28-2009, 01:44 AM
I respect Don as a literary agent, but will point out that he himself has never written a "break out" novel.

Use whatever device appeals to you, whatever works for you as a writer, but write what turns you on, not what you think will sell or is in style.

He tried to shift one of my books into the "break out" mode, but my stuff is character, not plot-driven. He wanted bigger and bolder, and that's not my style. I don't write about Man, but about *a* man.

Because of that and some other things I let Don go as my agent and got another who "gets" my work.

Sales are goooooooood!

Break out books tend to be plot heavy with stock characters and not much strain on the brain.

Da Vinci Code is a good example. I didn't like it, and can't recall the name of any of the characters. There's a professor, a girl, a bad guy, a crazy bad guy, a lot of travel, and pi**-poor climax for the wait, IMO. His research was pretty sloppy, too.

But ask me about anything by Lois Bujold or Jim Butcher and I will give you lengthy character biographies + family histories! :DI'm definitely not disagreeing with anything you said here, but it's something I've been pondering for awhile.

What does this say about the book-reading public? And how does this reflect in the mindset of agents, who are the gatekeepers through which a writer must pass to reach that public.

maestrowork
04-28-2009, 01:49 AM
What does this say about the book-reading public? And how does this reflect in the mindset of agents, who are the gatekeepers through which a writer must pass to reach that public.

People are generally more impatient and have shorter attention spans. Blame it on movies, TV or video games, or just that people don't have a lot of time to invest in their entertainment. It's particularly true with commercial fiction (which Maass sells, mostly). I would counter by saying that if people are willing to read a book instead of watching a 2-hour movie, they are more flexible: meaning they would tolerate a few pages without any kind of tension or plot movements. But anything more than that -- worse, if you have a few chapters without any tension, conflicts or movements, more often than not the person will put down your book and do/read something else.

An analogy can actually be found in movies and TV. Sometimes a filmmaker truly believe in order to make a blockbuster, they need it to be bigger, louder, bolder, and action every minute. In theory that sounds really good. In practice, what they come up with are a lot of tediously loud action-adventures that just become mind-bogglingly bad. And the audiences lose interest. If you look at two of the biggest movies last year: Ironman and The Dark Knight, you would notice that they didn't always move at a breakneck pace. There were awesomely quieter moments and character developments. Compared them to the last 30 minutes of The Transformers, for example, which was like porn. That gets old quickly.

brokenfingers
04-28-2009, 01:55 AM
People are generally more impatient and have shorter attention spans. Blame it on movies, TV or video games, or just that people don't have a lot of time to invest in their entertainment. It's particularly true with commercial fiction (which Maass sells, mostly). I would counter by saying that if people are willing to read a book instead of watching a 2-hour movie, they are more flexible: meaning they would tolerate a few pages without any kind of tension or plot movements. But anything more than that -- worse, if you have a few chapters without any tension, conflicts or movements, more often than not the person will put down your book and do/read something else.Hmmm, I agree. I think some stories also definitely need some rest areas (but should still have an underlying tension, like a main story question etc. to pull the reader through.)

But I also think that it's in the low tension areas that a writer's style becomes that much more important. With a good, engaging style, a writer can pull a reader through a page or a chapter without the contrivance of micro-tension.

But tension is still something to shoot for when possible.

loiterer
04-28-2009, 01:59 AM
Diaogue.
I think dialogue, to be necessary to the story, should generally have an element of tension about it. Simple standard dialogue techniques such as characters interrupting, talking at cross-purposes, misunderstanding the other, talking about one thing while meaning another, etc. if your dialogue has tension in it, it's probably good dialogue.

I have not thought about this in any great detail, BTW. Just an idea to ponder, knowing that a lot of people seem to find writing dialogue difficult.

Rushie
04-28-2009, 02:42 AM
Depends on what you mean by "tension". There needs to be something on every single page to make the reader care to go to the next one. Or at least in every scene, but if a scene drags on for several pages, you better have built up some sort of "tension". But "tension" does not mean intense conflict in every scene. The level of intensity needs to vary as others point out, if it's maximum all the time the reader will burn out. It can be soft and light, such as gentle teasing between lovers, or it can be simply internal, a character feeling self doubt. But if there is nothing there, say, you spend three pages just describing a setting, you risk losing the reader even if your prose is glorious. You might get away with this in the middle of a book if you've hooked the reader well up to that point, but you are still taking a chance. I've been known to abandon books midway through because the author got too draggy.

swvaughn
04-28-2009, 02:53 AM
But ask me about anything by Lois Bujold or Jim Butcher and I will give you lengthy character biographies + family histories! :D

Ah, but Jim Butcher is represented by the Maass agency (Jennifer Jackson).

:D

It's definitely true, as G said, that different things work for different people, and one can find all styles of author at all good agencies, IMHO. Of course, for the same reason, some agent-writer matches are better than others.

I've read Don's Writing the Breakout Novel and accompanying workbook, and used some of the techniques, and they worked great for me (and he does define "tension on every page" as something different than frequent deaths, explosions and car chases - it's a subtle thing). Then again, I know some good writers who haven't read the books and don't care to, and are doing just fine as well.

So, as with all things writing, YMMV.

Back to lurking with me, now. :)

Gillhoughly
04-28-2009, 03:25 AM
What does this say about the book-reading public?

That in my opinion, their taste is in their mouth. They want mind-candy. It's not a bad thing; it is what it is.

I've stopped picking up bestsellers for pleasure-reading unless it's a book by a writer that I'd read anyway. I find many top sellers to be vapid. I don't waste time reading vapid.

I do not write to a trend, but about something I find personally interesting that keeps me plugging away. If my agent and editor and readers agree with me--YAY!

And how does this reflect in the mindset of agents, who are the gatekeepers through which a writer must pass to reach that public.While there is art involved, this is a business. The bottom line is how much people think your words are worth. An agent is a business person after a profit. They're less gatekeepers than a slush filters!

An agent is looking to acquire something she can sell to an editor.

An editor is looking to acquire something she can sell to the Suits upstairs.

The Suits upstairs are the last ones to know what will be the Next big Thing. They buy a lot of books, usually on the recommendation of experienced editors. The Suits want to spend as little as possible (your advance) to make as much as possible. In exchange, they have the distribution to get your book into a store where readers will buy or not buy it.

When one title makes a hit, they buy more of that type until the trend plays out. They pray for a hit, but there's no way they can predict it.

Who knew that cloned dinosaurs would be a Big Thing? Or lawyers or vampire teens or young wizards? When Da Vinci Code came out, everyone scrambled for treasure hunt books involving secret societies. All you needed was a professor, a girl, a bad guy, an insane bad guy, a MacGuffin, and a high body count during the chase.

When Clan of the Cave Bear made a hit--and HOW that happened I don't know, as it's got an opening worthy of any Bulwar-Lytton worst first sentence contest--everyone had to have more stone age soap opera.

When The Exorcist hit number one, suddenly the book racks were covered with black covers and one-word titles.

What's next?

Maybe cloned teen vampire pre-law students form a secret wizard society.... They Fight Crime!

http://fc01.deviantart.com/fs36/f/2008/259/3/1/Harry_Potter_Anime_Style_by_FallenMessiahX.jpg

Memnon624
04-28-2009, 04:07 AM
I respect Don as a literary agent, but will point out that he himself has never written a "break out" novel.

Gill, I . . . I think I love you! I've been telling a friend of mine this for *years*, but she persists in paying money to attend every single seminar Don holds. The man can sell the crap out of a book, but going to any agent for writing advice is much like going up to Steven Spielberg's agent and pumping him for info on how to make a blockbuster movie.

/end rant

I will now go back to lurking and playing with my Gillhoughly action figures . . .


Scott

brokenfingers
04-28-2009, 04:30 AM
Gill, I . . . I think I love you! I've been telling a friend of mine this for *years*, but she persists in paying money to attend every single seminar Don holds. The man can sell the crap out of a book, but going to any agent for writing advice is much like going up to Steven Spielberg's agent and pumping him for info on how to make a blockbuster movie.

/end rant

I will now go back to lurking and playing with my Gillhoughly action figures . . .


ScottWell, I don't think he's selling advice as a writer, but as an agent -- who has lots of experience selling stories. So he has that particular perspective and knowledge as to what sells. And that's what he's selling - from his perspective as someone whose job it is to give the public (via publishers) what they want.

He's just basically saying what he's looking for as an agent, meaning what he thinks will sell best. That's his job.

But it doesn't mean his advice isn't good and it doesn't mean that's the only stuff that'll sell. Other authors and editors have different perspectives on what works and write their own 'how-to' books accordingly.

There is no one formula for success. If the shoe fits, wear it, if not, then just try another one.

Maas deals mostly in bestsellers or potential bestsellers, but as has been mentioned, bestsellers aren't for everyone. I feel exactly the same way as Gilloughly as far as bestsellers go. Always have.

I guess whether or not Maas' advice is for you depends on the writer, their story, their goals and their target audience.

Gillhoughly
04-28-2009, 04:36 AM
Getting writing advice from an agent depends on the agent.

My "new" agent (ten years now) recently sold her own YA series. I've yet to read it, but noticed that SHE in turn had an agent rep it for her.

Many agents are great at writing advice. Others, not so much. What is more important is finding one who can get behind your work.

I did try to get advice from Don, he was ever free to offer it, but he always leaned toward writing to a trend, and lacked (for me) an ability to think outside the box. When he wanted a certain type of genre book from me he suggested the exact same narrative gimmick that was used in a current bestseller. I am NOT kidding, he did. I was underwhelmed.

He got into the bad habit of shooting down every idea I DID come up with.

That's the absolute opposite of what I learned from Chuck Jones, who did not allow the word "no" to be used in his cartoon studio. However out there, any idea can have potential in the right hands!

Don wanted high concept blockbusters, which ain't what I am comfortable doing, he pulled a few business gaffs that I did not approve, and stopped answering calls, fobbing me onto an assistant. I'm not a clingy type who needs to hold hands. When I call there is a good reason for it!

As my "new" agent can confirm.

Her response when I throw an idea out? "Send me a proposal!"

Speaking of which--I need to get cracking on a new one... now.

Again, he is an excellent agent, but until he actually writes a blockbuster himself, I would take his advice with some salty discretion.

wrinkles
04-28-2009, 05:03 AM
I believe in lots of conflict, and lots of tension, too. Tension is interesting, and that's what I strive for. I can't claim that I achieve it on every page, but I try. Tension isn't the same as conflict, and that's what keeps it from inducing reader burnout. Take a family holiday meal for example. There can be lots of different kinds and degrees of tension there, but usually people get through it and it doesn't result in out-and-out conflict. Usually.

I try to achieve constant tension by developing characters in tension. That way, it kind of generates itself without much thought going into it. And if you think about it, in real life, almost every relationship carries some level of tension with it.

There's tension between a mother and daughter because the mother doesn't approve of daughter's husband, child-rearing practices, politics, religion, and on and on. There's tension between father and son, because dad thinks son isn't living up to potential, didn't follow dad into military, and on and on. There can even, and often is, tension between best friends if BF did something thinking it was in MC's best interest, but it turns out to be a disaster, both are interested in same man, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And these tensions don't have to remain constant throughout the novel. Best friends reconcile, parents get sick and children forgive and forget and so on, and so on.

So characters in tension create tension and tension may erupt into conflict. Everyone's life is saturated with it, and so novels should be also. In my opinion.

Memnon624
04-28-2009, 07:56 AM
All very true, Brokenfingers.

Maas deals mostly in bestsellers or potential bestsellers, but as has been mentioned, bestsellers aren't for everyone.

I guess my main point is, if this sort of book was what I had my heart set on writing, I'd go to the author of a similar book for advice long before I'd go to the agent who sold it. The friend I mentioned above finally started doing this, too. Going to workshops and conferences and plying Big Name Authors with drink and charm in order to get them to answer her questions ;) She's gotten quite a few of them to critique her premise and her chapters . . . and a good bit of their advice flies in the face of what she learned at Don's workshops. I guess all this high concept business is well and good, but for my part I'd rather have hard nuts-and-bolts advice from the people who actually write such books for a living (erase "such books" and add the genre of your choosing).

Best,

Scott

Matera the Mad
04-28-2009, 09:53 AM
I see tension as something like pumping a playground swing. You swing both back and forward. If you swing too hard, you go woopsy up and over. Sometimes you need to take a break too. Nice idyllic picnic lunch with a little joke-telling before the next dragon. Waves are another good analogy. They can't all be tsunamis, but if they are all merely ripples, who cares.

8thSamurai
04-28-2009, 10:04 AM
It may be a term confusion thing - the 'tension' he's describing isn't about high drama, it's about the reader wanting to turn the page.

Every line should either progress the story, or reveal something new about the situation or character. If you're repeating yourself, or nothing has been learned, dump it.

maestrowork
04-28-2009, 10:13 AM
Hmmm, I agree. I think some stories also definitely need some rest areas (but should still have an underlying tension, like a main story question etc. to pull the reader through.)

...


But tension is still something to shoot for when possible.

I certainly believe there should always be an overall tension for the story arc. Even if you're having a nice quiet picnic, the imminence of the end of the world should still be in the back of your mind, for example.

And I also like include tension whenever I can -- and tension doesn't mean big conflicts or drama. Anther way to look at tension is "desire vs. reaction." Every character should have some kind of desires and wants, and these desires and wants are usually not met. Thus you will have tension, even in the most mundane scenes. In Atonement, for example, even during some of the most languid scenes, you never lose sight of the fact that there are unmet or conflicting desires and wants in every scene, over the course of the entire events and story. Briony's desire to grow up and be rid of her silly childish ways (before she's ready for it). The sexual tension between Robbie and Cecilia. The sexual tension between Paul and Lola. The family tension of the absent patriarch. The sibling rivalry between Cecilia and Briony. Etc. etc. Every scene, even if it's just talking about the roast and the garden, is ripe with tension of desires and wants.

That certainly makes for intriguing reading. Again, it is not always necessarily (in another thread, we talked about slice of life stories that sometimes don't have much tension). However, the longer you go without any kind of tension, the more likely your readers may become bored, unless you have a really interesting voice that would keep them reading regardless of tension or plot.

motormind
04-28-2009, 11:21 AM
My question is, do you strive for page by page tension and if so, how do you do it? What techniques do you use?

It's something a talented writer does instinctively. If you have to learn it from a book, I don't know whether writing is the thing for you. Maass' suggestion of adding tension to random pages is amusing, but not all that practical and could likely even ruin an otherwise fine story.

Barrett
04-28-2009, 06:51 PM
Motormind, I'm getting the feeling you are firmly in the school of writing is a natural talent. That's cool with me, but I love talking technique and yes, writing is the thing for me.

Maestrowork, your 'desire vs. reaction' definition of tension is nice, compact. It got me thinking; if you have fleshed-out characters furthering the story by dialogue and action, tension by your definition appears almost automatically, even if the characters have coffee for five pages. I can't help but wonder how many of Maass' suggestions boil down to good ol' character development.

Bubastes
04-28-2009, 07:17 PM
Maestrowork, your 'desire vs. reaction' definition of tension is nice, compact. It got me thinking; if you have fleshed-out characters furthering the story by dialogue and action, tension by your definition appears almost automatically, even if the characters have coffee for five pages. I can't help but wonder how many of Maass' suggestions boil down to good ol' character development.

Bingo.

motormind
06-05-2009, 06:09 PM
Motormind, I'm getting the feeling you are firmly in the school of writing is a natural talent. That's cool with me, but I love talking technique and yes, writing is the thing for me.


It is more that I believe that nobody really knows why a piece of writing works, be it Maass or anybody else. I think techniques like micro-tension or Swain's scene-sequel structure are mostly figments of the imagination. People will start seeing them in writing simply because they want to see them and I am convinced that trying to implement these in your own work is a sure road to disaster. The only technique that might some merit is the three-act structure, and even that only in specific instances.

In the end it boils down to insecurity. People simply don't trust in their own talent. And indeed, they may not have it, but you will never find out until you try to write yourself.

NeuroFizz
06-05-2009, 06:24 PM
Tension on every page seems like a dream for those who don't have a good handle on pacing--just slap the pedal to the floor and don't let up until the beast runs out of gasoline. But that dream may be a nightmare to readers.

If a writer looks to manufacture tension it may well have that veneer of laminate wood (looks real from a distance only). Better to let tension evolve from the writing, in which case, it likely won't be found on every page of the manuscript. But it will have a better chance of jumping out of those pages as a three-dimensional wood grain (rather than the two-dimensional grain of the veneer). And what's the difference between two and three dimensions here? DEPTH.

Willowmound
06-05-2009, 06:40 PM
My question is, do you strive for page by page tension and if so, how do you do it? What techniques do you use?

Yes. The "technique" I employ is simply feeling for it. I can feel when tension is missing. When that happens, I delete and try again. I've constantly got my feelers out for this, so I rarely go very far down the wrong path before noticing.

I think. Hope.

K_Woods
06-05-2009, 09:28 PM
Tension on every page seems like a dream for those who don't have a good handle on pacing--just slap the pedal to the floor and don't let up until the beast runs out of gasoline. But that dream may be a nightmare to readers.

I read a book like that once. It is the only book that has ever given me a headache. Not the metaphorical kind, but actual physical pain. It's long since been sold to a used bookstore, but the lesson remained: constant tension is a bad idea. I don't want to write something that requires an NSAID and an hour's rest after reading.

Heck, just hearing the idea that every page needs tension is making me go "Ouch."

Willowmound
06-05-2009, 10:06 PM
I think a lot of people don't understand what microtension means.

Bubastes
06-05-2009, 10:09 PM
I think a lot of people don't understand what microtension means.

Agreed. To me, microtension simply means giving the reader a reason to turn the page. I believe Medievalist calls it "narrative lust." :)

Willowmound
06-05-2009, 10:15 PM
Great phrase.

And yeah. Microtension is about all those little things that keep the narrative interesting. The big blam stuff, that's macrotension. Or just bangs. Whatever you want to call it.

K_Woods
06-05-2009, 11:29 PM
I think I'm getting hung up on the word "tension," micro- or otherwise. It sounds too much like tugging on a rubber band, but always keeping it stretched past its rest state. Shoddy metaphor, but the closest I can think of.

Willowmound
06-05-2009, 11:53 PM
Actually, the tension in good fiction arises from the pulling and relaxing of that rubber band. That's basically pacing.

It might be easier to spot on the macro level, but it's there in the small stuff too. In the rhythm of dialogue, for instance, or the imagery in a piece of description.

FOTSGreg
06-06-2009, 12:45 AM
Poking my head in probably where it doesn't belong, but not even the "Masters" of genre fiction can manage tension on every page all of the time. One of my all-time favorite books is Phantoms by Dean Koontz. That book is one of the few that managed it and left me physically shaking. However, Strangers, also by Koontz, doesn't manage it. Lightning's a good read as is Midnight, but there are sections of the books that drag.

King is another example. Some of his books simply rock (From A Buick 8 is a good example), but others (Insomnia) simply drag on and on and on.

In my own writing I've been working on a novel, polishing it and re-polishing, for the last 2-1/2 years. It's now in 7th draft. I have tried hard to put action and a cliffhanger in every chapter, especially the end, but is there tension on every single page? I seriously doubt it.

I've also been reading a lot outside my standard genre these days, particularly Dashell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but also a lot of Glen Cook and Joe Konrath (he hangs out around here sometimes), and while I don;t see "tension" exactly on every page there is something happening on every page. Perhaps the experts aren't speaking solely of "tension" in the standard way we are naturally prone to think, but in the idea of "something happening" on every page rather than characters standing or sitting around doing a lot of navel-gazing?

NeuroFizz
06-06-2009, 01:18 AM
Actually, the tension in good fiction arises from the pulling and relaxing of that rubber band. That's basically pacing.

It might be easier to spot on the macro level, but it's there in the small stuff too. In the rhythm of dialogue, for instance, or the imagery in a piece of description.
Thanks to others upstream for an elaboration on microtension. Pacing is just as it suggests--a useful and deliberate unevenness in progression. Even a thermostat set on 70 degrees (F) will go slightly above that temperature before cutting off and slightly below it before kicking back on, with an overall average of 70 degrees.

With the new definition/explanation of microtension and Willow's comments here, it's likely microtension will be present on nearly every page, but if one spreads the pages out in random order and picks one, there may not seem to be any tension (micro or otherwise) there at all. That's because much of this microtension may be context-dependent--it's there but only within the context of its story-surroundings. So, the random-page test may fail, but the story may be just fine, even full to the brim, with microtension.

Dale Emery
06-06-2009, 02:02 AM
Depends on what you mean by "tension". There needs to be something on every single page to make the reader care to go to the next one.

I don't think Maass means only conflict. Conflict is one kind of tension, but there are others. Curiosity, for example. "I just gotta know!"

I once read Asimov's short story "Robot Dreams" looking for tension and release. I don't remember the details now, but I remember that the sentences and paragraphs had a kind of momentum that pulled me along. The key was that each sentence opened up some new question that I wanted answered.

I'd call that micro-tension. I don't know whether that's what Maass means.

A sequence of sentences that opens up too many questions and offers too few answers is confusing. A sequence that offers too many answers and opens up too few questions leaves me bored (except at the end of a story, when all of the big questions have been answered). Either way, that's an opportunity for me to put the story down and maybe not pick it up again.

So I guess I want each sentence to leave me with enough sentence-level tension to pull me to the next; each paragraph to leave me with enough paragraph-level tension; each scene ...

Dale

Indirectly
06-09-2009, 08:13 PM
I did happen to read the book in question. "Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds. It is not a function of plot. This type of tension does not come from high stakes or the circumstances of a scene." Donald Maass, Fire in Fiction, page 189. Any typos are mine. (I collect them.)

In this light, I do think micro-tension is essential and generally sub(un)conscious. Whatever else about him as an agent, writer, etc., is, imo, separate from the idea of micro-tension for the purposes of deciding if it's something applicable for a writer. In my case I ended up feeling I learned something valuable but your mileage may vary. (And probably does.)