Because it's easier for me to begin to understand a concept by sharing it with others, my plan is to write a few posts here centered around what Maass says is "the secret for making a page turner."
My notes say: Micro-tension: The line-by-line tension that carries the reader. Makes them momentarily apprehensive, anxious—enough to make them read the very next line, and then the next.
Maass says in The Fire in Fiction: 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. Action does not generate it. Dialogue does not produce it automatically. Exposition—the interior monologue of the point-of-view character—does not necessarily raise its level.
I often hear writers talk about authors "getting away with" breaking the rules. Opening with weather or landscaping, dumping backstory when we all know it's supposed to be sprinkled like a very rare, very pungent spice throughout the story, but not before page 50!
Maass says that when you don't have micro-tension, the reader is likely to skim. Too much skimming and you've lost them forever. When you do have micro-tension, you can get away with anything.
From Fire: . . . micro-tension has its basis not in story circumstances or in words: it comes from emotions and not just any old emotions but conflicting emotions.
I hope to sort through this with you over the next few days as I learn about tension in dialogue, action and exposition, and try to apply it to my own writing.
Stepping off the cliff now . . .
CR: Identity Crisis by Debbi Mack
It's all better with friends.