Micro Tension: Why You Can’t Put That Book Down

A Little Mystery

A Little Mystery


It’s been a little while since I’ve been absolutely hooked on a book series. I think the last one was the “Shatter Me” series by Taherah Mafi. You know the feeling I’m talking about when I say “hooked”, right? That overwhelming impulse to keep turning pages, that eagerness to get your hands on the next book that becomes so strong that an emergency bookstore visit is inevitable, that desire to talk at length about the series to anyone that will listen.

That’s what I mean by hooked.

And right now I’m hooked again. It’s a beautiful feeling. I’m reading “Crown of Midnight” by Sarah J Maas. I read the first book on a road trip to LA, and it was only occasionally that I managed to tear my eyes off the page and take in the scenery. After I finished the book, my sister (who doesn’t read fantasy) stole the book and devoured it in one day.

Now as I go through Crown of Midnight, reading so fast I’m leaving little puffs of dust behind me like the road runner, I’m forcing myself to stop and consider exactly WHY I’m enjoying the series so much. I came to a conclusion, but I didn’t have a name for it until I looked it up. It’s a world that literary agent, Donald Maass talks about quite often.


I got excited when I saw an article on this, because it was saying exactly what I’d been thinking, and there was an actual term for it. So what is micro-tension?

Micro-tension is that thin stream of electric tension running through each page of your favorite books, it’s what forces you to keep turning pages. The thing that has you asking “what happens next”? It’s called “micro” because they’re not earth-shattering things, it’s little things that keep you guessing, or worried about the characters you love.

There are lots of different things you can do with micro-tension, and lots of different kinds, but my personal favorite, and the thing that “Throne of Glass” and “Shatter Me” are both so packed full of, is Character Micro-tension.

I’m always one for examples, so here are just a few things that have me hooked on “Crown of Midnight”.

-Celaena is the king’s assassin, but he doesn’t trust her (with good reason). Every move she makes in his presence must be carefully calculated. Every sideways look he gives her might end badly for her.

-A few chapters in, Celaena meets a newcomer to the court, Roland. He’s a womanizer, and she instantly dislikes him when he shows an interest in her. She also thinks there’s something suspicious about him.

-Celaena’s friend, Nehemia, is a princess from a land that’s under siege, and she has her own very real motivations in this game. Her loyalty to Celaena was thrown into question in the first book, and though she proved herself, the reader still has doubts and questions in the back of their mind.

There you have it.

This tea party could end badly.

This tea party could end badly.


So you see, even though we’re in the middle of the book, and there hasn’t yet been any kind of climax, and these things I’ve mentioned aren’t even the main conflict of the book, they’re what keep the reader devouring page after page.

Think of it as a constant undercurrent of tension hidden in the background.

Much like the above picture, you might not see things brewing on the surface yet, but they’re simmering underneath. Your story can’t be all action and big fight scenes and obvious clashes between people, but that doesn’t mean there’s no tension. In fact, I’d rather read a scene of political or social tension, where things might end badly, than a full on brawl. It’s much more intriguing.


Keep it subtle. Weave that tension through the pages, and I’m your reader forever.


Manners can mask something deadly.


Do you use micro-tension in your writing? What’s the last book that totally hooked you, and why?











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3 responses to “Micro Tension: Why You Can’t Put That Book Down

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