This morning, I was in the shower (see first sentence again) and wanting that perfect hot temperature. As I do most mornings, I kept adjusting it slightly only to either be a bit too cold or a bit too hot.
Then it hit me (no, not just the water)... my struggle to find the perfect temperature is much like finding that sweet-spot of tension in a story. You can't go full out and scald your poor reader, but you can't freeze them out of the story either.
In addition, when you first get in the shower, several factors affect how the water feels to you even if you always set it exactly the same. Are you coming into the shower from the pool? Are you just getting out of a warm bed?
Like in our stories, the reader comes from different perspectives. Maybe they just read a romance novel. Or, they might have just put down a crazy thrill ride of a suspense novel.
Tension is such an important element of story. As much as I love building characters, readers can't relate to a simple background story about a person. They need to see that person challenged in some way, fighting some kind of literal or figurative demon.
The trick is to make sure the reader doesn't fall asleep or walk away. And you can't have the same level of tension for the whole book; it should ebb and flow. That's where my analogy ends, because once I reach that perfect temperature in my shower, I don't play with it.
If you have too much tension for too long, do you put the book down and take a break? Or, are you a reader who likes constant heart-pounding thrills?