There’s a quote by Elmore Leonard that goes “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip”. It’s almost koan like in its brevity and complexity. I’ve heard it before and even heard it paraphrased by professors in creative writing classes and by supposed writing coaches online.
To me what Leonard is talking about is passages in a novel or short story where nothing really happens. Whether it be paragraphs of waxing poetic about the sunset or banal dialogue. I’m guilty of this as anyone, in particular in first drafts. I think all writers have their personal ‘pets’ or quirks they wanta write about, whether it be giving extensive back story for 30 pages on the antagonist’s cat or a mechanical breakdown of how much horsepower the protagonist’s car has during a high speed chase.
Especially when I was younger I would devote excessive time to such things, but I’m beginning to practice what’s been preached to me. I think another way to convey what Leonard is saying is, ‘keep it moving’. There should be something happening in the story at all times, whether it be internal or external conflict, resolution, or climax. Especially for genre fiction, like the horror/thrillers I write. This is easier said then done, and I still see it in published writing by professional authors. Perhaps they get more leeway with this then a newbie but even if they are constantly on the NY Time’s Best Seller Lists I have literally thrown their book across the room because they belligerently violate Leonard’s suggestion. I think writing passages where nothing really happens of relevance to character and/or plot other then the self indulgance of the author’s personal politics/interest is the surest way to kill a story. To me its on par with having to sit through a mind numbing meeting or lecture.