“Avoid tangents,” “Eliminate everything that doesn’t advance the plot.” Current wisdom for fiction advises lean prose that races to an inevitable conclusion.
This reminds me of trips I took with my father, with all essential stops scheduled, the shortest route mapped. A month before my dad left on a road-trip, he could tell you his time of arrival within a 15 minute window.
Dad always had the end in sight. He had no room for deviation. “That looks cool,” I would say, and we would whip by without slowing. Forget back roads. There were no side trips. We were never late, even when being on time didn’t matter.
I think the current fashion for excluding everything ‘irrelevant’ is making for boring books. It sure takes the fun out of mysteries and thrillers when everything serves the plot.
Instead of matching wits with a killer, I am analyzing an author, looking for an apparently unnecessary character in the first two chapters. That’s the killer, no matter how unlikely. Period. Because everything has to wrap up nice and tight, so nothing is ever extraneous.
I enjoy diversions in a book. They break up the relentless drive to culmination. It’s in these spaces that we get a peek at our characters, beyond the central crisis of the story. We can kick back with them, spend a little quality time. The interstate will still be there when we’re ready to move on.