Here’s something you may find controversial: There is no fixed standard for good or effective creative writing; it changes over time.
That’s the notion I have been trying to take on board. If you read a novel – especially science fiction – written ten+ years ago the chances are it will be over 400 pages. I think back to those doorstop sized tomes and wonder if I could ever commit myself to one of those again. It would have to be exceptionally good or by an author I knew to be good (reviews notwithstanding). Nowadays I prefer them on Kindle, seeming less onerous to pick up.
But here’s the problem: I tend to dip into a book, and find it difficult to grasp just what the … heck is going on with the plot. Most recently this happened with an SF novel featuring at least five POV protagonists – that were connected to previous characters… The prose was well-written, technically fine (in a conventional way) yet I found it a struggle and felt relieved to finish. Now, maybe my attention span is deteriorating with age, or with the age. It’s hardly a new argument that technology could be making most of us easily distracted. The free time unlocked by lockdown has been not only an opportunity but a test. Perhaps not one that I passed.
When I look back to one of my own early novels I wonder how I (unfamiliar to it) could ever apply the requisite concentration to follow the story. And maybe I was behind the curve in realising that. The writer can feel hamstrung by the golden rule of show don’t tell, and the less than fully dedicated reader confused by a scene or plot point that subtly (if skillfully) shows you how the story is progressing, such as the character’s change in appearance or the way they speak. All that is undeniably good writing but there are times I’d prefer a little catch-up exposition. Well maybe this is a sign of my own failing.
So I’m having to adapt my own writing style, to keep the plot simple, from the point of view of one protagonist. But those rules…. Still aiming for the classic 100k words. And what a challenge that has been!