I have often complained about movies that ran too long because the director neglected to remove tangential storylines which didn’t advance the main plot. It’s often backstory told in a flashback we don’t need.

Well, as I’ve started reading more novels over the last few years (thanks, pandemic!), I find the same is true in the book world. I just finished one that ran 375 pages when the tale could have easily been told in 250 pages — but two-thirds of the way through, new characters were introduced who added very little but were nonetheless fleshed out at length.

There’s also a tendency by too many authors to use their books to prove how much they learned about a subject they researched in depth before they began writing. It’s as if they feel they have to prove to themselves those efforts were not in vain, despite making the final draft sag with detail after detail that adds nothing to the plot. Part of the blame for this problem has to be laid at the feet of editors who don’t tell authors to cut, cut, cut. Or maybe the editors are the ones who received a shorter manuscript and told the writers to pad the whole thing because the book-buying public won’t pay thirty bucks for something that short.

I’m not saying there’s no reason for a lengthy book. Plenty of them are fully justifiable, spinning complex stories around fascinating characters that keep readers interested for hours on end. Many spin off sequels and become successful series, and I’ve read quite a few of those. But I’ll also admit that on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself skipping multiple pages because I just don’t care about the five-century history of some building the main character just stepped over the threshold of on the way to getting the single clue that solves the whole mystery.

I know that writing popular fiction takes a lot of creativity and work, but if the result is bloated by 50% or more, you’re only wasting time — not just for readers, but for yourself.