I was recently reading a science fiction story from the 1960s, and parts of the story just draaaaaaaaaaag. There's this old writing saying that if your character is going to open the door, then you, the writer, need to be able to see the doorknob. It doesn't mean that the readers need to see the doorknob; just that the writer has to be very clear on what's going on in his story.
However, in this science fiction story, it's as if the writer needed to make sure that the readers see every doorknob, every stain on the carpet, every fray in the fabric. For me, it feels like I'm slogging through a wasteland with little hope of getting to the other side.
As trail guide, the writer's job is to help the reader navigate the trail easily and without pitfalls, chasms, boulders, logs, and wastelands. The reader should glide along, noticing what must be noticed, and getting to the end of the trail pretty much on his own (with the not-too-heavyhanded help of the writer).
The reader does not want to be reminded that he is reading the written word. He wants to be immersed in the message, the story, the solution.
But, of course, the writer wants to make sure the reader has all the information. This piece might be important! What if the reader isn't smart enough to figure it out? Then, let's make sure to tell the reader EVERYTHING!
And then the reader is trapped in a reading wasteland. Here is your own guide to avoiding the wasteland:
1. Show; don't tell. You probably hear this all the time, and it bears repeating, oh, about ten times a day. Don't tell the reader what he sees, smells, tastes, hears and experiences. LET him see it, smell it, taste it, hear it, experience it. Don't write, "The food was too salty." Instead use "He grabbed a handful of peanuts and threw them in his mouth. He almost gagged at the overuse of salt. Was this someone's idea of good food? He launched himself at the bar and downed a glass of Diet Coke as quickly as possible." See the difference?
2. Edit, please. In a first draft, it's absolutely appropriate to give "too much" detail. You as the writer have to be able to see what's going on. You have to see that doorknob. But if you give yourself enough time in between drafts, when you go back to the draft, you can better see what needs to be there and what doesn't. (Hint: not everything needs to be there. We really don't need to see the doorknob.)
3. Determine what is crucial. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter should be there because it MUST be. Do we really need to know that Great Aunt Madge's curtains were blue? If it's not a crucial piece of information, then get rid of it. Your writing will be tighter and more concise as a result.
4. Create tension and suspense. Whether fiction or nonfiction, move your writing along like a master storyteller. Think cliffhangers, surprises, twists, convenient chapter breaks. Keep your readers hungry for the next word.
See the doorknob. Be the doorknob, if necessary. Just don't let your reader see it, unless it's crucial.