Writers argue about everything. We hold different views on what other writers *should* write about, what topics are too something (ordinary, fantastic, political, politically naive, mundane, exotic, narrow, broad…) or not enough something (same list), how writers should handle certain topics, if writers should use some hot-button term, whether a phrase in common use 150 years ago to mean X can be used now to mean X when its more common contemporary meaning is XZ, and if the work is a historical novel, does that make any difference or not. We don’t agree on what is meant by “strong characters” with any adjective you might insert between “strong” and “character. We don’t agree on the validity of many terms that describe writing, and even if we agree the terms are valid, we won’t agree on the examples. We don’t agree on whether readers should be allowed any (and how much) pleasure from reading, or whether the reader should be treated harshly, like a student in a prison school.
So what does this mean for readers? Whatever they want it to mean, in one sense. Readers disagree just as much about books and writers as writers disagree about books, readers, and ways of constructing stories. Or nonstories, if they’re on the other side of the canyon from me. If you read literary criticism, or any criticism, you will run right into the flamewars and catfights, with general agreement on very few things. Reading lit-crit is, however, educational (even when you disagree with it) but I always take an entire box of salt with me when I indulge. I recommend the same caution to you. Writers writing about books, or other writers, or the writing process are not always right. Least right are those laying down the laws they think govern writing. Exceptions are everywhere. I would say (laying down one of my laws) that if you want to write fiction, you should not take any one writer as having all the laws that apply to you and your writing. There is one fundamental law that I don’t recall seeing in any article on writing–not as direct as this, at least. Don’t bore the reader. You can write anything and find someone who loves it IF you don’t bore the reader. What bores readers is highly various: some like explosions and car chases and are bored by long conversations about the meaning of life. Others like long conversations about the meaning of life–or a discourse on some odd thing they didn’t know before–or a stark and vivid sex scene–but find explosions and car chases boring.
So it may seem that Don’t bore the reader is useless, because you can’t know what everyone who looks at your story is bored by. Luckily, there’s a useful gloss on that law. Since you can’t ensure that every potential reader will be interested in everything you write, you must take care (in any topic, any genre, any action or description or conversation), not to bore the reader who is already interested in that topic, genre, etc. Your target audience. The people you have the most chance of entertaining. Unfortunately, most of us have found that not every book or short story on a favorite topic works. As a child I read every horse-related book in our local library and school libraries. “Horses” was my favorite topic. But I found some horse books boring despite being intensely interested in the topic. Among the horse-besotted friends of mine, we usually agreed on which weren’t worth the time. Don’t bore the horse lovers with your fictional horses. Or the car enthusiasts with your fictional cars.
What was boring to us in those books? Moralizing about horses. Black Beauty, for instance. Most of us had read a child’s picture-book version and liked it well enough. The full-length book, however, was a disappointment: it was a sermon about horse abuse, not really the story of a horse (to us.) Going on and on about stuff we already knew about horses…infodumping. Details that–though about horses–weren’t in character for the human, or plotworthy for the story. We didn’t know, in the years I was reading all those horse books, how to define what was boring, but we sure knew how to skip those sentences or paragraphs. While writing, I often include whatever comes to mind while I’m writing a passage–but I don’t expect it all to survive the Chainsaw of Correction during revision. I may need to explain, for myself, why a character is doing something, but the reader usually doesn’t want all the explanation. I need to show the emotional motivation, not infodump it and its relatives.