literary taste and the subjectivity of the publishing world
A story I had on submission was recently rejected and returned along with some comments. Three out of four readers really liked it. Two thought it was great, the third thought it was very good but some of the dialogue could be less modern sounding (it's set in modern times, but the characters are vampires who are several hundred years old and so have a bit of an archaic feel to their pov; thus their use of language is a debatable point -- would their word choice remain archaic, or would they unconciously modify it to fit in; if their pov still carries a bit of the mideval, mightn't their language, not so much as to draw attention to themselves, but just hints of it... certainly an issue worth revisiting and perhaps tweaking some word choice a bit.)
The fourth, however, panned the story, saying there was too much irrelevant detail.
I guess between the third's concerns over dialogue and the fourth's panning, it was a no-go, but it certainly gives a writer pause. Clearly many times you don't have four reviewers giving you their opinions, rather you have one editor. If that one is the one out of four that thinks you've got too much detail, you're sunk. If he/she happens to be one of the the other three, you've either got a sale or a request for a rewrite. Either way, it's clear that personal preference plays a huge role in the publishing game.
I personally like a lot of detail. I like lush writing that lets me not only see the setting, but smell, hear it, feel it. One of the reasons I usually don't read many short stories is I don't get enough sensory detail, nor enough complexity to the character development and the plotline. The short stories I write tend to have more complicated plots, more complex characters, and more sensory detail than many I've read. As a result, they tend to run on the long side as I hate to compromise on those details that to me bring a story alive.
Obviously, that's not everyone's cup of tea, although the comments would suggest that more people like that style of writing than the writing manuals imply. I guess, as a writer, you just have to decide do I care? Do I want to write for that market that wants lush prose, or should I work on trimming? Common advice is to trim away anything that doesn't move the plot forward. To me, that leaves an awful lot of stories very bare. Of course, you don't want to squash the plot either, but there does need to be some balance.
I guess, with three out of four liking the story, I feel satisfied that I've achieved a decent balance in this story, and will try to sell it elsewhere after revisiting the dialogue rather than trying to make major cuts.
Recently in a writer's group I'm on, someone asked about whether we ever felt we'd written the perfect story. This story may not be perfect, but I like it the way it is. I like being a lush writer. I don't want to be a terse one. I guess that is what is meant by being true to your craft. Editor concerns are important, but at some level, you have to write the way you like to write.