Novels today are tighter than Nineteenth-century novels, for example. With busy lifestyles readers now want the writer to stick to the point instead of going off on tangents and filling pages with descriptions and conversations that may be well-written but aren’t relevant to the plot.
Writers are expected to use every item, every conversation, every description, everything that is written to further the plot. Ford Madox Ford said “Not one single thread must ever escape your purpose.”
Every cause will have an effect. Maybe not immediately, maybe several chapters later, but the effect will be a believable result from a cause. Yet, fiction can appear to digress at times. But all pieces of the plot puzzle have to fit, which includes objects, dialog, setting, minor characters, subplots, everything must have significance in the story. A writer is always moving the story forward. Seemingly casual events let the reader relax in some parts, unaware that the plot continues with the writer’s clever strategy. What looks like asides are, as Ford said, “the art which conceals your Art.”