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Handling "fluff" scenes?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ireth, May 30, 2012.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    You know what I'm talking about -- the lighthearted (or at least calmer) scenes in between the swashbuckling action or the dark pits of angst. Maybe they're essential to the plot but don't seem to be, with little hints of foreshadowing sprinkled in inconspicuously; maybe they're full of character development, like a budding romance; or maybe they're just there to let your characters (and yourself) breathe for a while before the next challenge. How do you handle it?

    I ask because in recent years I've been having more and more trouble with it. Mostly it's due to circumstances in my former roleplaying group -- one other user and I were pretty much forced to play nothing but fluff between our characters, as the moderators did their own thing and left us out of the main action of the plot, much to our annoyance. This went on for well over a year, and it caused both of us to suffer massive amounts of burnout. My friend and I haven't stopped roleplaying -- we've since branched off of the site we used to haunt and started our own roleplay with the same characters -- but we still have a lot of trouble writing fluff in between action scenes, and I have the same problem with the lighter scenes in my novels as well. It's hard getting stuff done when the thing you have to get through in order to get to the real action is the thing you're worst at writing, and it's worse when you know it.
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I was so worried this thread was going to be about something else.

    My approach in recent years has been to try to eliminate these as much as possible unless they're really necessarily, in which case I keep them short.
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I try to mix the fluff in with the important things. The quiet moments between action scenes serve two purposes for me. For plot, it's a moment to take a breath and figure out the next move. For the rest it's also a time for those character or world building moments. The key is to find the right context for all that to come out naturally.

    Have you ever watched the crime procedural tv show Bones? I've mentioned this several times before but the show does this in a good but very obvious way. As they investigators examine a body in the lab, they talk about what they find and advance the plot, but at the same time they talk about their personal lives and gossip thus inserting fluff.
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    Points where the plot falls into the background, and you focus on story.

    I won't say too much, as I get headaches sometimes trying to figure out these scenes. But if you don't have plot as a highlight, sometimes you can use setting to help, like two people looking out at the sunset - only instead of a sunset, it's, y'know, a window into the windswept planes of Hell, and an imp is holding out fried toes of the tortured on little skewers, passed through the window. But they're chatting and laughing the whole time.

    But if burnout is the problem, there's an easy solution: Go roleplay some fluff. Now, go, shoo. It's not so bad as you remember it.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    @ Steerpike I read the title and thought of fluffers....

    oh well.

    My advice is that if you dislike writing it, and don't feel confident in it, try to outline the scene and what you want to do in it. I try to think of things that are interesting enough that a reader will enjoy them, but will only spark mild conflict. Here's an example from one of my books so I don't have to make one up for you:

    Cedrick's party stays in Mist for the fire festival. They watch the dancers and fire spinners and are awed by the magic display. Geordie reveals that in the years since Cedrick left, he's been accepted into an elite group of fire mages. When the priestess begins asking questions, the young mage tells her about his town's traditions, and offers to walk her down to the lake for the religious ceremony. Cedrick watches in envy as they leave, and Kael marches him back into the pub. Cedrick refuses to drink, upset by the night, but sticking to his religious convictions. When Cedrick asks Kael about the lycanthropes he was hunting in the swamp, Kael agrees to tell him whatever he wants to know... tomorrow, if only he'll drink with him tonight. So Cedrick breaks down, figuring he'll have to ask for forgiveness anyways, what's a few beers? After quite a few beers, Kael suggests they head home to turn in. Cedrick falls over and stumbles through the street all the way home, becoming chummy with the hunter for the first time. Finding some common ground the two men make their way home, and when Kael crashes into bed, Cedrick gets to his knees to pray.
    Kael laughs at him and they have a little exchange about religion.

    okay so that's a brief scene summary without conflict, just some humor thrown into it and I hope this helps.
    Steerpike likes this.
  6. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Thanks, anihow. That helps for my novels, at least. Not so much for the roleplays, because how each scene goes depends on my partner's characters' actions and reactions as much as it does my own characters'. But it's something. :)

    Penpilot, I've never seen Bones, but the example sounds like a good one. :)

    Lol, Devor. Those are some interesting mental images you've conjured there. XD Unfortunately, roleplaying more fluff in response to burnout is the opposite of helpful. Ever see a lightbulb that's burnt out? You're not going to get a glow out of it, that's for sure. Being burned out on fluff means I cannot write it, on a mental level. It all seems forced when I try, and forcing oneself is typically bad, in my experience. And it IS as hard as I remember, because I just struggled through a glob of it today. ._.;
    Last edited: May 31, 2012
  7. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    I don't know, I feel "fluff" is really a time for a breather in the story.
    Charging through the story is great but it would wear you out if you didn't have a change.

    It needs to fit the story, but allows the reader to shift gears.

    One "fluff" piece in my story is very necessary. The events have kept the main character moving since the beginning of the story, and finally the pressure is off for the moment, she lays there while everyone else is asleep and studies the dragon hatchling.
    It allows for a good description and shows the emotions the MC is having towards the baby dragon.

    I wouldn't call it fluff, it might not be the meat and taters of the story, but it isn't the nasty slime around the canned ham either. Maybe the gravy of the story? A little fat and filler but adds spice and seasoning to the story.
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Anihow, maybe it is how I'm thinking of the word 'fluff' in the context of a novel. The word implies to me that the scene at issue doesn't serve much purpose. The story is kind of jogging in place at that point, and maybe you the fluff is done to affect pacing or what have you, but in terms of progressing the story there's not much there. If that's the case, then I keep those aspects to a minimum in a novel (and eliminate them from short stories).

    Severin, I agree with you that the piece at the beginning of your story is not 'fluff,' based on what you've said about it.
  9. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Here's an example of some "fluff" from my current roleplay, just to clarify what I mean if anyone's interested:

    “I hope someone can get my hair back to its normal length after tonight,” Lùthais grumbled as he and Sheona headed toward the ballroom wherein this year’s Halloween party was being held. “I don’t like it short.”

    He ran one hand through it in irritation, scowling a little. Tonight he was dressed as James Potter, complete with round glasses and messy, freshly cut hair. A red and gold scarf was knotted about his neck, and a straight stick he’d found in the schoolyard served as a wand; this he spun idly in his other hand as he walked beside Sheona.

    Sheona swatted his hand gently. “Vincent can fix it, he already said he would. Stop messing up your hair. I had it look artful, now it just looks like you got out of bed and forgot to brush.” She started running her fingers through his hair again to fix it how she wanted it. She was dressed as Lily, which was really not much different from her Ginny costume except she had a partner this time. Her hair was left down in its natural curls rather than straightened, but little else was different.

    Lùthais sighed and stood still to let Sheona fix his hair, biting back a grin. “It’s supposed to be messy, not artful; it’s right there in the book. Not sure how one can be ‘artfully messy’ anyway.”

    After a moment he laughed. “Something just occurred to me. We’re vampires playing a couple of well-known murdered characters in the Potterverse, and the actor who played the well-known murdered Cedric in the films went on to play a vampire in Twilight. Coincidence or not, I find it funny.”

    Sheona stuck out her tongue. “You men never understand. There is a difference, I promise. Now leave it be.”

    She paused, then wrinkled her nose. “It is... interesting, but I dislike really even calling Twilight vampires such. They glitter for God’s sake.”

    Lùthais resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Women are strange creatures.”

    He smirked at her comment about the Twilight “vampires”. “Heh. That’s very true. Even with the different kinds of vampires we have here, glittering is just ridiculous.”

    He glanced over his shoulder at the sound of approaching footsteps and heartbeats, and smiled at the group who was coming up the hallway. “Evening, everyone.”

    Vincent smiled back as he nodded in greeting. “Good evening, Mr. Potter. And Mrs. Potter,” he added, nodding at Sheona.

    Lùthais grinned up at Vincent, wondering how he could possibly see through his mask. “Good evening, Darth Vincent. Or is it Professor Vader?”

    Ariel smiled at the two vampires as well, resisting the urge to adjust her Princess Leia wig. Those ridiculous cinnamon-buns were making her ears start to sweat. She held carefully onto Sophie’s leash, making sure the little terrier (currently dressed as an Ewok) wouldn’t stray too far. She grinned as she answered Lùthais’ question. “Darth Vincent, I think.”

    “Works for me.” Sheona giggled. “Hello, Princess Ariel. And Darth Vincent.” She leaned over to scratch Sophie gently. “What a well behaved pup, allowing you to dress her up. My dog would have never been that well behaved.”

    Lùthais smiled fondly, watching as Sophie wagged her tail while Sheona petted her. “I remember that dog. Always did like me more than... others.” He carefully avoided speaking Conall’s name in front of Sheona. He had to wonder whether the dog would like human-Conall any better in their altered past.

    Come to think of it, he couldn’t recall whether or not Sheona had any idea of what had happened when Conall had returned to Dunehelden from a thousand years in the past -- he was pretty sure she’d been on vacation in Scotland at the time. Just in case, he made a mental note not to bring it up.

    “You had a dog?” Dom spoke up curiously. “How long ago was that?”

    Sheona smiled a little sadly. “Back when I was human. He was more my son’s dog, and they got along fabulously... But then again, being a boy’s pup would make costumes far less likely. Little boys do not put bonnets on their pets the way little girls with the luxury to play do.”

    Dom nodded, smiling slightly. “That’s very true. I always wanted a dog, but Mum wouldn’t let us have one.”

    Vincent chuckled. “I remember that. Cats were out of the question too. Ariel begged me to buy her a cat for years, even though she knows I’m very allergic.” He grinned over at Ariel, though she couldn’t see it. “Wicked child.”

    Ariel pulled a face of injured innocence. “Me, wicked? Perish the thought. Besides, you’re one to talk,” she added, grinning back at him. “You’ve made it clear what side of the Force you’re on.”

    “But I am and always have been the Angel of Music,” Vincent protested. "This cape is just hiding my wings, that’s all.”

    “Whatever you say,” Dom teased. “There’s a party going on, we should get to it.”

    “I wonder who Jason and Zeph will be dressing up as this year,” Vincent wondered aloud as they started walking again.

    “Last I knew, they were planning on Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip,” said Ariel. “Not sure which one will be in the dress this year. Should be interesting.”

    “Zeph does seem more the physical type for Sleeping Beauty,” Lùthais put in. “Hair of gold and all that.”


    As you can see, there's not a lot going on, just a bunch of friends getting ready for a Halloween party. The last few paragraphs foreshadow upcoming plot, and others reference past plot, but the rest is just fun and filler.
  10. Frayling0

    Frayling0 Acolyte

    See, even then I wouldn't call it filler. I think novels would be 20 pages long if there was no "fluff". We NEED the fluff to see the characters. We can't really understand our characters if we only ever see them in difficult circumstances, quests, fighting monsters, or whatever. Little chats are extremely useful in learning how they talk, how they react to certain questions e.t.c Obviously, there's a line, and there can be far too much of it. I tend to include quite a lot of "fluff" in my stories though ;)
  11. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I'm not sure what is meant by "writing for role play".

    I can only speak about what I write so if this doesn't apply to role play, sorry.

    I don't know why anyone would intentionally include fluff in any story. Pacing is one thing but pacing can be managed in many different ways. In my opinion, nothing should be included in the writing that doesn't serve to advance the story.

    Now, we're all guilty when it comes to writing scenes that don't advance the story. I do it all the time. When it's time to edit though I try to cut them whenever I see them. If the scene contains some crucial information that has to be relayed then it needs to be rewritten so that it does serve to advance the story.

    I cut a lot during editing... Sometimes 20-30%.
  12. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    @ Steerpike

    Yeah I wasn't suggesting you had the same thought. Just that I don't often know what people mean with writing terminology because my exposure has been minor. That leaves it up to my deranged mind to decode things and sometimes that's what I get until I read the post.
  13. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    The roleplaying I do is purely text-based, meaning it's basically like interactive fiction, the way I see it. My partner and I each control a handful of characters, and sometimes NPCs if plot demands. We each write passages from our characters' POV, and they all interact freely with each other. Looking at my example on the previous page, you'll see that there are five characters all talking with one another: Lùthais, Sheona, Vincent, Ariel and Dom, each of whom has a unique perspective (though Dom's is shown less than the others' here). Sheona is my partner's character, and the rest are mine. We both have more that we use in various scenes and to various degrees. Sometimes she plays more characters per scene than I do, and sometimes it's the opposite -- it all depends on plot.

    About why I/we include fluff, I wasn't kidding when I said it was filler. We plan out our plot episodes in advance, and we're developing a timeline/calendar that we need to fill up. Sometimes the plot episodes end up taking less time in-universe than we had meant, so rather than skipping right from plot to plot (sometimes with weeks or months between in-universe) every time, we sometimes try to fill up space with fluff. This also gives us time to work out any kinks that we see in upcoming plot at the last minute before we actually play out the plot.
  14. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    I also clicked on the thread with some alacrity...only to be mildly disappointed... ("Fluffer on the set! He's losing wood!")

    Moving on...some may think I'm just being semantic, but there is no fluff in my novels. Obviously there are scenes with less action than others, but they're not fluff. They all serve a purpose and there would be no action/climax without the set up. Every scene is very carefully structured - and every scene gets to a new point in the plot and/or adds to the characterisation.

    I'm sure most of your scenes do likewise and that what we're discussing is subject to different definitional standpoints.

    The way I see it, editing is all about getting rid of the fluff that was generated as you explored possibilities in constructung the draft.
  15. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Let me just say that I have never written such a scene, nor do I intend to. The nearest I've gotten is having one character misconstrue an entirely innocent remark about a musical instrument into a euphemism and accuse another character of pleasuring himself, when in fact the other character had no such intentions (though he does have a very lustful personality, so I can see where his accuser made the connection).
  16. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I agree with Dark One. If a novel has useless scenes, it's probably not going to do much for the story. In the example I wrote above, I established a small rivalry between friends, played on my paladin's momentary weakness and made him drunk for the first time in his life, and let him get closer to a man he was afraid of. I also explored his personal religious views which are what the book is based on, and showed his overwhelming guilt in not being perfect. So is there a major conflict? No, but it is nevertheless an important scene, and not at all what I would term as "fluff" (a term I now understand BTW).

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