Fluff is just about everything that goes into the story that isn’t plot or hard-core character development. While it gives the readers a breather and provides the story with a light pick-me-up, it also has the potential to choke out the plot and burden the story with unnecessary filler. The common opinion of fluff is that it needs to be cut. However, under the right circumstances—provided that your story earned it—fluff doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

I mentioned earning fluff in this post. Now I’m going to unpack what that means and how it’s done.

So much substance.

A list of things that are usually fluff:

  • Beach episodes
  • Lavish descriptions of clothing
  • Lavish descriptions of really anything
  • Shopping trips
  • Sex scenes
  • High School and College classes
  • Small talk
  • Any sort of downtime

Ways that fluff goes wrong:

Unearned fluff: Readers enjoy fluff because they enjoy spending time with the characters and/or in the world of the story. As the writer, you know why your world is wonderful and why everyone ought to adore your characters. But it’s also easy to forget that readers don’t know these things until they’re set down on the page. As such, one of the most common mistakes is for the story to open with fluff before the reader is invested. If people are not already in love with the characters, fluff turns into watching strangers do mundane things, which is frustrating for obvious reasons.

Fluff as plot: Fluff is, by definition, not plot. That hasn’t stopped people from trying. The most notable example of this is Twilight, in which 375 pages go by before the main antagonist is introduced. A majority of the story is a romantic subplot and a lot of fluff—shopping trips, beach days, classes—in which nothing is at stake. Very little hinges on fluff, and so a story based on fluff will lack tension and urgency. Too much fluff also makes to feel like the antagonists are taking their own sweet time to get things done, which eases up on the sense of danger.

Poorly timed fluff: Because of the way that fluff diffuses tension, it’s a good buffer between major events and a nice way of cooling down after something big has happened. Fluff slows down the pace. As such, it doesn’t belong in fast paced scenes, and most writers find that it’s in their own interest to thin out the fluff as the story approaches its climax.

How to earn your fluff:

Mozart sunlight
This is not the fluff you are looking for.

Show readers why your characters are competent, compelling, and generally worth investing in first. Readers don’t care about your characters from the get go. Prove that they’re worth caring about, and make the readers want the fluff before you provide it.

Be aware that fluff often overlaps with filler. Filler is those annoying extra scenes that keep us away from the plot because someone felt like the story needed to be longer. If your fluff is actively stalling the plot or if most of it exists to make the story longer, trim it back. Intentionally padding out your story tends to diffuse tension and slow down the pacing since the same amount of plot is spread out over more pages.

Keep your fluff sparse. When readers are kept away from the action too long, they get frustrated and stop reading. Breaking up the fluff and spreading it out a bit allows it to act the way it’s supposed to; small breathers that provide a little bit extra. When it comes to fluff, less is generally more.

Writing like a boss: Plant clues and bits of relevant information in your fluff. Go back to seemingly unimportant moments—whatever you felt like you couldn’t cut—and make them important. Use your fluff to set up details that will become relevant later. Including subtle hints early on is key to executing plot twists, and fluff is the perfect place to slip them in because you don’t have to worry about inorganically wedging extra set-up into already packed plot-oriented scenes. You can also keep your tension up by adding a bit of subtext to these scenes.