1. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    How do I learn the difference between fluff and important information?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Magnatolia, Jan 28, 2015.

    Hi guys,

    Sorry for the confusing title. I'm majorly struggling with writing information that has a purpose and that which doesn't. I understand that information needs to move the story forward, or backwards, depending on the intent. Story movement can be external (action based) or internal (character growth/development) but it feels like if I try and do this in every single scene of a novel-length story it will be too much.

    I do get that having something happen that has absolutely no point is bad. Like earlier I was writing a scene and it was fine. Three young people were being driven to the cinema in the next town by the girls father. Sally dated James (MC) and she was reminding him of a time when he dumped salt into his coffee (they live in a fishing village so it's kind of ironic that he can't get away from salt) and it was a bit awkward for the other guy that she's now dating. Plus the father revealed some info about the new family that explained why they moved to the town.

    Then they end up at the cinema and as I discussed them going into the cinema I realized that there was absolutely no purpose so I scrapped that line and moved to them drinking juices after the movie while they waited for the father to come back. They had a conversation about what they wanted to do with their lives as my character is unhappy and can't wait to leave.

    I guess I'm getting confused because it feels like it would be exhausting if every single scene had some major element to it. I was trying to write a zombie novel about six months ago and I found I had to keep adding new scenes in. I think in that case I didn't expand on character development enough.

    For example my last scene I just wrote was my MC plus two characters discussing their goals. But then I'm like, then what? I know the major plot point that is my character meeting the new girl who's moved to town, and then leaving the town in aproximately a years time. So once he meets and starts dating the girl there'll be plenty of development through their relationship.

    I could simply have them go back to the village, my next scene could be him meeting the girl, then them dating but it feels like I'm dodging important info. Does that make sense?

    Or, am I trying to add important info where it shouldn't? I feel like in this case I need to show the scene where he expresses his dreams (important), then chronologically express the details up to him meeting and dating the girl. So I would probably create a conversation with his Dad that shows a part of his personality, and then I would consider what else to do before he meets the girl.

    I think the problem is I think about the length of a novel, and I try to create as many scenes as possible bcause of how long a novel is.

    Any thoughts/resources, etc would really be appreciated!

    Thanks
    Maggz
     
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  2. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    As someone who is currently in the process of editing a novel that turned out much longer than it needs to be, I would say you don't need to stress too much just yet. Obviously you don't want to write whole chapters full of fluff, but in the second draft stage when everything has come together and you have a much stronger understanding of each character, you will find it becomes easier to identify which sections are too long, which sections lack detail, and which sections to drop entirely or even move around.

    Ideally, everything in the story should have an identifiable point. It might be simply structural, it might be to reveal useful setting development, it might serve the story's overall theme, it might be for character development, or it might just be breathing room to pace the story. But there needs to be some justification as to why the words need to be on the page, and why the story wouldn't be better off without them.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Have you finished writing your first draft yet? If not, I'd worry less about this kind of 'fluff' thing, and more about getting to the end. Only when you get to the end will you be able to decide what needs to be kept, what needs to be expanded, and what can be thrown away. Just fearlessly keep going, for now. The more you stick with the flow of your story, rather than constantly dropping back into critique mode, the more convincing your writing will sound. If you're writing your first draft in fear of making a mistake, that constant braking will show. Just let it all go the way you want it to. If you envision a scene, write it down. Worry about whether or not it works later on.

    As far as your question goes, of course these things like 'fluff' are important. Too much fluff can certainly bog a story down. However, you really won't know fluff from fodder till the end.

    For example, what if it crosses your mind later on that something important might happen on their way into the cinema—that foreshadows something that will happen later on, or figures in to the story's end? The characters might see something, or say something that matters later? These are the kinds of things that can occur to you as you write the story. Conversely, you might well decide that the entire cinema scene is a distraction, and want to dump the whole of it. Until you get to the end, you really won't know.

    I know. I've dumped entire chapters of my novel. I've dumped huge sections of my chapters as well. I've also added scenes that weren't there to begin with, shaped the way scenes worked out. I've even swapped POV in a couple of scenes, because I felt the story was told better, at that point, through different eyes.

    You won't know what you need till you're done. I would really like to emphasize that point. And the more you've got in front of you to work with, the better.

    Once you've finished, give yourself some time away from the project to refresh your perspective. I'm talking weeks, months. Then do your first edit and got rid what you now can see is truly 'fluff.' Sharpen your writing, add in—or pare away—do anything you can think of to help your story reach a satisfying end.

    Then give your completed and edited first draft to a few beta readers. Ask them specifically to point out places where they lost interest, and parts that they feel are not necessary. Then, once you've got a few opinions to work with, THEN your real editing starts. It's only after you get reader feedback that you know how your story works in the eyes of others. That's when things really start to take shape.

    But for now ...if you feel something is 'fluff,' just leave it there. You never know. I feel it's way more important to keep going till you finish, and not get diverted into editing at this stage.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2015
  4. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Thanks @Void. I tend to avoid anything that could be considered fluff. Perhaps I need to practice writing fluff to get myself used to it. Like with the cinema example, I could have had a paragraph in the movie theatre where my MC notices Sally and Peter snuggling, and he smiles because he's happy for them, which also shows the reader that there's no conflict and maybe even show a flash-back of when he used to date Sally.

    Your second paragraph is fantastic! Would you happen to know anywhere that I could go to see examples of each one? Most of my scenes either push the story forward through action, or develop characters, with a small amount to flesh out the location to the reader. I rarely write to provide breathing room to pace the story which I can see would be a problem. I struggle with that one to see the difference in my mind between writing something to provide breathing room to pace the story, because it feels that it wouldn't meet the requirement to better the story. But I'm guessing it's more about bettering the readers experience of the story?

    Thanks @jannert, yeah I do tend to over-think what I'm writing in my first draft. I actually realized a few hours later that I can add something useful to the movie theatre scene. Just a simple scene where my MC shows his happiness that his ex and friend are happy together. Gives a glimpse beneath the surface so to speak. Sometimes when I do critique or I write something in a later scene and realize an earlier scene now makes no sense I'll go back and rewrite that scene. But I do tend to think about my scene and whether it is 'good' whereas, as you said, it's better to have it there anyway and decide later if it's a distraction or just not useful.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing to keep in mind is multi-purpose scenes. Maybe the cinema scene was originally there to show the snuggling, but then you add the fact that the movie sparks a thought about the character's goals, and the character overhears a scuffle coming from the lobby that turned out to be a person transforming into a swamp monster and going on a rampage, and there's an odd smell (that he later learns is the smell of a swamp monster), and he finds that his popcorn just doesn't taste right (which foreshadows the fact that he's transforming into a fish-eating swamp monster), and he's worried that he's going to get caught because he snuck into the movie because he's broke, and that being broke is why he signed up for the paid experiment at the university that was the cause of him turning into a swamp monster, and later he learns that the swamp monster virus is contagious and his friend is infected and maybe the girl he was snuggling with is infected, and....
     
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  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't use it, but as I read your two threads (this one and the one about Multiple Plot Arcs) I wonder if you might not be a prime candidate for the Snowflake Method.

    So, what I'm about to say is pretty much the opposite of other people's opinions, and it's quite possible that they're right, but I think it's also possible that I'm right, and the thing is, none of us can really SAY what technique will work, because it's really personalized. It's going to be about what works for you. (For example, I would never, EVER write a bunch of stuff that I knew I might edit out later. I'd stop right there and figure out where I was going and what I needed to do to get there. That's what works for ME. What will work for you? I think you have to try a bunch of different methods and find out!)

    So, for what it's worth... What's your story about? Like, if you had to describe it in one sentence, what would that sentence be?

    Everything else in the book should contribute to building whatever you say in that one sentence.

    Like, for example, maybe your story is about a young dragon learning his powers and saving his dragon clan from the frog-monsters. So, then, according to my understanding of the snowflake method, you'd break that down into a few smaller parts (you should google the Snowflake Method if any of this sounds appealing - I'm giving a VERY rough version of it!). Vincent (the young dragon) is cast out of his home by the frog-monsters. He travels to K-town and makes friends with a lizard, a, a pony, and an elf. Each of these friends helps him as he journeys to find Dragon Z. Dragon Z helps Vincent learn about his own powers. Vincent and his friends return to Vincent's home and destroy the frog-monsters.

    So, you can keep breaking down each of these elements into smaller parts, but you can also use this rough outline as a way to decide what deserves space in your book and what doesn't. So if Vincent's parents have a fight the night before he's banished and he blames himself for it and this drives him as he learns about his own powers, okay, it can stay. But if Vincent's parents have a fight the night before he's banished and... that's it? No, it's not part of your story. Toss it.

    More concretely - I can't tell what your story is about, really. Like, what that one sentence description would be. If you know what it is, you can use it to help you shape the rest of your story. If you DON'T know what it is, I'd say it would be worth your time to sit down and figure it out.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    One thing to remember when you're dealing with a novel is that you have much greater latitude in terms of what might be considered fluff than you do with, say, a short story. That's not to say that what you're writing shouldn't be doing something, because it should, but there are many things it can be doing. If you look at Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast books, for example, they are extremely heavy in terms of detail, particularly with respect to the setting. It might be tempting to look at a lot of that as fluff, but in fact the setting of those books becomes almost a character in and of itself, so all of that descriptive writing is doing something for the author.

    What you're writing may forward the setting, characters, theme, and so on (ideally, perhaps, doing more than one of these at the same time). And not only what you're writing, but how you're structuring the work and the way in which you've written it. Sometimes, when you look at what you've written with a critical eye toward cutting out fluff, you'll start seeing fluff in aspects of the writing that are actually accomplishing one of these things, or something else that is important to the work.

    Conversely, the short story form allows for a lot less of this, and everything you write should be doing a lot more work than every passage in your novel has to do.
     

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