Writers Write creates writing resources and shares writing tips. In this post, we introduce two interesting writing terms, and ask writers: Are you a puffer or a fluffer?
Writers! Are You A Puffer Or A Fluffer?
This post is all about two odd writing terms and what they mean. They are not common terms and you are unlikely to see them in any writing text-book, but I hope you find them interesting.
You may want to use fluff and puffery, but please think carefully before you do. They are not recommended for writers who want to write simply and clearly.
With that out the way, let’s have a little fun.
What Is Fluffery?
In writing, “fluff” has two meanings.
- Fluffery can mean unnecessary, often descriptive, writing that does not further the plot.
- It can be a genre of fan-fiction that ends happily or has no conflict.
We are talking about the first meaning.
What Is Puffery?
Puffery is a legal term used in the advertising industry. It happens when a company is clearly lying to its consumer but does not believe the consumer will believe the lie.
For example: Red Bull Gives You Wings.
Red Bull does not actually expect you to believe it will magically give you a pair of wings.
How to use them in a sentence:
Fluff (n), Fluffy writing.
I wrote a fluffy chapter to make my book 60 thousand words long.
Puffing (v), Puffery (n).
It was just puffery. The medicine wasn’t actually a cure-all.
When To Use Fluffery
In general you should not use any fluff. Your writing should be clear, straightforward, and easy to follow.
If you go off on tangents, adding details and descriptions to every scene you write, your writing will be unreadable.
Frank Herbert does this a lot in Dune. Often, a simple conversation between two characters will be interrupted for a six-page history lesson, or a tangential diatribe on the anatomy of a desert mouse.
By the same token, the actual plot of Dune is boring while the fluff is where the “spice” is. So, it worked for him.
Don’t Use Fluff If:
- You want a punchy action scene.
Every word you add to a fight scene slows it down. Go look at R A Salvatore’s novels, which are basically long fight scenes. He uses very little fluff. If he wants to introduce backstory he writes a flashback and has his characters live through it.
- You are writing your first book.
Historically, authors known for over-writing don’t get a chance on their first book. For example, the first Harry Potter book is a tight little book that is fast paced and to the point.
If you want more proof about first novels, read: Word Counts – How Long Should Your Novel Be?
- You want your reader to pay attention.
Leaving out the fluff means that the reader is less likely to skip over the “boring bits” because there won’t be any. This is great for reader buy-in.
Use Fluff If:
- You Want To Slow Down The Story
After a long fight or a chase scene you can use some fluff to give your reader a rest from the action.
This is why we learn so much about characters while they are recovering from injuries or hiding from the antagonist.
A “downtime” scene or sequel is a perfect opportunity to inject some world building exposition in your book.
- You want to create a sense of calm
If you want to lull the reader into a sense that all is right then start piling on the fluff.
It didn’t hurt that her fluff is so warm and comforting that you never want it to end.
- You are establishing a world.
Crime novels often do this. They have a character whose only purpose is to be killed by the antagonist.
Yet the author often goes into detail about the life of this “walking plot point” to create sympathy or to inform the reader about the sort of world the book is set in.
This also gives the reader information about the crime that the protagonist doesn’t have. (This is known as dramatic irony.)
And so it creates tension as we want the hero to come to the right conclusion. Every time they go down the wrong path we cringe and our heartbeat quickens when they are on the right track.
But, strictly speaking, you can leave out this information and still have a perfectly coherent novel.
When To Use Puffery
Puffery or puffing is different. It is not used much in fiction, but is used in professional work.
In real life, this is the only time people accept being lied to by companies as “a bit of fun”. You know when your insurance company’s tag line says, “We’re On Your Side”. Instead of, “Pay Us In Case You Break Something”.
Lawyers use it to describe what their clients have lied about, and advertising firms use it to make products seem more exciting.
The Playstation 3 made the claim it, “Only Does Everything” when in real life, “It Only Plays Games And Movies” would be more realistic.
However, you could use it in fiction to add some flavour to you writing.
- In fiction it pops up in dialogue. Characters may exaggerate how capable they are to get a job – only to be exposed by circumstances. Famously, conversations often go, “I thought you said you were a doctor!” which of course must be answered with, “Only in Art History!”
- Where it stands out in fiction is when fictitious companies come into play. For example, a real company does not want to be sued for false advertising, but fictional companies might have logos like:
- “Megacorp, your one and only choice.” – Ratchet & Clank
- “Hyperion. We care about your business as much as we care about ours. That’s why reliability, accuracy and price point are key features of all the items in our frighteningly huge and deadly arsenal. But don’t take our word for it — just ask the billions of people who’ve died at the pointy end of a Hyperion weapon. When you mean business, you mean Hyperion.” – Borderlands 2
- “Veridian Dynamics. The environment—everyone likes it. And so, we do too. That’s why we’re committed to saving it. Veridian Dynamics is turning every one of our buildings 100% green. It’s ridiculously expensive and spending money makes us sad. But we’re doing it because we love nature, even when it’s being mean or just acting stupid. Veridian Dynamics. Greening our world.” – Better Off Ted
When a fictional company actually believes their own lies it can really add to the humour of the world.
It can also be a social commentary directed at the absurd nature of your fictional world that can be deeply serious or very silly depending on your tone.
I hope this helps you to use fluff sparingly and well, and only to puff when you know what you are getting into.
What’s your favourite tagline from a fictional company?
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Christopher writes and facilitates for Writers Write. Follow him on Twitter.
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