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So in watching playthroughs of various video games, because I do that when I find something interesting, I had this strong urge to write some fluff. However, when I sat down to think of it, any kind of process that came to it kind of left my head.

How does one actually write effective fluff? It seems so much easier to think of darker stories, but the lighthearted ones escape me.

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    First of all, define "fluff." Do you just mean stories with happy endings? Stories which are meaningless? Character studies? Slices-of-life with banter and no real plot? Or do you mean "romantic interludes with a lot of tender exchanges and loving sentiments exchanged"? (The latter is more common in fanfic, particularly when the source material is dark/angsty/angry or the pairing in question isn't canon). Any of those are fine, but it's hard to advise you if we don't know more specifically what you're looking for. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 29 '17 at 15:03
  • "Fluff" is history etc... written as fiction, found in rulebooks, and used to bulk out and/or fill in the world of roleplay and tabletop games. "Bubblegum" is writing that is "sweet and without meaningful content" which are you asking about? – Ash Oct 29 '17 at 16:09
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    "Fluff" is pretty vague here. Fluff to me means useless filler because the author didn't know what to write and needed to fill pages or a word count. Here it seems to be a lighthearted kind of story. – johnny Oct 30 '17 at 17:08
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I think the heart of your difficulty is that you are equating light hearted with not serious ("fluff"). Your intuition that it is easier to write dark than light is correct, at least in the sense that going dark is an easy way to seem serious while covering up the fact that you don't actually have anything original to say.

Most people, of course, don't have anything original or particularly insightful to say and you can build a nice career as a popular novelist simply by affirming the prejudices of your chosen slice of the reading public. But writing optimistic works in that mode will always tend to seem fluffy, whereas pessimistic or dark works can masquerade as serious much more easily.

There is no particular mystery to writing light fluff rather than dark fluff. You simply need to write from a place of facile optimism rather than a place of facile pessimism. Getting yourself from a position of facile pessimism to one of facile optimism, on the other hand, can be very difficult.

On the other hand, if you really want to write light (as in optimistic, rather than insubstantial) you have to find a way to see the good, to see the light. This will be very much against the zeitgeist, but that is not a problem we can help you with here.

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You many not find a lot of lightheartedness in video games or even videos, because those are both products of our modern age and this is an age when dark themes are more sensational and therefore more marketable.

But look back a hundred years, to a time when life held real hardship and the threat of lasting darkness. You will find the literary arts being used as a candle in that gloom.

Read a little Mark Twain. He will show you how to do it right.

  • Henry, well put but where do the works of Dickens and Shakespeare fit into that? The writings of the first are somewhat dark and obscure, while that of the latter, who I suppose actually came first, could have been noted to be very dark indeed. – Kai Maxfield Oct 31 '17 at 4:12
  • @KaiMaxfield, Dickens uses humor to deliver social commentary which is anything but humorous. His agenda is, much like many modern day authors, to bring reader attention to the darkness of life. He artfully sews humor into his tales as bait to keep the reader hooked while he reels them in to his higher (more broodier) message. Shakespeare creates subplots which are entirely humorous in nature, with no greater purpose than to unleash a laugh. There is great darkness in his works, but also distinct lightheartedness. With care you can divide the two sides and learn from the lighter half. – Henry Taylor Oct 31 '17 at 13:15
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With lighter stuff the trick is not to play down the importance - someone thought it significant enough to write about it, so thinking of it as fluff could be counterproductive. It could be something ridiculously mundane, but if written well it can attract more readers than heavier plots.

I'm seconding Henry Taylor's Twain recommendation, and if you wanted to go even lighter throwing in a dash of P.G.Wodehouse wouldn't hurt.

You might find some good examples in the video games you're watching. I know it's not the most original answer, but finding someone you think does it well and trying to paraphrase their style will take things in the right direction.

There's a nice one paragraph short story about a writer struggling to give their words a certain feel at the top of this page. If you can get in the same frame of mind as when you wrote the question, you're most of the way there.

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    Seconding Wodehouse well over Twain. Twain is brilliant but more often cynical (not without reason). Wodehouse is 95% sweetness and light, and the 5% dark is on the order of high-school mean-girls cruelty, not death/disease/divorce heartache. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Oct 29 '17 at 15:04
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    Josh and Mark - thanks for the suggested edit, but I was going for Henry Taylor's recommendation of Mark Twain ("Henry's Twain recommendation") - the proposed edit lost the reference to Twain. I've clarified. – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Nov 1 '17 at 7:48
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A lighthearted story is generally one where the consequences of failure are mostly the status quo. The MC isn't going to die or go bankrupt if they fail. They must have something at stake (money perhaps, lifelong dreams) but if they fail their life isn't ruined. Nevertheless, the reader wants the MC to succeed, and sympathizes with them.

Consider a story like "The Money Pit", an engaged couple naively buys a dilapidated house as-is, thinking it just needs a coat of paint and some minor repairs, and in scene after scene they realize it is worse, and worse, until they are going to give up, perhaps not get married, but in the end it all works out.

Or Brewster's Millions; the 1985 Richard Pryor version: In order to inherit $300 million, Pryor must spend $30 million in thirty days, and cannot tell anybody why he is doing it. The audience knows, of course, so it becomes very funny watching somebody desperate to unload money by the rules (a limit on charity, gambling, etc), and funny when he thinks he has made a terrible investment but it works out (so he didn't get rid of the money). A lot of reversals that make him seem crazy to other characters, but we know he is not.

But the stakes are neutral. Expected windfalls that do not materialize, in both cases. Perhaps monetary losses in The Money Pit, but nothing they cannot afford.

Once you are free of the consequences being dark or devastating, failures can be funny, as long as the consequences of failure are not life changing. If your character falls off the roof, he doesn't break his neck, he gets up and limps away and is fine in the next scene. If something explodes in his face, he isn't blinded or scarred for life. The dog getting loose causes a fender bender he ends up paying for, without hurting the dog.

The same thing can go for moral failures or cowardice: Say after causing the fender bender, the prospect of him having to pay for it makes him grab his dog and literally run away, being chased for a minute by one of the motorists. Cowardice has been played for laughs (eg Angel in the Rockford Files), as can minor violence (getting punched in the nose, falling on the ice, crashing into a tree on a bike).

The key is that the setbacks and consequences are all recoverable by the characters, things tend to stop being funny when the audience senses life-changing (or life-ending) consequences, at least for the main characters.

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Are you looking to write something to take your own mind off your problems, something easy, enjoyable and unchallenging? Or are you looking to give the reader a lighthearted experience?

If it's the former, write whatever comes to mind and is fun for you --if that's darker themes, then go with those. But assuming the latter, keep in mind that what seems most effortless to the audience is often the hardest to produce. As the old chestnut goes, "dying is easy, comedy is hard." Nothing is worse that seeing someone failing at being funny because they treat it contemptuously. Like the perfect pop song, the best "fluff" is often quite effortful behind the scenes.

In my opinion, what makes for good comedy is strong characters and a point of view that perceives the natural humor in situations. If you're having trouble getting started, you might do a parody of the kind of stories you typically write. All humor has a dark side, and all darkness has a humorous side. Similarly, if you're going less for "funny" and more for "not giving people nightmares," you still have to do all the same work to craft a compelling narrative, and with the added challenge of not going to your usual bag of tricks for help.

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