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Teenage writer here! I have a bunch of great ideas for stories and such but I never really know how to add more fluff or detail into them to make them longer to where readers can read all day and still have more to read. Does anyone have any tips?

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    By fluff, do you mean anything that makes it longer, or a subset thereof? On the former option, much of great writing is about reducing it. – J.G. Mar 19 at 7:19
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    As stated in other comments and answers: you don't want "fluff" to make it longer. You want more story: an additional character with their own arc, a sub-plot with its own conflict and resolution, or get deeper into a character's flaws and how this story in particular is THE story that challenges those flaws…. No one wants to eat a cake that's 90% icing. Look up Mary Robinette Kowal, she teaches a writing style called MACE where the story raises a series of story questions and works towards answering them one-by-one to keep readers engaged. – wetcircuit Mar 19 at 11:06
  • First off, consider adding adjectives and adverbs. "He was elaborately dressed in a gaudy coat" vs just "He was dressed in a coat". And note that before you do this you have to be describing how he's dressed, something you might have omitted. Describe appearances, describe paths and sequences during the character's actions. – Hot Licks Mar 21 at 23:17

11 Answers 11

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Don't.

Having enough material that your readers "can read all day and still have more to read" should not be your aim when writing. Your aim should be to write something good enough that they will want to read it all day.

Speaking as a reader, I would honestly much rather read a 50,000-word book that keeps me engaged and entertained all the way through, than a 250,000-word book that pads itself out with excessive description and stretches the plot out for longer than necessary. And speaking as a writer, I'd much rather write a 50,000-word book than a 250,000-word book, because it's just less work.

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  • Exactly my sentiment. I was about to answer 'why would you want to'. Ultimately, a story should be as long as it needs to be, no more, no less. – Matthew Dave Mar 20 at 9:37
  • IOW, don't channel Victor Hugo. – EvilSnack Mar 20 at 13:02
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    Sadly this is just not true in the real world. How many 50k books have you read recently? People tend to dismiss 50k works as short, and armature. There is also something to be said for spending time with characters. – Andrey Mar 20 at 18:38
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    @EvilSnack, I'd rather say don't think you can channel Hugo. He was the master of the artful and engaging digression, but digression is (or should be) different from fluff. His were there to flesh out and enrich the story, not to pad it. – LSpice Mar 21 at 20:59
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    And definitely don't imitate Ayn Rand's polemical passages. (Even her followers find them to be tedious.) – EvilSnack Mar 21 at 21:04
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Add "fluff" which actually adds to your work:

  • Add "fluff" which helps the reader to learn more about your characters. Who they are, where they are from, how their life situation looks, etc.
  • Add "fluff" which helps the reader to better understand the world in which your story takes place (to the extend that's relevant for the story).
  • Add "fluff" which sets the mood of a scene.

But do not just add "fluff" which servers no purpose but to increase the length of your work. That's just a waste of time - both for your time and of that of your readers. Length is not a measure of quality. There are lots of great literary works which do not have hundreds of pages. Perfection is not when you can no longer add anything. Perfection is also when you can no longer remove anything.

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If you think the reader will want to read more, give them substance, not fluff. Instead of (as F1Crazy said) bloating a 50,000 word book to 250,000 words (without really saying much more), try writing a miniseries of 5 books, with the same characters and/or setting.

Suppose you visit family for dinner, and they serve you a scrumptious dish - a succulent roast with sublime vegetables, all topped with a rich gravy. Once finished, you inquire if there is any chance of more. Saying "Yes, of course", they take your plate out to the kitchen, and return it piled high with watery mashed potatoes, grey, gloopy and tasteless. Yes, you have more food. No, it's not what you had hoped for or previously enjoyed.

This also lets you use your "bunch of great ideas", instead of slogging away at one until you get fed up with it.

Also, if you have access to beta-readers, ask them what bits of the story/world they wanted to know more about, which bits they found confusing (and need more explaining), and so forth. But also ask them which parts they struggled through, and which parts they thought went on too long - you might find the story is really only 40,000 words, but all the better for being more concise.

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In good writing, there is no fluff. Everything is there for a reason. Like yours, my writing always used to be too short. But then I learned that for a lot of readers, the details are the whole point, not the afterthought.

Find some really good books and examine the details. You'll find foreshadowing, allusions, symbols, subtext, attitudes, perspective and sensory immersion. Once you learn how much work the details do to help your story come alive for the reader, you'll never call it fluff again!

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This is my personal preference, but I like stories that immerse me in a new world. This might be a place or time that really exists or a world built up from trends and fears. The trick for the writer is to understand that world in detail and use that understanding to slip in just enough detail to engage the reader.

My first suggestion is that you study other worlds, cultures, economic systems, whatever. It is said that a fish cannot discover water because it has never experienced the lack of water. I do not believe that a writer can capture the essence of a world when they have no experience of not-that-world.

My second suggestion is that you look for what is the same and what is different. For example, a teenager now has limited experience of what society was like before there were wide-spread cellphones. But there are old films and TV shows that show what that world was like. You might have a relative who is a senior citizen and either does not have a cell phone or remembers what it was "back then."

My third suggestion is that you look for the little details reveal the background of your stories. To continue with the cellphone example, I now have clothes that have special pockets to hold a cell phone. I often carry an external battery to charge my phone when it runs down. When I travel, I take cables and transformers. I know how to switch my phone in and out of airplane mode. I can choose a ring tone. What sort of changes from the normal world apply in the world of the story? Which of these changes can be slipped into the narrative to alert the reader that "we are not in Kansas" any more.

The final suggestion(and this is the hardest one to achieve) is to add the minimum of material to accomplish your goals. Well, to be fair, the trick is to end up with the minimum. I write many words and then reduce them to what I think is just enough. Not fun but necessary.

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I'm going to assume you change the word from fluff to substance.

Question

How Can I Add More Substance To My Stories?

One Word Answer

Focus

Or if you prefer, two words: Deep Focus

Begin to really look at your story and daydream about each scene that occurs. Uh, you have broken your story into scenes, right? Additional details here on writing stack

See The Story As you do this you should see each character in action - doing something. As you see each character doing something, describe exactly what the character is doing so the reader can see it on the Movie-Screen of Her Mind.

Yes, your details should be so vivid that you can hear the words and see the pictures happening when she closes her eyes.

Look Closely At Specifics

Take a look at your story and make a list of the most interesting parts.

  1. Character
  2. Plot
  3. Setting

Look extremely closely at each of these things.
Place a character in a scene where he struggles with something. Now, sit down and do not write, but instead just imagine the character struggling against the thing. What happens? See every detail.

Plant The Details

Jack's sword pushed against his leg as he pulled himself up over the boulder. He took a moment and pushed the sword back so it slid out of the way. Even though the mountain was covered in snow at this altitude, Jack's face dripped with sweat from the climb. Smoke and a deep growling sound came from the mouth of the cave that was still far off and Jack shivered.

See how I didn't tell you what the story was about, but you could kind of tell? I planted specific details (sword) -- leads reader to know "ah, this character has a sword and swords were used in a specific time". Character is on a mountain. It's cold. He's climbing. There's smoke and deep growling. You can probably guess he is here to fight a dragon or some monster.

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A lot of these answers seem to be missing a very common definition of the word fluff. This definition of fluff seems to be the exact opposite of Western writing, which is why a lot of the other answers have an 'avoid fluff' mentality.

In online circles such as the now defunct fictionpress, LiveJournal, or the ever-expanding Archive of Our Own, the word 'fluff' is more akin to soft, tooth-rotting stories that aren't full of 'plot' or 'substance', but is considered meritable because it focuses on the interactions between characters.

Generally, a work that is considered 'fluffy' has lots of bonding between characters. These can be soft moments such as:

Enjoying each other's company
Character A receiving affection from character B
Character B receiving help from character A A character who is generally unfriendly being unexpectedly nice or helpful

However, it's not just limited to moment between characters. 'Fluffy' works can also include instances of 'Slice of Life' scenes, where the importance is placed on enjoying the activities going on. A common example of this is stories set in coffee shops, bakeries, on a farm, at a fair, at a library or bookstore.

A good example of 'fluff' that is also 'Slice of Life' would be seen in a lot of Japanese animated movies, specifically Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, ect. There are several scenes in each of these movies that don't serve to move the plot forward, but instead are focused on making sure to focus on life and character interaction.

Another resource would be to look at Archive Of Our Own and search for the tag 'fluff', as it shows what other people would consider to be 'fluffy'.

I'm giving this answer because you're at the age where fanfiction is really popular, and a lot of fanfiction is fond of 'fluff'.

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There are other ways to make the book fill a word-count quota:

Add another plot to the story.

If your main plot has a supporting character who needs to be absent at some point, build another plot to arrange for that absence.

Add another story to the book.

If you can only manage to justify X/2 words, but your minimum publication length is X words, then write another story (with the same characters or different ones, it does not matter) and publish it as two novellas in one volume. (This works best if you are self-publishing.)

Shelve it for a while, and then come back.

I gather that you are new to this writing thing, so there is an issue to which you are subject that you haven't noticed yet. Since as the author you have a more-or-less complete knowledge of what your characters are doing, and why they're doing it, and where everything is, and what everything looks like, you are prone to miss the important details that you have left out; your personal knowledge of this little world will fill them in for you.

Combat this by finishing the first or second draft, and then put the story in some place where you won't look at it, and come back after a while. (Ray Bradbury would shelve a new story for a year.) You will have forgotten what you were thinking when you wrote what you will then be reading, and it will be easier to spot what's missing and fix what doesn't make sense. In this way, the results might be longer.

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In addition to F1Krazy's answer, there's a lot of contemporary/modern writers that have done well by conveying a lot and saying little. As in, short to the point sentences that manage to open up ideas and descriptions to the reader without having to ...robotically list those points out. I'd say Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway are two such writers.

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I think there's a balance between being starkly against fluff and wanting to add more meat to your text. For this to work, you're goint to have to spend a lot of time building up your world, and only a very small section of that world will actually make it to your story. Why? Let's take a look at exposition.

"Fluff" usually refers to exposition, which means giving your reader information about the world that you're creating. There's a danger with simply giving out fluff, and it's that you might end up sounding like a Wikipedia article, simply listing off information. This isn't compelling to read. It's boring. The alternative is to think of exposition as ammunition.

Exposition as ammunition only makes sense if you understand what a scene is. Here's Robert McKee's definition of a scene:

A SCENE is an action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character’s life on at least one value with a degree of perceptible significance. Ideally, every scene is a STORY EVENT. (Source. Emphasis added by me.)

Value here refers to any quality in human experience that can be split into a binary. For example, dead-alive, happy-sad, optimistic-pessimistic, legal-ilegal. Having understood that, let's focus on the "action through conflict". Conflict refers to the pressures that are going against the protagonist's desire to restore balance in their life (assuming you've done this in your story). These antagonistic pressures can be within the character's mind, or come from personal relationships, or social institutions, or even the enviroment.

Alright, so let's go back to "fluff". Your character has a desire and there are all of these potential sources of antagonism. You've extensively written about your world, so you know you've got a mastery of it. What can you set up as an antagonistic pressure against your character's desire? You could set up conflicting thoughts within the character's mind. Or friends or family that are obstacles, or set up barriers within the government or the education system or the penal system, or be in the middle of a climate-crisis... You can then give "fluff" to not only describe your world, but also push forward the story. This way, the details that you give are not boring, but exciting and even necessary to find out what will happen to your protagonist.

This way of giving out fluff is "exposition as ammunition":

the technique of exposition as ammunition operates in this way: Your cast has the knowledge of the past, present, themselves, and each other that your readers or audience members will need to know in order to follow events. Therefore, at pivotal moments, let your characters use what they know as ammunition in their struggles to get what they want. These revelations will deliver the pleasure of discovery to the emotionally invested reader/audience as the fact quickly vanishes into the story-goer’s background awareness.

Consider, for example, the original Star Wars trilogy. All three films hinge on one story-fact: Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. The storytelling problem for George Lucas was when and how to deliver that piece of exposition. He could have revealed it at any point in the first film by having C-3PO whisper to R2-D2, “Don’t tell Luke, he’d really be upset to hear this, but Darth’s his dad.” The fact would have reached the audience but with minimum, almost laughable effect. Instead, he employed exposition as ammunition to turn the trillogy’s most famous scene. (Source.)

One last note. I mention that you should write about your world to make sure you've got master over it. This is because we can easily fool ourselves into thinking "I feel good about this. I've got it." and then realize we can't write our story because we didn't really know where to go. So write it out, to make sure you know your world.

In summary, write out your world as much as possible, fleshing out who your characters are. If you reach a point where ideas of stories flow naturally, you are ready to use exposition as ammunition.

This is a small response that really requires the broader framework that Robert McKee lays out to write stories. I highly recommend you read his book, Story, to understand not only what I'm telling you here, but how to write powerful stories.

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One difficulty with the way you asked your question is that the word "fluff" is generally a negative term. Saying that a story was mostly fluff is a way of saying it is a bad story. Saying that a part of a story is fluff is a way of saying you should take that part out. The metaphor is that fluff takes up space but has no real meat.

I don't think you are asking how to add useless filler to your stories. It sounds like you think up a storyline, you write down what happens, and it isn't long enough. You don't want to add fluff, you want to add substance of quality.

I am answering this as a reader, not a writer, so what I am about to say may be totally bogus. But examples are a valuable tool for learning almost anything. Why not take a short story that you really like, and that you know basically how it goes without rereading it. Without looking, write it yourself. And then go back and see what the original author did differently. See if the details they added that you left out made it better for you. Think about why they might have done what they did.

Again, I have no standing to be creating writing exercises. But I still think looking at stories you like is a good idea.

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