May 21, 2009

Writing Tip: Flat vs. Fluffy

Back to adding a new writing tip each week.

The question: Is your writing flat - or fluffy?

The little bear on that Snuggle fabric softener commercial has the right idea - fluffy is better.

How do you get fluffy writing, you ask? Simple.

1. Describe. Give the reader a mental image, but don't overdo it.

It's easy to just write and fill in the blanks, watching your word count pile up, only to end up with serviceable, good sentences that are kind of blah. They're flat on the page.

2. Fluff up your writing by reading authors you like, and even a few you don't like.

Watch other authors' word usage. Remember: a car isn't just a car in fiction - it's a gleaming red hot rod or a burgundy-striped clunker. Flat: car. Fluffy: color and type.

I started thinking about fluffy writing as I'm reading one of Elaine Viets' latest in the Dead End Jobs series, CLUBBED TO DEATH. No criticism meant; I love her books. (Elaine, I mean fluffy as a compliment. Her book was the one at hand at the moment. Any examples of hers are in quotes.)

I'm enjoying the story, but when I read I always take note of the writing, too, in this case, the descriptions. Example: hair isn't just hair: it's "long, chestnut hair."

3. Another example: give a mental image of the person - Flat: He strolled. Fluffy: "...had a bulldog walk..."

When you're writing, it's sometimes easy to forget this and rely on those tired old favorites. (Mine is walked, and sometimes nodded.)

4. Use a fine-tooth comb.

As a few other writers have mentioned, it's a good idea to go back and do a search in Word for your favorite over-used phrase or word. See how many times you used it, then think up a few fluffy new examples. Your writing will only be the better for it.

* Your Turn: Ok, writers admit it: What's your tired old favorite word or phrase?


  1. The old "his heart beat like a drum" is a good one. Critique partners are wonderful for catching overused phrases. Great post, Chris!

  2. Good thread for discussion, Chris. I read a lot of mysteries and often see these words when someone is scared- "the bile rose in my throat." I destest the thought. I've been scared many times but never felt bile rise in my throat...yuck. Even the big-name mystery writers use this horrid line.

  3. Good one Marlis, yeah taken literally they better get to the hospital - fast!

    Hi Pat, another one. I love cliches (in real life) but takes a little more thinking to change them in writing.

  4. The irritating (and essentially meaningless) question "Y'know? (with an equally irritating "rising inflection" is something I hear in every conversation in every script of every TV soap/drama/sitcom.
    I was recently in Denmark on holiday, where the single word "ikke?" (spoken with the same upwards inflection!) fulfils exactly the same role. Literally, it means "ISN'T IT?"


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