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Writing Essays, Tips and Recommendations

What I Have Learned About Writing Fluff by St. Margarets

One of the first rules of writing is “Show don’t tell.” Like all rules, that one is just aching to be broken. In the romance genre, telling is an acceptable “tool” in your writer’s kit—especially for the big “pay off” scene at the end. But first, here are some things I think are necessary for all successful fluffy romance stories.

1. Progression - There has to be a series of actions and interactions before hearts can be opened. The writer needs to be clear where each character stands in terms of feelings for the other at the beginning of the story, and then the writer needs to convey that in some way to the reader. Let’s use Ron and Hermione as an example. First meeting: they irritate each other, yet can’t ignore each other. There is reinforcement of this dynamic in the Wingardium Leviosa scene. And then hearts are (somewhat) opened after the troll scene, Hermione having given Ron the key (how to correctly pronounce the charm) to saving her in the scene before. It’s lovely, tight writing. And, of course, the progression continues.

In my story Wallpaper Moments, I consciously decided to use each wall Harry and Ginny wallpapered as a concrete way to show progression. With each wall, they discovered something new about each other. This was a novice writer’s idea, but it helped me (and my characters) stay grounded. In the bit o’ fluff I just wrote for Ron’s twelfth task in the Anthology, I used the dusting of the shelves and the book titles to convey progression.

2. In Character - This is harder than it sounds, since we haven’t seen big fluffy moments between Harry and Ginny or Ron and Hermione. [Editor’s note: This essay was originally posted pre-HBP.] It’s also harder than it sounds because, if you follow the rule of progression, your characters will have changed (at least in their outlook) because of the experiences you have given them. So, you really have to think carefully as to how your characters will change, having found the love of their life. Harry is never going to call Ginny “hon” even if he moves to the States. It might be a joke between them or something—but that’s not how he shows his affection. So you have to think about “How does he show his affection?”

With Ron, Harry teases him, laughs at his jokes, wants the best for him when he gets the Prefect badge, and spends time with him. With Hermione, he pretends to like the homework planner and tries to let her down gently when he doesn’t want to knit hats for the elves. With Sirius, he wrote him long letters and asked him questions. I think that the way Harry shows affection is that he shares himself—both his problems and his happy times. These are the kinds of things you have to decide about your characters when you give them a significant other.

3. The Significant Other - There is always the worry about Mary or Gary Stu, but let’s face it, in those early moments of falling in love, your main character’s point of view is going to slant toward the positive. One of the best things about reading fluff, I think, is if the writer can create the experience of falling in love for the reader. Yet, there is a very fine line. The lush language can sweep you along, or it can turn you off completely and get you quoted on the “gag me” thread (which we don’t have, but you know what I mean). I think the best kind of descriptions are the ones that focus on one or two details. For instance, Harry has mentioned Ginny’s eyes and hair before, so those were the physical descriptions I chose to use in his point of view. Perhaps the sound of a voice, or an endearing gesture might be what your character focuses on.

4. The Realization - This is important to get right. Whatever point of view you are working from, you want to make this realization ring true. Is the problem that your character has always loved the other, and now, with pounding heart, finally sees that this love will be requited? Or is it the other way around, with the clueless one finally clued in? Whatever way it works, this realization needs to be clear to the reader. This is “pay off” time, so use it wisely. I think one of the great pay off scenes in literature was when Elizabeth finally had her awakening to Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. In such realization scenes, the telling of thoughts is acceptable and may be necessary. If there is kissing, physical contact, etc. it’s not going to mean anything to the reader unless the reader knows the thoughts of one or the other.

5. The Declaration - This could be your realization scene as well, if you have a nice verbal character. Otherwise, this is a part where your readers will either go “awwww” or “ewwwww.” “I love you” is beautiful, it is heartfelt—and it is deathly in a fic, unless your readers have been living with these characters for a long, long time. I’d say stay away from such a phrase unless you have thousands of words behind you to back up just what that very vague phrase means. A good technique is to establish a catch phrase between your characters and have that take on some new meaning with a new set of circumstances. As an example, let’s take Ron and Hermione. “You have dirt on your nose” can be a criticism or a phrase of affection and caring, depending on the circumstances.

6. Love Scenes – This includes kisses and hugs. Pronouns, people! To take the squirm factor out of such intimacies, take the voyeurism out of it too. Let the reader identify with the “he” or the “she” of the scene. We know who it is—let the reader become that person in that very enjoyable situation.

So, that’s all I have learned about writing fluff and that’s what I’ve learned from just trying to write it. I hope some of these ideas are helpful. We have some excellent fluff writers on this site and I hope they will swing by and give some of their helpful hints. Believe me, I have a lot to learn—and I’d love to hear more ideas.

I do want to be philosophical for a moment and just say that fluff is the genre I like to read and I like to write. I don’t think it is frivolous or weak-minded to read it or write it.

One of the most important life decisions you will ever make is who you give your heart to. By doing this, you are changing your life for good or for ill—you are perhaps bringing other people into the world. It is a worthy subject for exploration in literature, as it has been for centuries. I’d love to hear more thoughts about this topic as well!

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