Have you ever washed a blanket and dried it in your dryer and then discovered a good portion of the blanket has ended up in the lint trap as a layer of fluff? I swear, sometimes when I clean my dryer’s lint filter, there’s so much fluff there I could use it to make a second blanket. The only thing is, no matter how much fluff is in that filter, when you peel it out of there, all you have in your hand is a wad of fluff. It may have peeled off in a sheet but the moment you try to spread it across a bed, it’s going to fall apart. Why? Because it’s fluff, insubstantial and useless.
Have you ever been writing along and gotten so caught up in the setting that you spend a great amount of time describing the sweeping lawns of the mansions, the canopy of trees lining the old street, the tall white columns of the Greek ruin? Have you found yourself so entranced by your setting that you go into painstaking detail about every bent blade of grass in each trace of footstep in the normally well-manicured lawn, when maybe all you need is to mention that someone had left a trail of imprints when they cut across the lawn? Consider two different sentences saying the same thing.
In the forest, leaves in every color and hue clung to the trees, as the vivid reds and oranges high overhead battled for attention against pale yellows and dark greens of the lower bushes.
The example above is descriptive and definitely informs the reader that this is autumn in the woods. But it’s also a little wordy, and as a reader, I would probably skip that sort of passage and go looking for the real heart of the story. In short, this sentence is dryer fluff. It takes too many words to put the picture in the minds of the readers.
Autumn had splashed her vivid palette across the forest canvas.
The second example also paints a fairly vivid picture of autumn in the woods, and since most people reading your stories will know what autumn color looks like, it’s likely they will be able to picture an autumn wood without being told of the presence of each color. The second example is the real blanket that you will use to keep warm. It doesn’t fall apart because it’s not made of flimsy fluff.
These two examples are very extreme ends of the spectrum. In reality, the best solution for fluffy writing is possibly to set a goal for somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Description is not an exact science. But if you start noticing that you’ve written paragraphs filled with detailed description of a setting or an outfit or a meal, you should probably check your story’s lint trap and see if it needs to be emptied.