Removing Filter Words
Filter words are placed between your character and the action. Generally, they are added to a sentence when trying to describe something that your character is experiencing or thinking. While, as usual, there’s a place for them in writing, you can tighten up your scenes immensely when they’re removed. It’s another tidbit for helping you show, rather than tell, as without the filter words, you’re forced to add more description to get what you mean across.
What are some filter words? Felt, realized, saw, wondered, seemed, decided, heard, knew, touched, watched, and can are some of the more common ones. You can search the Internet for other lists of filtering words. Cutting away your filtering words and forcing yourself to write without them results in more vivid scenes.
Here are some sentence examples of filter words:
She remembered him kissing her at their wedding.
She felt relieved when he broke their date.
I heard a noise in the basement.
I tasted the morning’s coffee—bitter, as usual.
It seemed the only way to win was to punt.
He knew she was going to turn left.
Now how about a whole bunch of filter words together? Let’s imagine your character is running after from a purse snatcher. Here’s the scene:
Rhonda wondered how she would ever catch the man. She heard his footfalls pulling away from her, realizing that he was going to get away. She knew the check from her grandmother was in her purse, and decided she would stop chasing him and call the police. It seemed the best decision at the time, even though she felt disappointed in herself and her running abilities.
Aside from the fact that it’s not very good writing, it sounds fine, doesn’t it? Here is the same scene with the filter words removed:
How could she ever catch the man? His footfalls pulled away from her—he was going to get away. The check from her grandmother was in her purse; Rhonda couldn’t risk losing it. Slowing, she pulled her phone out of her back pocket to call the police. It was the best decision. Why couldn’t she have run faster?
This self-editing tip is not something that most editors would watch for in material they were editing, unless it was developmental editing. Why not? Because it requires rewriting and a subsequent resubmission. If you have hired an editor to help you improve your writing (developmental editing), then it will be something to work on. But you can improve your own writing without an editor’s help by using this tip.
Next week we’ll discuss ‘Hiring Professionals’
This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.
I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.
If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.