EDITING 101: 36 – Removing Filter Words…

Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.

Courtesy of Adirondack Editing

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’

To see the index and catch up with missed episodes of this series – CLICK HERE

NOTE:

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.

Susan

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39 thoughts on “EDITING 101: 36 – Removing Filter Words…

  1. Thanks on enlightening us on this excess. I have a question. You said: “While, as usual, there’s a place for them in writing,”
    Where is the place for these filter words in writing? Can you please give some examples?

    Liked by 2 people

    • As with any part of the English language, none of it is outlawed or unacceptable to use. While routinely cutting out filter words will train you to write better without them, it will also increase your word count. Filter words are more “telling” than showing, but an entire book of “showing” would probably drive a reader to drink. 🙂 So moderation is the key to everything! There’s nothing technically wrong with any of these examples:

      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.

      But if your book is full of them, you might want to consider revising.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never heard the term “filtered words”. I can’t recall what we called them in my writing class. But, YES – it makes the sentence weak. Thank you for the reminder.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Another excellent article, Susan. This is the part of editing that consumes so much of my time. It seems there’s always room for improvement, and I always reach a point where I just have to let go and publish 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, that’s very true, Tina. An author simply cannot remember all these things at one time. Even editors have trouble remembering them! For a writer, it might be best to pick one area where you’re weak and focus on that for a while. After you’ve mastered it and it becomes second nature, then you can pick another issue to work on.

      But as we get older, doesn’t it seem like every new thing learned pushes out something previously learned? 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Very interesting. I’d never thought of examining writing for filter words. If you’d given me the first passage to read I would have thought, “OK, maybe not the best writing.” but I wouldn’t have been able to put my finger on exactly why. Maybe after some thought I’d have considered that it seemed to be in “passive voice” but I’m not sure if that’s exactly what it is.

    Heh, now I’ll have to start looking for it in my own writing!

    🙂
    MJM

    Liked by 2 people

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