“How filter words are undermining your writing”

What are they and how are they ruining your writing?

Filters are tiny little words that creep into our writing. They separate readers from the minds of the character. They remind the reader that they are not in the story. These tiny words rip readers out of the stream of consciousness of the story’s characters. Think of them as shovel bearing dwarfs burrowing under the wall of your writing, weakening it. They place distance between readers and the point of view.

Read the selections below. See if you can identify how they are different.

See if you can identify how they remove the reader from the action and bog down the writing removing immediacy, and excitement from the writing.

These two passages are different. Try to detect how these differences are affecting each passage.

Laura noticed Tim’s eyes drifting towards the flat lifeless sea. She saw his eyes go out of focus, flat and lifeless, every time she mentioned the dreaded “M” Word. She would see him go distant. And she thought the more she asked him the more distant he grew. He was like the receding tide. She wondered why couldn’t he just talk about it. She started to realize that maybe he didn’t love her as much as she thought. She wondered if they could ever be together for real. She wondered if there was a future for them. She thought, perhaps she should walk away before it was too late and her heart was broken beyond repair.

Reworked

Tim’s eyes drifted past Laura towards the flat listless sea.  Each time she mentioned the dreaded “M” word his eyes glazed as flat and lifeless as the gray sea. Every time she brought it up he grew more distant like the receding tide.  Why couldn’t he just talk about it? Did he love her at all? Was there a future where they could be together for real? Perhaps it would be better if she walked away before her heart was broken beyond repair.

Here is the first version with the filter words bolded for you. Notice that not only does it read better the second time the writing is also more concise as a result of the edits.

 

Laura noticed Tim’s eyes drifting towards the flat lifeless sea.  She saw his eyes go out of Focus, flat and lifeless, every time she mentioned the dreaded “M” Word. She would see him go distant. And she thought the more she asked him the more distant he grew. He was like the receding tide.   She wondered   why couldn’t he just talk about it. She started to realize that maybe he didn’t love her as much as she thought. She wondered if they could ever be together for real. She wondered if there was a future for them. She thought, perhaps she should walk away before it was too late and her heart was broken beyond repair.

Filter words usually are related to senses or mental processes.

To see, to notice, to watch.

She watched the black and white gulls gliding over the silver surf.

Black and white gulls glided over the silver surf.

To realize, to seem, to think/thought, to wonder to decide.

Realization struck her and she wondered if she hadn’t made the wrong choice.

Doubt seeped deeper softening her resolve. Had she made the wrong choice after all?

To hear, to sound, sound like.

She heard the sound of breaking glass, shattering the silence of the night.

Breaking glass shattered the silence of the night.

To feel, feel like, to touch.

Can, to be able.

I can feel the anger bubbling to the surface, beneath my all too thin skin.

The anger bubbles barely contained beneath my all too thin skin.

Assignment

Take out your favorite book or find some passages from your favorite author. Scan the text for filter words. Do you see any? Chances are that if you find their work interesting, and compelling you don’t.

Now for the painful part. Take out a recent piece of your own writing. Make a photocopy. Take a highlighter or red pen and go to town. Circle all of the filter words you can find. Then rework that page of writing or at least a few paragraphs. Not all filter words are bad some are needed for clarity, but odds are that you eliminate 95% of them. Editing can be painful I know but you, your agent, and your publisher will all thank you for it.

Good Luck and never stop writing. Never stop submitting.

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