The Creative’s Blog

Deepen Your POV by Chopping Filter Words

Writing sounds simple. How hard can it be to make stuff up, right? That’s the easy part. Keeping readers engaged and/or the word count from spiraling out of control is a whole other story. One way to make your story stronger (and as a bonus, lower the word count) is by eliminating weak words/filter words. 

Filter words tend to explain what the characters are doing, instead of showing what the characters are doing. This takes the reader out of the moment and causes them to watch the character, rather than the action. Filter words, and common phrases, are bland enough to go unnoticed during revisions. They’re like salt; okay in moderation but when there’s too much, it’s off-putting. They can make a sentence feel clunky or wordy and often cause repetition or lead to readers skimming in search of the story essence.

In limited POV, everything mentioned is from the character’s direct knowledge and the watch, feel, notice, see, look, etc. is implied.

Here’s an example of how filter words put distance between readers and characters.

Through the screened window, Alec peered out at the early gray morning. He saw the light from the lampposts that glinted off the tops of cars and dissipated into the darkness between vehicles crammed in the driveway. He looked at the tall, lanky figure shuffling down the gravel drive.

And the revised paragraph with filters removed…

Using a butcher knife for a mirror, Alec double-checked his bandage. The light outside held a gray, early morning tinge. Lamppost light glinted off the tops of cars and dissipated into the darkness between vehicles. A tall, lanky figure shuffled down the gravel drive.

Instead of telling the reader what the character is looking at, the paragraph above shows him in action. This draws the reader into the moment, creates mood, and reveals something about Alec, who’s multitasking to check his wound and the area behind him, as well.

There is a time and place for filter words. They can add flavor to your story. There’s no need to chop every one of them—an impossible task. Filter words won’t spoil your entire manuscript. They can be used to clarify what’s happening. Or in other words, when a character experiences an epiphany and realizes something they hadn’t before. Or when the character looks with specific intent or notices something in particular and the reader needs to know it

Here’s an example of a filter used to clarify what’s happening:

Aiden clasped Ivy’s hand, drawing her back into the present. Ivy wanted to spend more time with him, but as a caretaker, she knew he needed time to recuperate. Whereas as a woman, she wanted Aiden’s lips on her neck again.

With the clarifying filter removed…

Aiden clasped Ivy’s hand, drawing her back into the present. As much as Ivy wanted to spend more time with him, he needed time to recuperate. She wanted Aiden’s lips on her neck again.

…the paragraph hits different. It still works. However, the reader doesn’t experience the internal struggle along with Ivy. They don’t feel how she’s torn between responsibility and fun.

A few questions that help chop filter words from your writing…

1) Does it create distance between your character and the reader?

For example,

With filters

She heard the bacon sizzle. She looked in the pan noticing the edges browned to a mouth-watering crisp.

Without filters

The bacon sizzled; edges browned to a mouth-watering crisp.

2) Can you replace the filter with a specific word that gives the sentence deeper meaning?

For example, 

very hungry becomes ravenous.

very mad becomes livid

something broke becomes glass shattered

3) Is the filter word redundant or telling what you show in the next sentence?

For example, 

With filter

She looked in the cabinet for spices. She saw adobo, basil, and cumin lined up in proper order in the spice cabinet. However, the spot for garlic powder remained empty. 

Without filters

Adobo, basil, and cumin lined up in proper order in the spice cabinet. However, the spot for garlic powder remained empty. 

4) If you remove the filter word, does it feel like you’re losing your character’s voice or the overall mood of your story? If so, it might be time to set down the revision knife and examine where the filter words are working in your favor.

Every writer has words they rely on too much. Review your writing and keep a list of words that pop up frequently. It may help to read your work out loud so you can hear things you repeat too often or too close together. Revising your work to remove overused words and/or filter words can lower your word count, tighten your manuscript and draw readers deeper into your story.

Here’s a list of some common filter words and overused words I’ve come across while working with my clients.

What words do you tend to overuse?

by Natasha Hanova

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