Today’s post is all about filter words, what they are, how to find them, how to get rid of them, and how this can improve your prose. This is the second installment of a little series of posts all about editing. You can find the first installment (all about plot) here.
These tips are not all my own; they are things that I’ve learned either at university, or through research.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I am still in the process of editing my first novel, Juice of Half a Lemon, before I start submitting it. I finished the first draft in April of 2017, and have since progressed to draft number 8. Along the way, I have discovered many recurring flaws in my writing, one of which is overusing filter words.
Filter words are verbs like saw, heard, knew, and felt that distance the reader from the action of the story by putting a character between them.
I’ve always thought of it like this: filtering forces the reader to see the action from behind the character, rather than seeing it through the character’s eyes.
He saw the woman take a knife out of her bag.
In this sentence, saw is a filter word. This forces the reader to see the character see the woman, rather than just seeing the woman for themselves. Without filtering, the action feels more immediate.
The woman took a knife out of her bag.
I’ve found that the most common filter words in my writing are knew and felt.
*She knew she couldn’t tell Edward her real name. —-> She couldn’t tell Edward her real name.
*She felt an ant crawl up her arm. —-> An ant crawled up her arm.
Filtering relates back to the old rule that we’ve all heard a million times, show don’t tell. Instead of telling the reader what the character sees, knows, feels, tastes, or hears, show them the action and let them see, know, taste, or hear it themselves.
If you’re past your structural edits and are ready to clean up your prose on a line level, try checking your manuscript for filter words. The search tool is your best friend.
Ctrl + F : saw, heard, knew, felt, tasted, could see, could hear, and could feel
Removing these filter words tightened my prose, improved the sentence flow, reduced the word count, and made the story’s action feel a lot more immediate.
I wish you all the best with your manuscript edits; I know it can be a grueling process.
Thanks for reading,