All About Editing: Filter words

Dear readers,

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.

For example,

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,

Tamara Drazic

 

 

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All About Editing: Plot

Hi everyone,

This is the first installment of a little series all about editing. The series will be based on my personal self-editing process, but will hopefully give you some ideas that you can apply to your own. It’s not a guideline or a set of rules–just an example of one person’s way of doing things. Always make sure you save every version of your draft!

Today’s topic is Plot, or the Substantive Edit. This is the first stage of my editing process, as well as the most painful, and the most rewarding. Below are three steps I take to stay sane and focused while tightening my manuscript. 

 

1.  Write a list of all the things wrong with your plot

Sounds fun, right? These are the things you always knew had to change eventually. Now is the time to make them squirm in the spotlight.

After I finished the first draft of my manuscript, I set it aside for a few days. During this little break, I compiled a list of every scene, plot point, character, and chapter that I wasn’t happy with. Gimmicks, coincidences, boring scenes, illogical reactions. I didn’t go easy on myself. It was liberating in a way, because it was the first time I forced myself to look at the major flaws, rather than glossing over them in fear of not making my target word count. These flaws were the things that spoiled my manuscript, and made me think the whole thing was worthless. I thought the list would make me feel terrible about myself as a writer, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, when I saw a physical list of all the flaws, I realised that I wasn’t unhappy with everything. The list made me feel in control, and showed me exactly what I had to do to improve.

Examples of things on my list: Opening of Chapter 3, Travis (the whole character), Chapter 7, Chapter 9, Chapter 13, The phone call in Chapter 20, etc.

2. Fix or delete?

Some things just have to go. Like Travis. He served no purpose as a character, except to create a problem for the protagonist later down the road. I found that a lot of the plot flaws in my manuscript came in groups. Travis was a plot device, for a plot point that was weak anyway. I deleted both Travis and that plot point, and found another, stronger way to bring across the information I was using him for. Although it was painful and time consuming, deleting Travis fixed more than one of the problems on my list. I was tempted to add him to a couple more scenes, and try to add depth to his character instead of deleting him. The more I tried, however, the more obvious it became that deleting him and the events involved with him was the only way to improve the plot’s cohesiveness.

I think the tip here is to try everything out. Have the original version of your draft saved, and in the second draft, delete what you want to delete, and change what you want to change. Don’t stop until you’re content with it.

3. Ask the hard questions

Does that backstory need to be there? Does that chapter add anything to the plot or the character? Is that logical? Does the climax happen too early/late? Is the resolution too predictable, obvious, abrupt, coincidental, etc? Does that character serve a purpose? Would your protagonist make that mistake?

If you read a lot of books, you most-likely already know the answers. For me, it was a matter of not allowing myself to dodge the questions.

 

Thank you so much for reading, and good luck with your manuscript!

– Tamara