Friday, April 7, 2017

You Don't Need No &#^$*!@ Filters!

Like me, you probably know at least a handful of people who could be described as having "no filter". They say whatever comes to mind without regard to how it sounds or who it upsets. If they don't like something, they say so. If they don't like you, they let you know. At times I've wished that I could be that way, especially when someone is inexcusably rude to myself or someone else. Then again, I'd rather NOT be that way. I'd rather not get the negative reputation that comes along with not pausing to think about what you say before you say it.

photo found on Wikipedia

Conversation filters in our day to day lives are good. When it comes to our writing, however, word filters can get in the way. According to creative writing professor Jacqueline Hesse, filters can detach the reader from the story and cause him instead to observe the character.

In an article on The Writer Magazine's website, Professor Hesse gives several examples of the filters writers most often use. I'm as guilty as they come. In my current draft, I've been flipflopping between first and third person POV, trying to figure out which feels more authentic. Something I've noticed in both POVs is that I use a lot of words like said, thought, felt, remembered, recalled, saw, etc. Something about them bothered me. I knew there had to be a better way to communicate the action of a scene without constantly resorting to tired old words that pull the reader away from the story. Thanks to Professor Hesse, I now know what they are called and why they're such annoying bugbears.


#1. He walked to the abandoned building. He saw something shift in the shadows. Somewhere he heard something creak. In the distance, he heard the cry of a crow that made him jump. He slowly climbed the steps of the old porch and looked in the dirty window. He wondered at the neglect and remembered his parents house and how time took it before it took them.

Now then. Try this one on for size:

#2. He walked to the abandoned building. Something shifted in the shadows. Something else creaked. In the distance, a crow cried and made him jump. He slowly climbed the steps of the old porch. The windows were filthy with neglect like his parents house. Time slowly took it before taking them.


This may not be the most perfect example; I'm still learning exactly when a filter word is a filter and when it is and isn't necessary. You can see the difference though. This difference caused quite the Ah-HA! moment for me. The first example tells us what the main character is up to. The second example, you guessed it, SHOWS us. Glory be! Do you know how long it's been since my writing mentor first said, "SHOW don't TELL!" and I have been wondering just what the HECK she meant by that!

Eureka, kids. I've found it.

These filter words obscure our vision. They cause us to watch the character and not be fully involved in the scene. When we remove these filters, our vision becomes clearer and we're IN the story. We experience the scene THROUGH the character rather than OBSERVE what he or she is doing.

Of course, there are times when filter words are perfectly acceptable and help rather than hinder. For me, the discovery of "filters" was exactly what I needed to help me move forward in my current W.I.P and finally understand that old maxim "show don't tell".

Don't tell me the moon is shining; 
show me the glint of light on broken glass
                                                                                                       ~ Anton Chekhov

To find out more, read Professor Hesse's entire article at The Writer Magazine.



When was the last time you experienced an AH-HA! moment for your writing?

Do you lean too heavily on filter words?

Did you already know what these were and why they limp a story along or, like me, is this brand new enlightenment?

Have a marvelous weekend, Dear Readers!

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  1. Between my own writing and reading so many manuscripts, I've found another way to make a sentence more active and engaging - change it so the "ing" word is now an "ed" word. ("I was walking down the street." - "I walked down the street.")

  2. You'll like the term I learned for it from a home school mom. They had the kids create a "Word Graveyard." A place to put the overused and under descriptive words in their writing.
    I had kind of heard about this before. It all goes back to the examples of "Show" don't "Tell" that confuse most people. I have a tendency to overuse words. I need more variety.

  3. My students had a list of words on the wall, crossed out.

  4. I forget about this all the time when writing scenes. Thank you!

  5. I'm guilty of using filter words way too much - agh. Thanks for the reminder to search and destroy them again. (figuratively)
    I've had aha moments, but not lately.
    Happy Writing, Jen!

  6. Filters really can/do add distance. I don't worry about using them in my drafts, but I try to clean them up by the final round. :)


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