Filter words. It can be so tempting to use them, but they weaken your writing, especially when overused. One of the most common issues I spot when editing is the use of filtering. From my experience it’s a common habit for new authors and one that can be hard to break. Even yours truly had to learn to break the habit. Let’s get started on how to spot and revise filtering.
What is filtering? Filtering words are words that place your character between an important detail and your reader because the detail gets filtered through your character’s point of view. These filter words can tell us sensory details, what a character sees or feels, and what they think. Filtering can make it hard for readers to connect to your world because it creates distance between the reader and your narrator. Filtering can also lead to telling instead of showing. You can show us how your character feels about their world through dialogue and character development, but we don’t need details and actions filtered through their point of view. Let us connect directly to the world.
Here’s a common example I often spot: She heard footsteps pounding behind her. The footsteps are being filtered through the woman’s POV by telling us she heard them. Now here’s the sentence revised to get rid of the filtering words: Footsteps pounded behind her. Not only is the new sentence more concise, but it tells the reader what they need to know without any unnecessary filtering. This example also brings up another point about filtering, which is that it is redundant. You don’t need to tell us she heard the footsteps when we already assume so.
Common filter words include to see, hear, feel, seem, look, wonder, sound, and realize. Searching for those words can help you spot filtering in your writing.
Next, let’s rewrite a paragraph filled with filtering words.
She felt the smooth sand crunch between her toes. The ocean seemed endless as she watched seagulls soar over it. Sunshine glinted off water that looked like a sapphire blue. With a sinking feeling she realized her vacation was almost over. Tomorrow meant returning home and back to her office that always felt stuffy. She wondered how hard it would be to move to the coast. She decided a slower lifestyle could reduce her stress, make her feel relaxed easier.
Now the rewrite.
The smooth sand crunched between her toes. Seagulls soared over the endless ocean. Sunshine glinted off the sapphire-blue water. Her stomach sank–her vacation was almost over. Tomorrow meant returning home and back to her stuffy office. How hard would it be to move to the coast? A slower lifestyle could reduce her stress, make it easier to relax.
See the difference? Axing the filtering made the second paragraph stronger. If filtering is something you struggle with, search for filtering words and revise them out. Choose stronger verbs and more active words than filter words like “she felt.” Some revision practice will help you avoid filtering in your future writing and make it easier to spot.