So what are filter words?
Words that push the reader out of your character’s head.
Here’s an example.
- “She saw the door was ruined with deep sigils, as if the desperate or dying had gone at it with a knife.”
That sentence isn’t bad – but compare it to this.
- “The door was ruined with deep sigils, as if the desperate or dying had gone at it with a knife.”
Read them both. Read them out loud. The second sentence has more punch than the first, and the reason is those two simple words: she saw.
The moment I wrote “she saw,” I took you OUT of the character’s head because instead of showing you what she SAW, I showed you what she was DOING.
She saw = she was looking.
It’s the same as “she opened the door,” “she picked it up,” “she ran away.” If you’re trying to give me what she sees, then give me what she sees – not her seeing it. Those filter words put extra distance between the character’s experience and your reader.
Have a second example
- “He felt the cold, shivering along his limbs and numbing his fingers. He heard the she-creature howl, and knew he was out of time.”
- “Cold shivered along his limbs and numbed his fingers. The she-creature howled. He was out of time.”
Do you see it? I hope so, because it’s like electricity in your writing when you figure it out.
By the way, this applies to “I saw,” as well. Here:
- “I saw them come over the crest of the hill like ants, innumerable and terrifying.”
- “They came over the crest of the hill like ants, innumerable and terrifying.”
Rule of Thumb:
“She saw/she felt” = she’s doing something (looking) and you’re watching her do it. It makes you look at her and not the action. Removing filter words allows you to see the action AS SHE SEES IT, through her eyes.
Have fun with this. If you’re in the habit of “He saw” and “I saw,” it’s a challenge to break it, but I promise your writing will benefit!
If you’re still unsure, check out Are These Filter Words Weakening Your Fiction? at WriteItSideways, or Avoid Filter Words: Write Through Your Characters, Not On Them by Rob Boley.