Avoid Filter Words: Write Through Your Characters, Not On Them

Darker Pages

One of my biggest pet peeves in writing is the use of filter words, which are basically unnecessary words that put the POV character between the reader and the scene. Some examples are feel, know, realize, decide, think, look, see, and here.

The worst offender is feel. Your characters rarely need to feel! If we’re in their heads, the feeling is assumed.

Here’s an example of a filter-filled passage:

Randy felt sharp claws slash across his chest. He realized the were-rabbit’s claws contained a sleeping toxin, because he saw the room fade to sparkling grey and then total blackness. He heard his body thud to the floor.

It’s a bit like watching a shifty bootleg of a movie recorded from a theatre screen, isn’t it? You can almost feel the distance from that second camera. Now try this revised version:

Sharp claws slashed across Randy’s chest. Damn. The were-rabbit’s claws must’ve contained a sleeping toxin, because the room faded to sparkling grey and then total blackness. His body thudded to the floor.

See how much deeper this puts you into the scene?

Now, these filter words aren’t always bad. Sometimes they’re necessary for clarity or for when you want to draw attention to the POV character’s act of perception. For example:

Randy looked into the were-rabbit’s unwavering pink eyes and knew that hateful gaze would be the last thing he ever saw.

More often than not, filter words only serve to hold the reader back from total immersion in the story. So, tighten up your writing by editing those dastardly things out. And, of course, watch out for were-rabbits.

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