Writing Tip: Filtering Filter Words — Joynell Schultz

As I’m working through the last edits for BLOOD & HOLY WATER, I am feverishly cutting out filter words. This is an alternating POV novel (3rd person) and my filter words are OUT OF CONTROL!

When I learned about these little attention detractors this past fall, it opened my eyes. Perhaps other (new-ish) writers don’t know about them either? Knowledge is half the battle, right? In this blog, I’m sharing a list of them, and my super-special trick to help remove them from my writing.

Definition of a filter word (per Pub(lishing) Crawl): “Filters are words or phrases you tack onto the start of a sentence that show the world as it is filtered through the main character’s eyes.”

Why eliminate them?

  • They make your writing less direct.
  • They separate the reader from the action and emotion.

Here’s my master list of filter words I try not to use when writing:

  • See / saw
  • Hear / heard
  • Think / thought
  • Touch / touched
  • Wonder / wondered
  • Seem / seemed
  • Decide / decided
  • Know / knew
  • Feel / felt
  • Look / looked
  • Notice / noticed
  • Realize / realized
  • Watch / watched
  • Sound
  • Can / could
  • To be able to
  • Note / noted
  • experience / experienced
  • remember / remembered

Here’s an example of some changes I recently made:

  • Before: He wondered where Ava had gone.
  • After: Where did Ava go?
  • Before: She felt the tingle of electricity flow up her arm.
  • After: Electricity flowed up her arm.
  • Before: He watched her dance in the rain.
  • After: She danced in the rain.

See how the changes make the reader closer to the action; almost a part of it.

Sometimes, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate a filter word, and I end up leaving them in.

So, as I become a more “experienced” writer, I’m more aware of these and write less and less of them into my story, but many times, I get captivated by my characters and end up writing a pile of filter words. When you have a novel-length manuscript, removing them can be a daunting task.

Here’s my super-special trick: I don’t worry abut them until the end—removal of filter words is on my final editing checklist. (Along with removal of my personal list of overused words including: really, very, that, just, then, totally, completely, back, finally, little, definitely, certainly, probably, start, begin, began, begun, rather, quite, somewhat, somehow, smile, said, breathe breath, inhale, exhale, shrug, nod, reach.)

This trick only works in Microsoft Word, but I’m sure other programs have something similar.

  • Open your document.
  • Select what color you’d like your filter words changed to using the “Text Highlight Color” button on the “Home” tab.
  • Still on the “Home” tab, click “Replace”
  • In the “Find what:” box, type your first filter word. For example: Hear
  • In the “Replace with:” box, type in the same exact word. For example: Hear
  • Click “More” then “Format” then “Highlight.”
  • Click “Replace All”
  • And there you go. Now when you do your final read through, the highlighted words will remind you they need attention. Cut them if possible.
  • When you’re all done, select your entire document and remove the highlighting.

Setting this up is a little time consuming, but worth it in the long run. Keep in mind, that you SHOULD NOT highlight words within words. Example: “Hear” will highlight all “Hear” including the “Hear” part of “Heard”, so you don’t have to go back and do “Heard”.

Wow. Now get back to editing. 🙂

As always, thanks for reading.

–Joy

Read more? Check out these sites:

What are your thoughts on filter words? How do you keep them out of your writing?

via Writing Tip: Filtering Filter Words — Joynell Schultz

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