Filter coffee, filter water, filter words…wait. What?

There’s a list of words pinned to the corkboard above my desk (next to my list of 2015 goals). They are filtering words and stand as a reminder when I’m writing of what not to use. But what is a filtering word and why should we avoid them in our writing?

A filtering word is something which effectively puts a barrier between the reader and the character. It’s almost the same as telling instead of showing.
Filtering is a little hard to describe so maybe I should be a good little writer and show you rather than tell you!

A sentence that contains filtering is:

The dog’s fur felt soft.

And without the filtering word:

The dog’s fur was soft.

The difference between these two sentences is that in the first one the character/narrator is telling you something. In the second sentence, you’re feeling it along with the character/narrator.

So ‘felt’ is a filtering word. Other filtering words include:

Heard
Saw
Tasted
Knew
Thought
Wondered
Touched
Looked
Watched
Realised
Could
Decided
Seemed
Noticed
Sounded like

I found this quite difficult when I first learned about filtering words and put up my list of reminders. I would sit tapping away at my keyboard and the list would catch my eye. ‘Damn, I’ve just used wondered,’ I would think. And I would decide that sometimes filtering just has to be used.

For example, off the top of my head:

‘Another one was dead. I wondered what to do. I knew I had to get out of town but I couldn’t just leave a monster wandering the streets.’

This reads better as:

‘Another one was dead. What to do? I had to get out of town but I couldn’t just leave a monster wandering the streets.’

See?

And of course sometimes filtering can be used. As with all writing rules, they are made to be broken. But you have to break them in the right way. Nine times out of ten, avoiding the filtering words makes you writing better. If the filter word is crucial to the sentence or scene, then keep it in. But try to ensure that your story isn’t littered with filtering.

Next time you’re doing some editing, do a Find search for these words and see how often you use them. Find each one and rewrite the sentences. It’ll make your story more engaging and make the connection between your reader and character more engaging.

editing face meme

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3 responses to “Filter coffee, filter water, filter words…wait. What?

    • Thanks Karen 🙂 It is very easy to forget, which is why I have a list of words above my laptop. It also reminds me to actually do some writing 😉

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