Are You Filtering Your Writing?

Today’s post comes courtesy of the lovely and talented Cathleen Townsend, who offers some insight into what she sees when she wears her critique-ing hat. Take it away, Cathleen!

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Allison suggested a guest post on critiquing, and I’ve actually been thinking about it for some time. I could simply give you a checklist, but there are many already out there. I’ve posted my favorite here:

filterSo what are filters and why should you care?

I look at filters as a necessary evil.

I just used a filter. I could write the first sentence of the last paragraph like this: Filters are a necessary evil. Most of the same information would have been imparted.

But I also wanted to communicate a certain level of uncertainty. An acknowledgement that we are in the territory of art and opinion, not solid fact, like how to use a comma. I did that by using a filter. In this instance, it was the most concise way to go.

The problem is, filters can distance you from the character’s feelings. For example:

Bri looked across the room, and there he stood. He didn’t seem to have aged a day. His mouth crooked, and Bri could feel her heart pound. She remembered long nights, gentle breezes, and the sound of murmured endearments. She felt their irresistible pull and took a step forward.

Okay, that sets a scene. But it can be done more vividly if you remove the filters.

There he stood. He hadn’t aged a day. His mouth crooked and Bri’s traitor heart pounded. Long nights, gentle breezes, the murmur of past endearments—they all tugged at her, an irresistible pull. She took a step forward.

If I tell you that she knew this had to happen, that’s not how the thoughts would occur to your character, not usually. They’d be more likely to think: Okay, this had to happen. By giving us their internal dialogue as the characters would think it, it brings us closer to them.

It’s more immersive. Most people find it more entertaining.

Common filters:

Saw/looked

seemed

believed/hoped

felt

remembered/recalled

thought/considered

knew

wanted/desired

found

And be careful of negatives. If you write: He couldn’t remember her name, that’s still a filter. It would be a closer narrative if you said: What was her name again?

I won’t tell you to never use filters. Sometimes they’re the best tool for the job. If you write in omniscient POV, they’re invaluable to zoom the camera lens in on the focus character. But know when you’re using them. I’ve beta read narratives where filters were used in nearly every sentence, and certainly every paragraph. The end result is a story that doesn’t draw you in.

And if you’re writing in first person or close third, you have to use filters when describing the feelings of someone who isn’t the POV character. Otherwise, you’ve made an unintentional POV shift.

So watch out for filters, and know when you’re using them. And keep writing. 🙂

*****

Therese portrait 2010Cathleen Townsend is the author of Dragon Hoard and Other Tales of Faerie, as well as a contributor to two anthologies: The Art of Losingand A Bleak New World, with several novels to be released in 2016. She lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California with her husband, an angelic Border collie and a paranoid German Shepherd, a spoiled horse, and a cat who’s sure he can take any dog, any time.

Follow her blog at cathleentownsend.com for informative posts on writing, social media, reviews, interviews, and her creative works.

19 thoughts on “Are You Filtering Your Writing?

  1. This came at a great time, because I am cutting out the filter words in my WIP. I noticed that I do use couldn’t/wouldn’t a lot. I was unaware that wanted was a filter word. This will help as I continue to cut those words. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One tip for removing filters out of your manuscript is to make a list of filtering words likes looked, heard, things like that – and then do an MS Word search for each of the filtering words. It is a little tedious but there are two benefits. First, you will see how you used the word and be able to replace it with a sentence that works without filtering. Second, anytime as humans are put through a tedious task, we tend to learn what we did and we hate it so much we tend to avoid it like the plague going forward.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m a big fan of Cathleen’s. Glad to see her here,

    18 months ago, people in my critique group were always telling me, “Cut the filter! Lose the filter!”
    I was like, “What’s a filter?”

    I still use them on occasion, and it drives the CPs nuts, but I like to think I’m getting better.

    Liked by 1 person

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