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
- 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.
Read more? Check out these sites:
What are your thoughts on filter words? How do you keep them out of your writing?