Filter Words – Who Knew? Not Me

A week ago, I stumbled onto a YouTube video discussing filter words. Never hearing this term before, I watched, listened and learned…and discovered I was guilty of using filter words.

What are Filter Words

Although I’m relatively new to the idea, my understanding is: words that create distance between the reader and the detail the character is seeing, hearing, tasting or feeling.

In other words, we are not using one of our senses to digest the story, rather instead, we are being told through one of the character’s senses.

Give me Some Filter Words

Filters words include look, seem, hear, knew, realise, watch, wonder, decide, notice, feel, remember, think, see, touch, can, sound, and their past tenses if you are writing a story in past tense: looked, seemed, heard, felt, etc.

These words are not always filter words; some are legitimate. However, each use must be scrutinized to ensure they are not filtering the details.

My Guilty Pleasure

Shadows in the Stone new book coverSince I am almost finished the 2nd edition of Shadows in the Stone, I ran a search for filter words. What I found has added another week of editing to the project.

My largest contribution to filter words was look. Raise your hand if you’ve ever over used look? I see everyone has.

I’m still assessing every look, but already I’ve reduced the number of look words from 478 to 328. That’s a reduction of 150. So far, I found 95 worth keeping with 233 left to consider.

This doesn’t mean all the look words were used as filter words. When I found multiple looks within a small section, I switched them out for other words I don’t use as often: surveyed, glimpse, seek.

Another filter word greatly reduced was watched. I went from 136 to 73, and all those removed were filter words. I also reduced heard (76 to 35), noticed (35 to 16) and felt (254 to 176) substantially.

My writing feels cleaner, less cluttered and more direct.

Samples

I am not an expert on weeding out filter words, so others will certainly do a better job. However, here are my first attempts to give you an idea of how sentences can be improved. In every instance, the word count was reduced.

WATCH (watched)

Not a Filter Word: The valuable connections meant dozens of others kept watch for signs, sightings and news of Isla, his adopted daughter.

Filter Word: He watched him struggle to impart the information.

Fix: He struggled to impart the information.

Filter Word: Morrigan drew a shallow breath as he watched the warrior exit the room.

Fix: Morrigan drew a shallow breath as the warrior exited the room.

REALISE (realised)

Not a Filter Word: “This was when I realised she knew Tam.”

Filter Word: She smiled, and he realised he had accidentally sent his thoughts.

Fix: She smiled; he had accidentally sent his thoughts.

Filter Word: He realised these dwarfs did not uphold the same appreciation for all life as his parents did.

Fix: These dwarfs did not uphold the same appreciation for all life as his parents did.

FEEL (felt)

Not a Filter Word: Since losing Isla, he hadn’t felt honourable.

Filter Word: He felt Tam thrust the keys into his hand.

Fix: Tam thrust the keys into his hand.

Filter Word: He felt Kellyn tighten her grip on his shoulders.

Fix: Kellyn tightened her grip on his shoulders.

CAN

Filter Word: He’ll have a bigger office, and he can put Captain Tibs in his place.

Fix: He’ll have a bigger office and put Captain Tibs in his place.

Filter Word: There’s a little vale nearby with a stream where we can set up camp.

Fix: There’s a little vale nearby with a stream to set up camp.

NOTICE (noticed)

Filter Word: He noticed a lone dwarf, head down, nursing a drink and picking at his food with his fingers.

Fix: A lone dwarf, head down, nursing a drink, picked at his food with his fingers.

Filter Word: When they disappeared from sight, Alaura noticed Kellyn move from the ridge.

Fix: When they disappeared from sight, Kellyn moved from the ridge.

Video

The video I initially watched regarding filter words is here: 29 Words to Cut From Your Novel. She talks about filter words at the beginning, then goes onto other words that are often unnecessary, such as that and begin. I’m aware of those words already.

I have since read a few articles on the topic and will read more to increase my knowledge.

What about you? Have you heard of filter words?

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25 thoughts on “Filter Words – Who Knew? Not Me

  1. Funny, I’ve listened to many of Vivien’s videos and have never seen that one, and it’s two years old!! I now have a list of filter words posted beside my list of crutch words. If I have to cut too many more words all the pages of my novel will be blank! 🙂

    • I’ve watched a lot of similar videos, too, in the past few years, but this is the first I heard of filter words. I guess it was my time to find them. You don’t have to eliminate these words in every case. They’re still good words, but they just can’t be wasted anywhere. Next year, I’ll learn about another set of words that cause problems and wonder why I didn’t read about them ten years ago. And that’s what I love about writing: it’s a constant learning curve.

    • I used to be such a ‘that’ girl. When I had to edit them out of my 130,000 fantasy novel, a red flag was created in my brain. Now, every time I write ‘that’, I question it, so I catch most of them in the first draft. They don’t even go down on paper. Thanks for visiting, Widdershins.

  2. I hadn’t heard the term, I’m sure I use them, but I also find I pare words down all the time when I’m reading through my work so I guess I have been discarding filter words without realising it.

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