Filter Words

During the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of writers using filter words.
And no, these filters have nothing to do with Snapchat.
The best books let the readers slip into the characters’ shoes. Readers want to be part of the story. Filter words show the world filtered through the characters’ eyes, thus creating distance between the character and the reader. This distance reminds the readers they’re not part of the story.
Here’s a list of common filter words:
To see
To look
To watch
To seem
To hear
To taste
To think
To wonder
To know
To notice
To realize
To touch
To feel
To sound (like)
To be able to
Let’s look at an example with filtering:
In the boxing ring, Linda heard the crowd roar. She looked at her opponent and wondered what he’ll do next. Tasting blood in her mouth and feeling pain in her back, Linda didn’t know much longer she could fight, but she knew she had to keep going. She watched her opponent charge at her, and when she thought he was going to hit her, she ducked.
You can feel the distance between you and the character. You can’t slip into the story because these filter words remind you that you’re not there.
Now without the filtering:
The crowd roared. In the boxing ring, Linda faced her opponent and waited for his next move. Blood filled her mouth as her back throbbed with pain Her body wanted to collapse, but she had to keep fighting. Her opponent charged at her, and when he swung his fist, she ducked.
Without the filtering, the reader is closer to the action, and the action flows better. There are endless ways to eliminate filtering; you just have to be creative.

2 thoughts on “Filter Words

  1. In the unfiltered extract, are ‘waited’ and ‘wanted’ considered ‘filter words’? Are some filter words acceptable, if they enhance the showing of the action (a kind of ‘trade-off’)?


    1. Hi Lee! Thanks for commenting!

      Wait and want are not filter words. Filter words involve the 5 senses (sight, taste, touch, etc).

      Using filter words or not depends on what POV you’re writing in. Filter words are acceptable in third person omniscient. It’s first person and third person limited where you want to avoid filter words. In those two POVs, we’re in the character’s head, and we don’t want to create any distance between the reader and character.

      Using filter words from time to time won’t hurt your writing either. Sometimes you do need filter words to create a distance, and if you’re writing in third person omniscient, filter words are expected.


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