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If you want your novel to suck less, try cutting out filter words. When it comes to narrative distance and filter words, it’s important for a writer to ask if the achieved effect of such words is on purpose. Filter words tend to slip in unintentionally and weaken writing. All stories have a narrator, and no matter the point of view, this shapes how events are rendered for the reader. A certain awkwardness arises when a character consciously thinks, feels, sees, etc.  This creates varying degrees of distance between the reader and page, and while this can be handled with masterful effect, too often filter words remind the reader of the point of view already obviously controlling the story. 

 

Narrative Distance and Filter Words

Picking a point of view is only part of the battle when writing a story. Narrative distance takes a reader out of a story and breaks the spell of reading a book because the reader has become aware of the act of reading when they encounter filter words. Their presence often adds an unnecessary narrative layer for the sake of unneeded clarification. The deeper the point of view in a story, the more immediate and direct the effect on the reader. The best way to make a reader feel like they are inside of a character’s skin is to not constantly point out what in tarnation a character might be realizing, remember, or knowing. You get the idea…

 

Filter Words and Phrases

Filter words explain a narrator’s mindset to the reader rather than showing it in observable actions. The list below is comprehensive, but not exhaustive. The key is to gain a greater awareness of such phrases to develop more control over the effect they have on a given narrative. And for the love of sanity, people! Let’s just stop it already with all of those roving eyes. Eyeball action is so not interesting. Seriously.

  • Believed
  • To be able to
  • Can
  • Decided
  • Experience
  • Felt
  • Heard
  • Ignored
  • Knew
  • Looked
  • Noted
  • Noticed
  • Realized
  • Remembered
  • Saw
  • Seem
  • Sensed
  • Smelled
  • Tasted
  • Thought
  • Touch
  • Watched
  • Wondered

 

picture of robot

 

Examples of Filtered and Unfiltered Sentences

The following are quick and unsophisticated examples, but helpful nonetheless. When it comes time to revise a draft, a writer can do themselves a big favor by doing a search for the words listed above. Narrative distance and filter words will stick out like sore thumbs when searched for. Think of their elimination like a game of sorts. As I always say, make every word count.

 

When it comes to the simple fixes below, remember the narrator’s presence is a given. So again, I beseech you! Please stop constantly reminding your reading of the narrator’s awareness of their thoughts and feelings. Enough is enough. It’s time to get tough and kick those filter words to the curb in favor of stronger writing.

 

Filtered: She saw his wedding ring sitting on the side table.

Unfiltered: His wedding ring sat on the side table.

 

Filtered: She suddenly realized he didn’t want to be married anymore. (We’ll save the annoying use of suddenly for another day…)

Unfiltered: He didn’t want to be married anymore.

 

Filtered: She watched him approach the front door and wondered if this really was how it was going to end.

Unfiltered: He approached the front door. Was this really how it would end? (No need to tack on she thought either…)

 

Filtered: She sensed the inevitable outcome, as she felt her throat constrict and tears pool in her eyes.

Unfiltered: The inevitable outcome hit as her throat constricted and tears pooled in her eyes.

 

Filtered: While remembering recent events, her wavering voice held firm. “If you walk out that door, you are not welcome back.”

Unfiltered: Despite recent events, her wavering voice held firm. “If you walk out that door, you are not welcome back.”

 

The Entire Filtered Passage: She saw his wedding ring sitting on the side table. She suddenly realized he didn’t want to be married anymore. She watched him approach the front door and wondered if this really was how it was going to end. She sensed the inevitable outcome, as she felt her throat constrict and tears pool in her eyes. While remembering recent events, her wavering voice held firm. “If you walk out that door, you are not welcome back.”

 

The Entire Unfiltered Passage (with further tweaks):  She was standing next to the side table where his wedding ring sat. He didn’t want to be married anymore, that much was clear as he approached the front door. Was this really how it would end? The inevitable outcome hit as her throat constricted and tears pooled in her eyes. Despite recent events, her wavering voice held firm. “If you walk out that door, you’re not welcome back.”

 

And yes folks, that little ditty is a true story. Sometimes husbands get into taxicabs and never come back. Your editor has quite the tale she’ll pen someday.

 

Filter Words Pros and Cons

When it comes to narrative distance and filter words, eliminating filter words often takes care of issues with telling over showing. Telling isn’t necessarily evil, and it’s often useful to move parts of a story along. However, a story world should generally be immersive to be effective. On the other hand, sometimes too much can be revealed. Not everything in a character’s head is interesting. Everything on the page should have a purpose when it comes to advancing the story. Nobody likes to read filler.

 

 

How often do you notice narrative distance and filter words in your writing or in the books you read?

 

 

Photo Credit:  Robot 

 

Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2017.