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After I signed the contract for the publication of my award winning novel THE WOODEN CHAIR with Untreed Reads Publishing, eventually I got to work on the proofs. As I edited my way through the manuscript, I was horrified that I’d used the filter word “feel” and its different tenses over and over. I made a search for “feel” and its varieties and found to my amazement there were over 200 of this pesky word in a 104,000 word novel, and so I proceeded to delete most of them.

There is the rule not to use filters, those words that are so easy to drop into my writing. Filters don’t make writing better. In fact, if filters can be the cause of a rejection, they usually are. They also keep the reader at arms length from my story.

As in “she wondered.” I guess the question is, would the sentence work just as well if I showed her wondering? To wonder is to question something. “She wondered what kind of life he lived in New York.” It’s not bad, but “What kind of life did he live in New York?” allows the reader deeper into the story.

The only time filters are okay to use is

a) when a sentence has more than one subject and it wouldn’t be clear who the primary subject was without the filter;
b) when any other rewrite of the sentence makes the phrasing awkward or slows the pace in such a way the filter actually reads better, or
c) when the action could be attributed to another character in a preceding or following sentence. Here the filter belongs for clarification.

Other than that, filters are not important to use. Sometimes, a better alternative eludes me at the time of writing, and I just leave it in, hoping to fix it on rewrite. And remember, too, that writing in your strongest, clearest voice, is a lot more important than a few ‘filters’ popping up in your work. It’s like chocolate—too much at once will make your tummy hurt, but a little over time is satisfying.

So, these are the filters:
He/She felt
He/She heard
He/She saw
He/She smelled
He/She tasted

and others, as for instance:

He/She thought
He/She believed
He/She wondered
The latter three (and others more like them) are really not as “bad” as the preceding “sensory” list. As with any general writing rule there are instances when a filter is actually needed or works better than without it—just as there are sentences where the word “was” works better than any other word.

The reason filters are considered unnecessary or bad for the story is because it keeps the writer from reaching a depth of character, and jerks the reader out of the story. For instance:

“She felt embarrassed by his lewd comments.”
The writing would be stronger, and give the character more depth if I showed this rather than told it: “She recoiled and averted her face, embarrassed by his lewd comments.”

In the first instance, I’m telling you about her embarrassment, in the second I show how she behaves when embarrassed.

Now, take another character, who perhaps becomes angry when she’s embarrassed: “The embarrassment made her angry.” This is not so good, don’t you agree? Like this it works much better: “She clenched her fists and scowled, enraged he would embarrass her with such lewd comments.”

By fixing the reader deeply into the character and her/his POV, there is no need to tell she felt or she saw. The writer simply needs to show what that characters feels and sees. For instance, a character who has a background in fashion design might look at a sunset and see this: “The glowing sun cast the landscape in vermilion and gold, a combination she would use in the fall designs.”

Or another character, who is a romantic at heart, might see the same scenery with the thought: “The glowing sun cast vermilion and gold over the landscape, which needed only entwined lovers to perfect the postcard imagery.”

Neither of the above would have quite the same impact if the I wrote, “She saw the glowing sun cast vermilion and gold over the landscape.”

When writing the first draft, I don’t get hung up on filters, but once I edit the text, I make a search for filters, in particular those that are my “pets” as for instance “feel” and any variety of it. To write in your strongest voice possible, to pull your reader into the story, drop as many of the filters as you can.  Don’t wonder, just leave them out!

To read more about me and my books, visit me here.

THE WOODEN CHAIR is available from this link .

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