Eliminate filtering to make your writing pop

Understanding the nuances of POV presents many challenges to new novelists, especially when using third person narration. They aren’t comfortable enough to understand the reader is experiencing the story through the eyes and ears of the POV character and feel compelled to constantly remind the reader of this.

As a result, many new writers use an abundance of filter words – felt, saw, heard – to convey what the POV character is experiencing.

Here’s an example of a filtered scene:

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Fred threw open the door and stood in the entrance. The scene before him took his breath away. He saw dozens of party guests mingling in the great hall and tuxedo-clad waiters carrying trays filled with wine glasses or hors d’oevres. He heard beautiful Christmas music from a young woman in a white dress strumming a harp.

Eliminating the filtering makes it much easier to read.

Fred threw open the door and drew in a deep breath. Dozens of party guests mingled in the great hall. Tuxedo-clad waiters carrying trays filled with wine glasses or hors d’oevres scurried about. In the corner, a young woman in a white dress strummed a harp, filling the room with Christmas music.

The opening sentence tells us whose POV (Fred) we are in. The rest of the paragraph shows us what he is experiencing without the filtering words (saw and heard).

Doesn’t the second version create a more immersive scene? Instead of telling the reader what the main character is seeing, hearing, etc., you put the reader right there in the room to experience it for themselves.

Filtering: Michael felt the stiff breeze and wished he’d remembered to bring a jacket.

No filtering: Shivering from a stiff breeze, Michael kicked himself for leaving the jacket in his car.

The good news is filtering is easy to fix. Search through your manuscript for the following words or derivations and then rewrite those sentences where it makes sense to eliminate that word. This is not a comprehensive list of filter words (not sure one actually exists), but are some of the more common ones to look for.

Filtering words

  • saw
  • heard
  • thought
  • wondered
  • realized
  • watched
  • looked
  • felt
  • decided

This is not a directive to eliminate all filter words. Like everything else in writing, filtering has its place. But reducing filtering will create a more intimate experience for your readers and keep them coming back for more.

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