Using filter words is a weakness of many beginning writers. Don’t feel bad. It is not unusual to see it in people who have been writing for a longer time but who have never come across a discussion about it. Probably we all had to shake off this habit at one time or another.
Some expressions have a diluting effect. If you are “filtering” action through the character’s senses—smell, touch, taste, hearing, or sight, you are most likely guilty of “telling” the reader what is happening. In most cases, there is no need to filter the experiences through the character’s eyes, ears, or other sensory receptors. It only weakens your writing.
Filtered: She saw the car go by. (The action passes through her eyes first before the reader knows about it.)
Unfiltered: The car whizzed by.
Filtered: She felt upset.(The action passes through her emotions.)
Unfiltered: She sobbed.
Filtered: The curry tasted zippy and spicy, too hot for her liking.
Unfiltered: The zip and spice of the curry burned her throat.
Filtered: She heard the sound of a train. (The action passes through her ears.)
Unfiltered: A train whistle broke the silence.
I’m sure you get the idea. Some of the following key words may alert us to filtering.
This is only a partial list of filter words. There are many, many more.
If you see one of these words in your writing, take a second look and decide whether you really need to convey the filtering action to the reader. Is it vital to the story to tell the reader that the information passed through one of the character’s senses? If not, and it is self-evident that the character is experiencing what you say, why not get rid of the filter and rewrite the sentence in a stronger, more direct way?
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