Monday, June 13, 2016

Filter out those Filter Words by Alicia Dean, Editor

I would like to introduce everyone to Alicia Dean, editor for The Wild Rose Press under the name Ally Robertson. She is discussing filtering out filter words to help us “show” not “tell”. This is a great lesson, and I hope you enjoy it.

Hello all…I’m happy to be joining the IWSG today, and I’m especially happy to share a little about revising/editing with you. I love working with authors, and if my experience and limited knowledge helps in any small way, I’m thrilled.

Working for The Wild Rose Press, I receive many fantastic submissions, and of course, I receive many that are not so fantastic. J Even out of the well-written, stupendous, engaging manuscripts, I often find that sometimes the authors lean a little heavily on filter words. These are ‘filter’ words because they distance the reader from the action and from the character’s emotion. Words like ‘felt,’ ‘thought,’ ‘wondered,’ ‘heard,’ ‘saw,’ ‘knew,’ ‘noticed,’ etc. Avoiding words like these can make your writing much more active. Filter words are also closely related to ‘telling’ vs ‘showing.’ If you say your character felt or thought something, rather than just ‘showing’ the thought or emotion, then you are telling, when you could be showing.

A few quick examples--and these are taken from recent books I’ve read by extremely successful NYT Best-Selling Authors. Of course, who am I to advise someone who’s done exceedingly well without my advice? However, I couldn’t help but be a bit jarred when I read lines like:

·         She felt panic race through her bloodstream
·         How would she ever get him to talk? Maya thought.
·         Maya saw him exit a door on the east side of the building.
·         She knew Mark had been working there for four years.

Just a few brief tweaks would bring us much closer to what’s happening:

·         Panic raced through her bloodstream
·         How would she ever get him to talk? (We’re in Maya’s point of view, and there were no dialogue tags, so readers know she ‘thought’ it)
·         He exited a door on the east side of the building. (We’re in her POV, and if the author just states that he exited a door, readers will know she ‘saw’ it happen)
·         Mark had been working there for four years. (Again, readers know she ‘knew’ it because it was stated while in her POV)

I know it’s worse for me than an average reader, since it’s my job to ‘edit,’ but whether or not a reader realizes that the author is using filter words and telling instead of showing, they DO know whether or not they can relate, and I believe they can relate more fully if we try to avoid filter words that might distance them.

Having said that, I would definitely not reject a manuscript because of overusage of filter words, but it is something we would most assuredly work on during edits.

Do you have the nasty filter word habit? You might just consider words like this as you’re revising, and see how many you can eliminate to make your story more active. Even now, I read books I’ve written and I find where I used filter words too. It’s easy to let them slip in. Thank you for joining me today. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

Check out Alicia's blog every Tuesday for her Two-Minute Tips where she offers quick tips for busy writers.


Alicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. She has three grown children and a huge network of supportive friends and family. She writes mostly contemporary suspense and paranormal, but has also written in other genres, including a few vintage historicals.

In addition to being an author of more than twenty-five published works, Alicia is both a freelance editor and an editor for The Wild Rose Press, under the name, Ally Robertson, in their suspense line.

Other than reading and writing, her passions are Elvis Presley, MLB, NFL (she usually works in a mention of one or all three into her stories) and watching her favorite televisions shows like Vampire Diaries, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Haven, The Mindy Project, and Dexter (even though it has sadly ended, she will forever be a fan). Some of her favorite authors are Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, Sharon Sala, Jordan Dane, Ridley Pearson, Joseph Finder, and Jonathan Kellerman…to name a few. 

Find Alicia Here:
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Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Great examples on how to fix the problem. I know I leaned heavily on words like felt when I was a new author. I know to do a search and destroy for those suckers now.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm getting better at avoiding those in the first draft and catch most of them in the second. Very instructive post.

Bish Denham said...

Oh yes feel/felt, see/saw/seen, think, try to name a few... I don't concern myself with them in the first draft, but I sure do go after them in subsequent drafts and revisions.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks for being our guest today, Alicia. Those filter words were something I learned to cut early in my writing career. Sometimes they sneak into my first drafts, but I can edit them out later. Thanks for the advice!

Pat Hatt said...

Felt/feel I sure used to use a lot, less and less now. Still never as bad as just and seemed, cut those out altogether lol

diedre Knight said...

Alicia, you have remarkable patience and your thoughtful tips certainly do resonate. Like Bish, first I write. Then I revise, review, refine and release to an editor who inevitably advises a 'little more' tweaking ;-) It's all worth it in the end!
Thanks for these all-important reminders, great post, Ladies :-)

Christine Rains said...

Wonderful post and examples. I'm much better at filtering out those words than I use to be. It does make the writing so much tighter to eliminate them.

Juneta key said...

Great post and tips.
Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

Olga Godim said...

Yes, those are nasty little buggers. They creep into my writing no matter how hard I try to avoid them. Often, I'm able to get rid of them during editing, but sometimes, they stay, because the rhythm of the sentence is better with them in.

Alicia Dean said...

Thank you, all. I'm sorry to just now be dropping in. I've had such a hectic day. Yes, those words can easily slip in. I definitely don't worry about them in the draft. During revisions is the best time to tighten and polish your story.

I appreciate all the kind words. I'm glad you guys already have that little problem licked. :) Yes, Olga, sometimes the rhythm is better with them. There are really no absolutes in writing advice...whatever works best to make your story the best it can be.

Thanks again!

Janie Junebug said...

Excellent post! One that I will share with the writers whose work I edit. I'm always after them to show, rather than tell.


Alicia Dean said...

Thank you, Janie. So glad you found it helpful. Yes, many authors can't quite grasp the showing/telling part of writing. This is only one aspect but it's one I see mishandled often. What floors me is how many successful authors do it frequently. I guess they can get by with it, but why would they want to? :)

abnormalalien said...

Ah thank you for the reminder; this seems like a habit it would be so easy to fall into.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my flaws when writing. This over-explaining when there isn't any need to write most of it can be a terrible habit. I'm getting so I see myself do it and immediately start pounding on the backspace key.

dolorah said...

Ugh, I dislike reading a book that has too many of those, and I usually find them mostly in first POV. I do try to weed them out during my editing/revision phase.

Sometimes, my fingers type those filters without my conscious thought. Gotta go with the moment- during first draft.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chrys - thanks for introducing us to Alicia. Interesting examples and even thought I 'only' blog - and thus am not as thorough in editing as I should be - I realise there are phrases that are unnecessary and add to word clutter - thanks .. wonderful post - cheers Hilary

Tamara Narayan said...

I was aware of these words. I do think they show up in my work occasionally, but I will be more vigilant now.

It is funny on how many of the things authors are not "supposed" to do end up in books on the best sellers lists.

Alicia Dean said...

James, yes, it's a very easy habit to fall into. I definitely do it often.

Ascripted, I see a lot of over-explaining in manuscripts, sometimes in my own. We have to realize readers are not stupid, they'll get what you're trying to convey :)

Dolorah, I know, it drives me nuts! I agree, first draft, just spew it out, no matter how it's worded.

Hilary- Glad it was helpful!

Tamara - So true, the best sellers get by with a lot of no-no's. For me, it's not even about rules, it's about making your writing tighter and bringing readers closer to the emotion and action. When I read books, even from the big authors, with phrases like: 'She felt her heart swell with pride.' It's just irritating, because it's unnecessary and distant. We're being TOLD what she felt instead of just: Her heart swelled with pride. Sigh... :)

Thanks to all for stopping by!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Thanks for guest-hosting, Alicia. Your example are spot on. We can get lazy sometimes, so having a good editor point out some telling spots is a welcome part of the process. Thanks for all you do.

RO said...

I really love, love, love seeing posts like this because it puts things in perspective and make so much sense. Kudos and HUGE Hugs...RO

Unknown said...

I like reading such articles because I want to become a writer some day :) I'd like to write now, but I'm still a student, that's why sometimes I use to help me with some tasks because I don't have enough time to do everything.

Lynda Dietz said...

The more I edit, the more I notice these. "Writing" tips are also great resources/reminders for editors. Thanks!

Unknown said...

With each new editorial or writing craft article/book/podcast I absorb, I become more aware of the way I write. I didn't even know I had a particular 'way', but it's not all stuff that needs changing! Thank you for the tips, something new to add to my editing checklist.

Michelle Wallace said...

Great post!
I think we all have filter words that slip into our writing. Thank goodness for edits/revisions which take care of those critters.