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Make your writing stronger by removing filter words

When editing my work, I inevitably discover more of my bad habits.  When I do, I add them to my editing list so I can be sure to catch them later. Some of these bad habits are listed in my post, “Edit out literary throat clearing to make your work stronger.”

My current work-in-progress is told from the first person point of view. In reviewing recent chapters, I discovered  I was using too many “filter” words: I saw, felt, heard, thought, noticed, and especially, I “glanced.” Cheez Whiz. I must have had this last verb six times in one chapter!

But it’s not just first person narrative where this is a writing sin. How many times have you read, “She touched, he heard, she saw, he felt…?”

In order to cure myself of this horrible writing disease, I decided to strip out all of these filter words and focus on the action and description AS IT IS HAPPENING through my character’s point of view.

Below is just one example of many in my chapter:

Before:

The music stopped. I could hear the clunk and whirl of another song coming into the queue. A few moments later, Elvis started up again with “You looked like an angel. You talked like an angel….” The woman threw her head back and laughed loudly which made the colors around her jerk and swirl faster like an out-of-control merry-go-round.

After:

Elvis stopped. With a clunk and whir, another record came into the queue. A few moments later, The King started up again with, “You looked like an angel. You talked like an angel….”

The woman threw her head back and laughed. Everybody’s colors swarmed around her, reminding me of a child’s messy finger painting.

Another edit I made in the above example is to get rid of the word “which” in the line: “The woman threw her head back and laughed loudly which made the colors around her jerk…”

Words like “which, as, because, etc.” can turn what should be an active sentence into a passive one. Active sentences will keep the reader moving down the page. Too many passive sentences will bore a reader.

Exercise: Choose a chapter or page of your current project and dissect it line by line specifically looking for sentences that can be made more active. Do you have any passive sentences that would be more interesting if made active? Do you have any filter words that are bogging down your paragraphs? Eliminate them!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve only recently realised how much I’m using those filtering words and how much I should cut them out. My similar bugbear is moderating words, things like ‘almost’ or ‘quite’. They pretty much always make the writing worse, but they still slip in somehow.

    January 30, 2014

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