1. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does anybody else have this problem with "filter words"?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Simpson17866, Jun 19, 2015.

    I've heard the popular logic:

    If you write from the character's perspective "She noticed that something happened," instead of just "Something happened," then publishers will feel that you're distancing your reader from the audience, that you should cut out the extra descriptors so that readers can feel that it's happening to them instead of reminding them that it's happening to somebody else (letting them be the character instead of just watching the character)​

    and it makes sense in the abstract.

    It's just that when I try to actually write something, I generally end up feeling the exact opposite: that only ever saying "Something happened" means that the narrator is taking the reader out of the character-limited perspective to simply Tell facts about the story (which are then assumed to be objective) instead of Showing that we are still in the character's POV and that the character is experiencing the story in real time (and who is possibly missing key pieces that will come back to haunt her later).

    It's easy for me to cut filters most of the time - once I've used a "She noticed that something happened" in one sentence, then I can easily cut the filters out of the next few sentences; the "Something happened" sentences still feel like extensions of the same POV as the first sentence - but I'm still having trouble cutting out all of them in such a way that the stories still flow naturally for me.

    Again, I understand in the abstract that if I want my stories to be published, then I need to make compromises based on what the publishers would want, but that doesn't seem to be helping me with the actual task of editing them all out.

    Does anybody here have tips for breaking the thought process that's getting in my way?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Instead of saying, "She noticed that something happened", tell us what she noticed. Yes, the filters: felt/thought/knew etc., distance the reader, but it's not distance because you aren't reading the direct thought, it's distance because you aren't seeing/feeling/knowing etc., what the character is.

    I do know what you are talking about though, sometimes you want to call attention to something happening to or noticed by the character: "She thought something was wrong." You can do that like this: "Something was off, but she couldn't put her finger on it."

    It has more depth than, "She thought something was wrong."

    In other words, what did she notice even if the character didn't know what she noticed?
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2015
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  3. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used to feel the same way about filter words as that common adage. Now, after reading and specifically looking for how writers write, I see it as a generalized method that may serve some purpose but shouldn't be regurgitated in a non-generalized way. There are many, many instances where adding the filter word makes the sentence better, just as there are many, many instances where taking out the filter word makes the sentence better.

    The best thing IMO is to read books you like and pay specific attention to how they use filter words. You'll see them at varying levels depending on the author, but you almost certainly will see them used to good effect. You'll also see instances where they're not used; try to imagine how filter words could have been used and think about why the author chose not to use them in that instance.
     
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  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    No one is saying never use them. But when you do there should be a purpose.
     
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  5. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Here are some crappy sentences:

    She heard a loud gunshot go off next door.
    Carlos watched Dianne drive away.
    I felt the sword slice my arm.


    SOMEBODY FIX THEM!
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    She heard a loud gunshot go off next door.

    Though Diane had no experience with firearms, there was no mistaking what had just happened next door.

    Carlos watched Dianne drive away.

    One of Dianne's brake lights was out. Carlos would never have the chance to tell her.

    I felt the sword slice my arm.

    What amazed me about the sword cutting my arm was that it didn't hurt right away. With blood spilling down my elbow I had the incongruous thought that Toren had taken great care with that blade for it to be so sharp.


    Or, you know, whatevz. :)
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Are they yours?

    She heard a loud gunshot go off next door.
    The loud noise rang in her ears and rattled the window. "That was a gunshot, and it was close by!"​

    Carlos watched Dianne drive away.
    This one doesn't suffer from filter words. "Watched" is not one. But it's telling, not showing making it a bit dry. Instead, describe how it made him feel.
    Tears welled up in his eyes as the car pulled out of the driveway. Dianne would not be coming back this time.​

    I felt the sword slice my arm.

    'Felt' is not always a filter word when you use it to describe a physical sensation as opposed to an emotional one. But you can sometimes describe the sensation more effectively than using felt.
    I felt the warm wet liquid spreading down my arm. There was no pain, the sword was sharp.
    But notice I didn't say I felt pain, instead I described it.
     
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  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Got a chuckle out of the brake light reference, @Wreybies. :)

    And your examples show why you are an accomplished writer and I am only an apprentice.
     
  9. No-Name Slob
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    It was a quarter past 12 O'clock when the neighbor's loud gunshot sent her popcorn flying through the air.

    Carlos wouldn't muster enough courage to ask Diane to stay until she already pulled out of the parking lot.


    The warm blood trickling down my arm shook my ego into doubt -- death lingers at the wrong end of the dagger.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2015
  10. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's worth mentioning that a lot authors also use filter words that describes character action that is important but couldn't be contained in a unfiltered sentence, followed by sentences of the description unfiltered. So in some cases, filtered or unfiltered are both worse choices than filtered and unfiltered.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel the need for samples of sentences that you're finding difficult. Can you provide any?
     
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  12. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    We've all said "filter" too many times, and now my brain literally can't even. :dead:
     
  13. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think I see what you filter now. What you're trying to filter is filter filter ufilter? Filter? Filter filter unfilter unfilter filter filter!
     
  14. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I liked your sentence examples a lot, Ginger! And Wreybzzzizsis's.

    Yes, those were my sentences. Thanks for clarifying that technically "watched" and "felt" aren't filter words. I haven't quite memorized the stuff from the links you sent me the other day. :p Still on my training wheels over here!
     
  15. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would love to see some examples. :)
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    She heard a loud gunshot go off next door.

    My issue with this one is, how does she know it was a gunshot and not, say, a car backfiring or a nail gun? How does she know it was next door and not in the street, or two houses down, or, if it's an apartment building, above or below? She could guess, but I feel that telling us with too much precision feels unrealistic.

    You're trying to be in the POV of the "she" but you're confidently offering information that I don't think that she could be so confident about. That problem distracts me from the question of whether this should be "heard" or not.

    Carlos watched Dianne drive away.

    Is Carlos the POV character?

    If he's not, this is fine--it sounds like the POV character is watching Carlos watch Diane.

    If he is, it's probably also fine. The main message of this sentence may not be the fact that Dianne drove away, but the fact that Carlos watched her do so. "Watched", IMO, is not the same as "saw". Watching is a deliberate and concscious action.

    I felt the sword slice my arm.

    This one does feel odd, yes. I can't see a reason why it's not, "...the sword sliced my arm."
     
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  17. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sure. Here's an example from Hard Magic:

    Still, I had seen and smelled worse, and the neighborhood looked pretty friendly. Lots of bodegas and coffee shops, and the kids hanging around looked as if they'd stopped there to hang out on the way home from school, not been there all day waiting for their parole officer to roll by.


    I think the first sentence anchors the POV emotion to the second sentence which furthers the description, and the result is stronger than if the author had chosen either the first alone or the second alone.

    Here's another example from Shakespeare's Champions:

    The backyard looked melancholy in the late autumn, the foliage thinned out and the high fence depressingly obvious.

    The same method is used as the first, except that both parts are contained in one sentence.
     
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  18. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh jeez, now I wanna try to make my crappy sentences better after seeing all these better sentences examples...

    She heard a loud gunshot go off next door.

    A shrill accusation through the paper-thin walls. Something about infidelity. Ungrateful bitch, this, good-for-nothing whore, that. A broken glass. A thud. More screaming. She shut her computer and picked up the phone, dialing 9-1-1. "Hello," she said. "I'll like to report--" she dropped the phone and clutched her head. Was that a gunshot? "Hello, yes," she said. "I'm sorry. I think somebody just got killed next door."​

    Carlos watched Dianne drive away.


    The license plate letters of Diane's car, reading "2MCHFUN4U," became smaller and smaller until Carlos couldn't make out which car was which on the highway. He knew he would never see her again.​

    I felt the sword slice my arm.


    I grabbed the antique scimitar out of the display case and ran the blade across my forearm. The blood was warm as it slid down to my elbow. This time, they wouldn't say it was for attention. This time, they would hate themselves for not liking me.

    Maybe those are all too long but whatever, this is fun. :p
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Maybe not perfect but neither were mine. I think you're getting there. :agreed:

    I might do the punctuation differently on the first one, and add one verb to the first sentence.
     
  20. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak if I PM you an excerpt from one of my basically-finished stories, would that count as "posting here"?
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, it would probably be more useful to post samples in this thread, samples written for the purpose if you don't want to use actual sentences from the story.
     
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  22. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the "filter word" advice is kind of like the "passive voice" advice - it's important to be aware of when you're using both, but that doesn't mean they aren't both really useful, at the right time. And I think the useful times are pretty similar.

    You effectively use passive voice when the action is more important than the actor. "The body was found the next morning, sitting almost primly on the first pew of the church." Passive voice, but fine, because it doesn't really matter who found the body.

    And, similarly, you can use filter words when the 'filtering' action is itself important. "He came back to himself gradually. First he heard sounds, vague and muddy, as if he were huddled under his blankets with his pillow over his head, hearing his parents fight down the hall. Then he began to feel the pain, the throbbing in his head, the burning in his left arm. Then he smelled the mustiness, cut with a sharp tang that he hoped wasn't blood, even as he knew it was. When he finally forced his eyes open he saw nothing but blackness, and he was glad of it." You could rewrite that to get rid of the filtering, but I don't think you need to.
     
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  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep; in fact, I think that it would lose something if you did, since the focus of your example IS the character's experience of his senses.

    (edited because sentences and senses are different things)
     
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  24. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    OK, I think I've found a good excerpt (300 words out of the full story's 4700) that shows what my writing looks like but not the story itself:

    Jolted out of her absent-minding, Maggie turned in the direction of the man’s shouting. The noise was coming from the employees-only section. Her curiosity distracted her from her birthday search, and she walked over to hear the exchange more clearly.

    “No, I did not order this, my credit card ordered it! Which – news flash, bitch – means somebody else is using it. Are you going to take care of it or not?”

    So he was on the phone, then. Apparently Maggie wouldn’t be hearing the other half of the conversation no matter how close she was.

    A woman in Target’s redshirt-khakis uniform and a “Jennifer” nametag walked past Maggie towards the screaming. Maggie was impressed; even if she’d had a job that required she settle a co-worker this enraged, she wasn’t sure that she would be brave enough to do it, and Jennifer couldn’t possibly be required to.

    As Jennifer pushed through the doors, the man inside started up again, “No, no, no, don’t you dare hang up on me…” The next thing Maggie heard was a loud crash.

    Somebody had probably called security by now, so Maggie just stood outside the door and waited to see if this would escalate even further before getting broken up.

    The back room fell silent for about a minute.

    Another woman walked out of the employees-only door and into the customer section. Or rather the same woman, Maggie realized when she saw the nametag; unless there were two different Jennifer’s working the same shift at the same store on the same day.

    “Ma’am, I am so sorry about the disturbance. Are you OK?”

    Maggie couldn’t help laughing. This person was worried about her? “Of course I’m all right, I was out here the whole time, what about you?”

    Jennifer took a deep breath before answering. “I’m good. Someone’ll have to clean up the bits and pieces of cell phone, but nobody got hurt.”​
     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see absolutely no filtering problem with that section, none at all. The fact that she's listening is directly relevant to the scene. It's fine.
     

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