The Proven Way to Take Your Writing from Good to Great: How to Avoid Filtering and Bring Your Characters to Life
Filtering in writing occurs when the author uses words or phrases that distance the reader from the character's direct experience of the story. This can take many forms, such as using phrases like "he saw," "she felt," or "they heard" to describe what's happening in the story.
Filtering is bad because it creates a sense of distance between the reader and the character, preventing the reader from experiencing the story along with the main character. Filtering can also make writing feel less engaging and less immersive, as the reader won't feel they are a part of the story.
By removing filters and describing events and experiences directly, the reader will feel like they are experiencing the story alongside the character. This helps create an immersive reading experience, which can be more engaging and impactful for the reader.
Here are some ways to remove filtering from your novel:
- Use direct thought and speech: Instead of describing what the character is thinking or feeling, show it by using direct thought, action or speech. For example, rather than saying "She wondered if he would return," write "Will he return?". Another example "She felt something cold touch her" can be written as "A cold touch forced the hairs on her arm to stand up".
Use sensory details: Include sensory details to create a vivid and immersive scene that allows the reader to experience the story through their senses.
Use action and body language: Describe the character's actions and body language to convey their thoughts and emotions, rather than describing them. For example "Susan looked sad" could be written as "Susan slumped in her chair, her eyes dark and glassy".
Use setting: Describe the setting and how the character interacts with it to reveal their thoughts and feelings instead of telling the reader. For example "John thought the room looked dirty" could be "John used a white cloth to wipe the table. The dirt spot made his stomach churn".
Use dialogue: Dialogue can be a powerful way to reveal the character's thoughts and emotions, as well as to move the plot forward.
Use backstory: Provide backstory and context for the character's actions and emotions, rather than relying on filters to describe them.
Use interiority: Describe the character's internal thoughts, feelings, and reactions to events, without filtering them through the narrator.
Use symbolism: Symbolism can be a powerful way to convey emotion and meaning without filtering it through the narrator's interpretation.
Use pacing: Vary the pacing of a scene to reveal the character's emotional state, rather than relying on filters to describe it.
Use metaphor and simile: Metaphors and similes can be a powerful way to convey emotion and meaning without filtering it through the narrator's interpretation.
Example 1: Filtering: She saw the sun setting over the horizon, and she felt sad. Fixed: The sun set over the horizon, painting the sky orange and pink. A wave of sadness washed over her.
Explanation: The word "saw" is a filter that creates a distance between the character and the reader, preventing the reader from experiencing the story through the character's eyes. By removing the filter and describing what the character is experiencing, the reader is brought closer to the character's emotional state.
Example 2: Filtering: He thought about how much he hated his job. Fixed: He cringed at the thought of another day at his miserable job.
Explanation: Using "thought" as a filter distances the reader from the character's emotions, creating a less engaging and immersive reading experience. By describing the character's physical reaction to their thoughts, the reader can better understand the character's emotional state.
Example 3: Filtering: She felt the cold wind biting at her cheeks and thought that she should have brought a scarf. Fixed: The cold wind bit at her cheeks, and she cursed herself for not bringing a scarf.
Explanation: "Felt" and "thought" are both filters that create distance between the character and the reader. By removing the filters and describing the character's physical reaction and thoughts directly, the reader is brought closer to the character's experience.
In each example, removing the filter creates a more immediate and immersive reading experience, allowing the reader to experience the story through the character's point of view.
Here is a list of common filter words that you might want to avoid using in your writing:
It's worth noting that in some cases, using these filter words might be necessary to convey important information to the reader. However, in general, using these words can create a sense of distance between the reader and the story. Instead of telling the reader what the character saw or felt, try to describe the sensory details or physical sensations that the character experiences. This can help to create a more immersive and engaging reading experience.
Here is an example of a fictional paragraph that uses a lot of filtering:
"Mary looked around the room and saw that it was dark. She felt scared and wondered if she should turn on the lights. She heard a strange noise coming from the closet and thought that it might be a monster. She looked at the door and realized that it was locked, and she wondered how she would escape if the monster came out. She felt her heart racing as she realized that she was in danger."
As you can see, this paragraph uses many filtering words such as "looked," "saw," "felt," "heard," and "wondered," which creates a sense of distance between the reader and the character's experience. The use of filters makes it difficult for the reader to become fully immersed in the story and to experience the character's emotions and sensations directly.
To improve this paragraph, the writer could remove the filters and describe the scene more directly, for example:
"The room was dark, and Mary's heart began to race as she heard a strange noise coming from the closet. She hesitated for a moment, then made her way over to the light switch. As she reached out to turn on the lights, she realized that the door was locked. Fear gripped her as she wondered how she would escape if the monster came out of the closet."
By removing the filters and describing the scene more directly, the reader is able to experience the story more fully and to feel a stronger emotional connection to the character.
Here are five sentences to rewrite without filtering.
- Jane heard the sound of the waves crashing against the shore as she walked along the beach.
- John saw a man walking towards him and wondered if he was lost.
- Maria felt a sense of relief when she realized that the test was easier than she had expected.
- Tom looked at the clock and realized that he was running late for his meeting.
- Emily noticed that the sky was turning dark and wondered if it was going to rain.
Here are some possible rewrites of these sentences without filtering:
- The waves crashed against the shore as Jane walked along the beach.
- A man walked towards John, and he wondered if he was lost.
- Maria breathed a sigh of relief as she realized the test was easier than she had expected.
- Tom checked the clock and realized he was running late for his meeting.
- The sky darkened, and Emily wondered if it was going to rain.
By removing the filtering words and describing the scene more directly, the reader can become more fully immersed in the story and experience the character's emotions and sensations along side the character.