This week: Beware Filter Words: The Distant LensEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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“Whenever I work on a part, I look at the world through the filter of the character and I pick things they might use through my observations of real life.”
~ Jeff Bridges
“I'm interested in memory because it's a filter through which we see our lives, and because it's foggy and obscure, the opportunities for self-deception are there. In the end, as a writer, I'm more interested in what people tell themselves happened rather than what actually happened.”
~ Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
Beware Filter Words: The Distant Lens
What are Filter Words and Why are They Bad?
Filter words are an unnecessary barrier between your writing and your reader.
The easiest way to explain is to describe a “jump scare” in a movie. I watch horror movies all the time, and I’m a sucker for the jump scare even when I know it’s coming. For example: there’s a knock at the front door, and the main character goes and peers through the peephole. When the camera changes POV to look though the peephole, you know that something horrible is going to pop into view. And it does. Ack!
I jump every time, and my husband laughs at me.
Logically, that TV screen is ten feet away from me, and I know nothing’s gonna get me—but I jump anyway. Why? Because I’m so engrossed that I imagine myself as the main character. I’m the one looking through the peephole, so it’s like that thing pops up in my face.
But if the camera angle stayed back behind the character and showed the character jumping away from the door and then the creature beyond his shoulder, it wouldn't be as scary.
Filter words distance the reader the same as the far away camera angle.
The reader wants to experience the events as if they’re happening directly to them. Filter words remind them it's all happening to the character, not the reader.
How to Get Rid of Filter Words
Here's an example of the same action written in two different ways. The first has filter words; the second has been edited to remove them.
The distant lens (filter words in purple):
Rachel heard sharp knocks on the front door and rose from her chair. On tiptoes, she approached the door and peered through the peephole. She noticed the wind shaking the branches of nearby trees and felt scared. The darkness outside seemed to seethe, like a wild animal lying in wait. After a moment, she decided she’d imagined the knocking and relaxed, but before she turned away, she saw a skeletal face pop up, filling her vision.
The close up (no filter words):
Sharp knocks vibrated the front door. Rachel rose from her chair, tiptoed to the door, and peered through the peephole. Outside, the wind shook the tree branches. The darkness seethed like a wild animal lying in wait. Hairs stood up on the back of her neck. Yet nothing happened. She relaxed. Without warning, a skeletal face popped up, filling the viewfinder.
Certain filter words are unnecessary because the info can be assumed, like the words "Rachel heard" in the first line. If we know she's there, and you write "Sharp knocks vibrated the door," we can assume she heard it.
Other filter words make the situation ambivalent. Consider the line "The darkness outside seemed to seethe, like a wild animal lying in wait." The reader will think, OK, if it only seems to seethe, then I can relax because I know it isn't really seething. A confident writer asserts what a situation is, not what it seems or might be. The line "The darkness seethed like a wild animal lying in wait" shows a confident writer making a clear, powerful statement.
"Felt" is often used as a filter word. With "She felt scared," the line becomes telling not showing. In that case, it's better to show her acting in a way where the reader knows she's scared --> "The hairs stood up on the back of her neck."
Here’s a partial list of filter words to watch out for:
hear / heard
decide / decided
see / saw
look / looked
watch / watched
think / thought
know / knew
note / noted
wonder / wondered
realize / realized
These words aren't always used as filters, so you don't have to cut them all from your writing. However, if you notice them, it's worth taking a second look to see if you can rewrite, remove them, and make your writing crisper, tighter, and more scary -- 'cause making it more scary is what it's all about.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some spooky stories for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Bad to the Bone" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
Tina's TEN YR Anniv writes: I loved this NL. You diagrammed the anti-hero, gave examples in sections so they were easy to Identify. I'm saving this for future reference! Great job!
Thank you so much for your reply! Writing anti-heroes isn’t easy, but I’m glad the examples helped.
BIG BAD WOLF Is Thankful submits "Brother Mine" and writes: Recently, I watched Nicholas Cage in "Drive Angry". It's about an undead murderer who escapes from Hell with the intention of rescuing his granddaughter from Satanic Cultists, and avenging his daughter's murder at the hands of their leader. Problem is, Hell sent a Bounty Hunter after him. What I can tell you is this- there's no angels in Hell, but there is compassion- seems Satan doesn't like the sacrifice of children in his name, and thus allows Cage to just go on a mayhem spree upon the cultists.
I haven’t seen that movie yet, but it sounds great. I love Nicholas Cage in supernatural movies. I‘ll keep my eye out for this one. Thanks!
Taniuska writes: Great newsletter, as always. Anti-heroes are complicated creatures... That's for sure, and you're so right with them needing lots of tension, suspense, and inner conflict. Nice one.
Thanks so much, Tania! If you ever decided to write an anti-hero or anti-heroine, I’m sure you’d do a great job of it.
dejavu_BIG computerprobs submits "EYES OF DESTINY- A DETECTIVE NOVEL" and writes: Another fantastic newsletter that is right on time to match my writing! Thank you for the great tips.
Anti-heroes will always be my favorites.
Anti-heroes have a special appeal and aren’t for the faint of heart. Thanks so much for replying to my newsletter!
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