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Dec 06

Susan Shiney

Fumbling Around with Filter Words

My name is Susan, and I am a filter word fanatic. At least in the initial drafts for getting the story out, I naturally insert them everywhere. Could you have this problem as well? Let's see...

First of all, what is a filter word?

I saw a man dancing in the street as the clock struck midnight.

Saw is the filter word, this kind of sentence has an easy fix of cutting the beginning and making it a more direct experience for your reader.

A man was dancing in the street as the clock struck midnight.

How to diagnose you filter word fancy:

You have critique partners or beta readers say this after reading your writing:

"I feel like you have a point of view (P.O.V.) problem, maybe first-person isn't working for you."

"I am not connecting with your main character."

These may describe you as well:

  • - You are a first time author that isn't totally comfortable with your voice and descriptions of the world in your novel.
  • - You are an avid journaler that gets lost in I feel... statements and it seeps into your first-person narrative.
  • - You are in an earlier draft and still telling yourself the story.
  • - You have the style of the narrator talking out the story, but it can turn into someone talking your ear off on an airplane, instead of setting the scene of a world to get lost in.

In my own work, I have been so focused on structure and getting my ideas out that I didn't give a thought to the sentence level revisions that need to be done. I am currently on the 4th draft of my manuscript.

Draft 0 took about two months and was focused on outlining the story as a whole and doing character profiles and collages.

Draft 1 was a month-long 50,000 word vomit on the page for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Draft 2 was reoutlining each chapter in a scene and sequel format taking some elements of Draft 1, but mostly rewriting the whole thing for a year.

Draft 3 I did a genre analysis spreadsheet using the Story Grid method by Shawn Coyne to see which aspects I should add to my novel. This took about three months.

Now, I am working on Draft 4 and have just gotten feedback from two critique partners and I am making a couple of big picture changes and am ready to look at the prose in hopes of giving it to another critique partner soon, followed by having a professional editor give me a structural manuscript critique, not quite ready for a developmental edit.

Since this is my first novel, I am taking my time and learning a lot about craft and how to hone my own writing process. I believe in starting with a lump of clay, molding it into the shape of the body, then taking out my instruments for adding details. Prose-level changes in my writing have to be done after the foundation is in place, otherwise I lock up and don't progress. Most of writing is just figuring out how to trick yourself into keep working.

My first red flag is the filter word problem. For revisions, I need to plow forward in a short spurt of about a month or two focusing on something specific. I give myself to it totally and get a ton done and then I will need to walk away from the work for at least two months afterward. I am a feast or famine writer.

For filter words, I highlight them as I read. I have heard some people mention they use find and replace, but I found I have too many hidden words and the list of filter words is too vast to find and replace. So, I read through and highlight words that have to do with the five senses, which was a lot faster for me.

I don't fix them right away because I get overwhelmed about how to solve the problems. I take it chapter by chapter, the first step is highlighting the words, the second step with two screens next to each other, is to remove them and rewrite the sentences. Then, I am motivated to highlight the filter words in the next chapter. It is like I use different parts of my brain. My progress is judged by the number of chapters I move through at each session.


I smelled his fresh breath and felt the heat of him near me. I wondered how many intimate experiences tattoo artists have with the people they ink.


The scent of his peppermint breath mixed with his heat hung in a cloud around me. How many intimate experiences did tattoo artists have with the people they ink?


In the original sentences my narrator is telling the reader about her experiences instead of letting them experience it. The beginning part of the sentence is the most important and with filter words starting off a large number of my sentences, I am making the narrator sensing things take precedence over what is actually happening, building a wall.

I found 12 filter words on this page...

The filter words I lean on the most are: decided, felt, wondered, knew, thought, seemed, allowed, noticed, looked, wished and realized.

I have a lot of work to do!

I wanted to add something new to the filter word discussion based on my own process, for more in-depth descriptions of words and how to replace them, I pinned 11 articles and 3 videos on my Pinterest board Filtering/Distancing Language Fixes here:

How do you approach revisions? Have you noticed filter words popping up in your writing?

Feel free to leave a comment below.

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