Almost any attempt to revise my WIP brings opportunities to cut out nuisance words. Continuing in the vein of my last post, “Wimpy Verbs–the Weeds in Your Prose Garden,” I’m writing today about filters, the second-cousins of wimpy verbs.
Here’s an example from my published novel, Compromise With Sin, Louise being the point-of-view character in the scene:
“Doc picked up the button and gave it to her, letting his hand linger so that for a moment they held it together. He said nothing, but Louise felt his eyes said it all: time was running out.”
The filter words are “Louise felt.” Revised, the sentence would read, “He said nothing, but his eyes said it all. Time was running out.”
Here’s how Janet Burroway describes what makes filtering a problem: “As a fiction writer you will often be working through ‘some observing consciousness.’ Yet, when you step back and ask the reader to observe the observer–to look at rather than through the character–you start to tell-not-show, and rip us briefly out of the scene.”
(Credit for the term “filters” often goes to Burroway, who described this creative writing nuisance in her text Writing Fiction: a Guide to Narrative Craft. But it appeared earlier in John Gardner ‘s The Art of Fiction.)
I would change the last sentence to read: “He said nothing, but his eyes said it all: time was running out.”
Just between you and me, I’ve heard about filters for several years but pretty much pooh-poohed their significance. I heard that agents regarded filter-heavy writing as amateurish, and my instinct was to ask, “But does the reader care?.” But I started noticing them in fiction–especially when they appeared in paragraph after paragraph–and feeling jerked out of the POV character’s head. I get it now.
Here’s an incomplete list of filters: see, hear, taste, realize, decide, feel, know, watch.
Your thoughts? Leave a comment.
An artist is someone who can hold two opposing viewpoints and still remain fully functional.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald