Are you familiar with filter words? Not filler words. Filter words. These are the words that filter the reader’s experience through a character’s point of view. During the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop that I attended in March, we talked about filter words. The term, apparently, comes from Janet Burroway, a novelist who co-wrote Writing Fiction : A Guide to Narrative Craft, which is, according to its description, “The most widely used and respected text in its field.”
Filter words include see, hear, feel, think, realize, watch, look, seem, know, and sound (to list a sampling). Although they can have their proper place in writing, they can also put distance between a character and the detail the writer wishes to present. For example, I see the horse run from the field into the barn without the filter words would read The horse runs from the field into the barn. Which sentence is more clean and sleek? Which sentence do you prefer?
I feel the cold wind bite into my neck would transform into The cold wind bites into my neck.
Filter words can tell a reader what is happening rather than letting the reader experience the scene. They can put distance between the reader and the character’s experiences. And we know this isn’t a good thing.
Have you read about or heard about filter words? What are your thoughts about them? Have you read or heard about Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French? Do tell! : )