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Filter Words

ckatt

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Dec 12, 2018
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I know they are 'bad' and yet we see them in great fiction all the time. In a previous post, I ask what people thought about the rules of POV and how its seem that professional writers are able to get away with what amateurs are not. I am again looking for practical, applicable advice on this so examples with explanation are always great. I'll start with one of my own.

Kyle knew the rain had been coming down for over an hour. In this case, the meaning would not be changed but simply writing:
The rain had been coming down for over an hour.
But what if it's relevant that Kyle knew this? Perhaps to show a unique skill.
Kyle knew that the rain had been coming down for over an hour by kicking at the pine needles and finding them damp in the deepest layers below.
However, we could reword this and eliminate the filter word.
Kyle kicked the pine needles and found they were damp in the deep layers below. The rain must have been coming down for over an hour. Here I think the 'must have' is able to show that this is his conclusion. Without it, it would seem more like a plain statement of fact. The rain had been coming down for over an hour.

Now here's an example from a book published last year, Annex, by Rich Larson:
She knew Wyatt was right to act like nothing had happened at all, like he didn’t even remember it. Same thing she was doing. She just ****ing hated it, that was all.
I think if the passage read: "Wyatt was right to act like nothing had happened at all, like he didn’t even remember it." It would work just as well.

My take on it is that filter words should be avoided where ever possible, but don't be afraid to use them when necessary. Still, I don't think this covers everything. I'v read more than one opinion stating that they should never be used ever. I'm eager to hear what you all have to say.
 

tinkerdan

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Sometimes it's about context. Sometimes you just break a 'rule'. Sometimes it's a guideline and not a rule. This is why it's important to be aware of the mechanics to writing and know which guidelines can be bent to your purpose.

To get back to context:

Your examples above are not easily comparable because I would need more context to the first example than the second.
Why...you ask.

In the first example he is demonstrating something-I'm not sure what or that he even demonstrates it well. However there is nothing to tack it onto to give it purpose. No reason for the demonstration let alone why we would worry about the filtering. All we get is...
Kyle knows it rained for at least an hour based on how deep the moisture in the ground cover was.
We don't know why this is important. Maybe that shows up in the remainder of the paragraph. Maybe it has no purpose and it's purple prose attempting to build atmosphere and it is later tossed to the winds.

The second example reads well enough to me that the filtering is negligible to extremely forgivable to almost invisible.

She knew Wyatt was right to act like nothing had happened at all, like he didn’t even remember it. Same thing she was doing. She just ****ing hated it, that was all.

This much alone doesn't give us much context.
Wyatt was right to act like nothing had happened at all, like he didn’t even remember it.
nor purpose.

However in the next five words it explains that she's doing the same thing, which is why she knows it was right for Wyatt to act that way.
Then it tells us that she hated it, which tells us a lot such as; what's good for the goose is not for the gander and she's aware of the unfairness of her own attitude, yet also seems to not want to back away from it just because she can see the injustice.
Tells us a lot about her character

Don't get me wrong, I think it does read as well this way.

Wyatt was right to act like nothing had happened at all, like he didn’t even remember it. Same thing she was doing. She just ****ing hated it, that was all.

And let the reader read into it that she knows this.

However the three sentences show us so much about the character and for that I can forgive the writer for trying to lead me by the nose ring to get there.
Also there might be a psychological advantage to adding the 'she knew' that might come to play latter-I would have to read further(context again). Maybe this is something she does a lot and never fully examines it so as not to be too aware of the injustice and perhaps this once she is willing to examine it and then decide she doesn't care about the injustice as much as her own feelings.

Does the filtering damage it?
 

Steve Harrison

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I don't like to isolate writing choices like this, as something that might appear wrong or unnecessary on the surface may have been included (or excluded) for appropriate pacing, rhythm or structural reasons, or simply to remind readers of the character POV. It might have even just 'felt right' to the author.

It's not a case of professional writers getting away with something an amateur writer would not get away with. Readers don't notice or care about this stuff unless it stops them in their reading tracks.

Established writers, in my opinion, write with an eye to readers and not other writers (which is why I avoid writer groups :))
 

sknox

Member and remember
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Mar 25, 2013
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I more or less agree with Steve Harrison here. As a writer who is hoping to get published, one will do well to avoid as many "don't-do-this" cases as possible. For one thing, it's salutary: you start to learn the conventions of the field. For another, you want to give as few reasons as possible for an editor to toss you into the Reject pile. Sort of like how one goes about composing a resumé.

The author with a proven sales record, otoh, can "get away" with some things because ultimately it's about the story and it's about sales. By the fourth novel, an editor is not looking for reasons to toss the manuscript into the Reject pile.

In other words: yeah, the rules are different. That's so in pretty much every profession. We can complain about it, or we can get with it. Or we can just flat out ignore it, self-publish, and bust our backs on trying to get noticed.

For myself, I try to concentrate on what I find admirable and worth learning from, rather than what I find reprehensible, in published authors. There's plenty of both to go around. And yeah, I'm like everyone else--I read some traditionally published authors and wonder why him and not me.
 

L.L.Lotte

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My take on it is that filter words should be avoided where ever possible, but don't be afraid to use them when necessary.
I think this is mostly the right of it.

They have their place, just like everything else that certain people keep claiming are forbidden. To be honest, the average reader isn't going to care, only other writers, and only because some "professional" out there said something to another person about how they don't like them or that they'd rather it be done another way, which snowballed into a "DO NOT DO THIS" blown out of proportion situation.

But as far as their use goes, it depends on what you want to achieve. If you're going really deep into the mind of the PoV character then you have to think, how would the character think this statement?

Using your own example:

If you were Kyle, and you were thinking about the rain, would you say: "Kyle knew the rain had been coming down for over an hour."

I don't think you would. That would be referring to yourself in the third person, at which point your sanity would be in question.

"The rain had been coming down for over an hour," is the way a normal person would think. All it took was dropping the filter words to make it sound like the character is actually thinking it rather than just a narrator telling us what the character is thinking.

The point of this is that there is a push in the industry towards writing deep in the character's head, experiencing thoughts and actions as if the narrator is not just talking about the character, but is the character. The advice against filter words is because they take the reader outside of the characters head -- it isn't the natural way a character would think (like I said, referring to themselves in the 3rd person).

But it's not all doom and gloom. Sometimes being outside the head is where you want to be.
 

zmunkz

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Nov 15, 2015
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Know what they are and they affect they have on any piece of writing and use or don’t use them intelligently. It’s like anything else in writing.
^This

All of the guidelines and “rules” boil down to that. They are there as caution indicators to new writers that potential pitfalls are coming on board. If you understand those pitfalls, then you don’t need to worry as much about the rule itself.

I avoid filters when I don’t need them, but sometimes they serve the sentence more than they weaken it, so I keep them.
 

ckatt

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Dec 12, 2018
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Vancouver
^This

All of the guidelines and “rules” boil down to that. They are there as caution indicators to new writers that potential pitfalls are coming on board. If you understand those pitfalls, then you don’t need to worry as much about the rule itself.

I avoid filters when I don’t need them, but sometimes they serve the sentence more than they weaken it, so I keep them.
I think most of us know that "rules" in any creative endeavour aren't hard. What I was hoping for, though, was examples of where filter words do work and why. What I'm picking up, however, is that maybe you can't really say if they work or not on the sentence level alone. One needs to know the nature of the situation and the character who is "filtering" in order to make that call.
 

tinkerdan

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Read theses: they both give examples of both reasons to cut and reasons to keep filter words.


I think that if you 'google' "filter words in writing" you can start reading and weed out those who are giving examples of both from those who try to dictate stripping your sentences of all filter words. Anyone who doesn't have examples of both should be viewed with a grain of salt.
 

zmunkz

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I think most of us know that "rules" in any creative endeavour aren't hard.
True of all the regulars, surely, but I try to repeat it when I can. I see it less on this forum, but on other writing forums confusion about “rules” is a daily occurrence. Didn’t mean to sound condescending, if that’s how it came across.

What I was hoping for, though, was examples of where filter words do work and why. What I'm picking up, however, is that maybe you can't really say if they work or not on the sentence level alone. One needs to know the nature of the situation and the character who is "filtering" in order to make that call.
Well, I suppose the most obvious place I use them is to emphasize something passive. For example if a character is in shock, I’ll go out of my way to make sounds and senses filtered as though they are coming in from afar. It simulates the distance the character is feeing, for the reader, a little bit.

Other times it works with the flow. If I’m interrupting an inner monologue, say, then the filter serves as a transition back to the immersed/present narration.

A few times it just sounds right.

If you can’t find a reason why, in a particular case, you are using it, then cut it, I’d say.
 
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