Filter words are not forbidden, but oftentimes they cloud writing and distance the reader from the story. Sentences can become worlds better by eliminating some of these filter words.
Examples of Filter Words (Verbs):
- Senses: hear,listen, sound / feel, touch, / see, seem, look, stare, glance, watch / smell, / taste / sense
- Mind: remember, recall, think, realize, knew, wonder, decide, consider, notice, note, mean
- Others: find [as in locate], find [as in perceive], feel [emotion], catch [as in notice]
1. First Pass Through via Word Find (on the computer)
- I search the document for words on the list above in present singular, present plural, past, and -ing form. That means that when I search for “seem,” I am actually searching for “seem,” “seems,” “seemed,” and “seeming.” Tip for Microsoft Word Users: If you click the arrow beside find and select advanced find, you can set it to “find whole words only”
- I evaluate each instance of the word. If taking it out strengthens the sentence, then I do so. If the word can be replaced with a stronger word, then I pull out the thesaurus and find something better. If the entire sentence needs to revised to eliminate the word, then I bold the sentence to review and fix later (in Step 3).
- Some examples:
- Original: I heard the bell clanging.
- Edited: The bell clanged.
- Original: He smiled, seeming happy.
- Edited: He smiled, happy.
- Original: I knew this was a bad idea, but I was going to do it anyway.
- Edited: This was a bad idea, but I was going to do it anyways.
- Original: I wondered if I should go.
- Edited: Should I go?
- Original: I found him to be quite intriguing.
- Edited: He was quite intriguing.
2. Combating Wordiness
- Oftentimes writing becomes over-complicated with wordiness. This is especially common in dialogue. People tend to equate more words to greater intelligence. However, this is not always the case, especially in writing. The words must be carefully chosen. Stronger verbs, clear speech, even with complex structure can be much more effective.
- Here are the complicating word phrases that I eliminate where I can:
- able to (for example, the phrase “would be able to” can be changed to “could”)
- have to/had to
- start to/started to (also “starting to,” one of the worst and most annoying)
- turn to/turned to (also “turning to”)
- is/was going to (for example, this can be changed to “would”)
- made me/him/her/them [smile, cringe, cry, etc.] (also “making me/him/her/them” and “makes me/him/her/them”)
- try to/tried to (also “trying to.” If they are trying and fail, keep it. If they succeed, take it out.)
- gave me [a smile, a laugh, etc.]
- Cleaning up these phrases is quite simple, so I shall give examples of each, instead of a wordy explanation.
- Original: She would be able to climb the tree.
- Edited: She could climb the tree.
- Original: He was able to jump across the canyon.
- Edited: He jumped across the canyon.
- Original: I have to think about it.
- Edited: I will think about it. / I must think about it.
- Original: I started to run.
- Edited: I ran.
- Original: He turned to look at Draco who was smiling at him.
- Edited: He looked at Draco who was smiling at him. (contains filter word: looked) / He caught Draco smiling at him. (contains filter word: caught) / Draco was smiling at him.
- Original: I was going to make things right.
- Edited: I would make things right. / I would fix this.
- Original: Looking at Ron made me feel uncomfortable.
- Edited: Looking at Ron was as bad as eating a handful of puking pastilles. / I could not have felt worse if I had eaten a handful of puking pastilles. Ron was back from Azkaban.
- Original: I tried to shoot the man, but I missed.
- Edited: I shot at the man, but I missed. / I aimed for the man, but I missed.
- Original: Everyone tried to speak at once.
- Edited: Everyone spoke at once.
- Original: He gave me a soft smile.
- Edited: He smiled softly (at me).
- Original: He gave me a fright.
- Edited: He frightened me.
3. Go Back and Fix Marked Sentences From Step 1
- Reword sentences, combine sentences, simplify sentences, add to sentences. Whatever is needed to make it sound right. Tip: Read your trouble sentences out loud if you can. This will help you determine what sounds right and figure out how to reword it.
- Try to bridge the distance that filtered words create. Make things happen rather than telling about them happening. “The wolf leaped from the bush” is much more effective than “I saw the wolf leap from the bush.”
- Remember: These are not rules but guidelines that could improve your sentences. You do not need to eliminate every instance of these words. Sometimes these are the only ways to get across the meaning, but if they can be removed without changing the meaning, they should probably go.
4. Bonus: Overused Adverbs and Phrases that You Should Reconsider
- Adverbs: really, very, just, actually, probably, suddenly, already, absolutely, definitely, certainly, immediately, surprisingly, anyways, even, now, almost, still, always, quite, so, pretty, a lot/lots
- Commonly Overused Phrases: speaking of, a little (bit), a lot/lots (of), right now
- Check your instances of these words/phrases and consider cutting out some of them, especially the adverbs.