Editing Tip: Filter Words

Editing is a must for a writer. No one manages perfection in their first draft. No one.
So, once you’ve banged out something you’re truly proud of, the next step is to pick it apart and make it even better. But where to begin? Filter words!
Aside from fixing obvious flaws like typos and grammatical errors, you should go through your work and edit out those awful crutch words that you didn’t even notice were there. Which words are we talking about?

Here’s a short list:
• to see
• to hear
• to think
• to touch
• to wonder
• to realize
• to watch
• to look
• to seem
• to feel (or feel like)
• can
• to decide
• to sound (or sound like)
• to know

Do a quick search through your draft for one of these words. Seriously, go ahead. We’ll wait…
The cold hard truth is that everyone’s first draft is riddled with these innocuous little bastards. So what, right? What’s the big deal? Filter words can slow the pace of a story and literally suck the life out of a scene.

Here’s an example:

Megan smelled the cinnamon rolls from outside the bakery and decided to go in. She stood in line looking at the pastries in the display case. Cinnamon rolls were her favorite but she realized there were only two left. She could hear the man in front of her order them both and she felt disappointed. The man turned around and looked at her with a smile. Megan realized she knew the man. It was Mr. Henry, her algebra teacher.
“Good luck on the test today,” he said, handing her one of the cinnamon rolls.
Megan grinned. “Thanks!”

Okay, not terrible. But let’s see it again, this time with the filter words properly edited.

Megan’s mouth watered as the spicy scent of cinnamon and the warm, sweet fragrance of vanilla wafted through the bakery’s open door. She hadn’t planned on stopping off for a cinnamon roll before class, but her feet had a mind of their own and she found herself standing in line waiting impatiently behind a tall man with light brown hair. Megan peered around the man to inspect the array of pastries on display in the glass-front case. A wave of panic rose in her; there were only two cinnamon rolls left!
The man stepped up to the cash register to order. “Two cinnamon rolls please,” he said.
Crestfallen, Megan turned and started for the door, her shoulders sagging.
“Megan,” the man called.
She turned and was surprised to find that she recognized him. It was Mr. Henry, her algebra teacher.
“Good luck on the test today,” he said, handing her one of the cinnamon rolls.
She grinned and accepted the roll. “Thanks!”

Every writer has heard the old saying “show, don’t tell.” Amazingly, by properly editing filter words, you will in fact show without even trying. Filter words are telling words, and telling is a writer’s worst nightmare.

Recommended Posts