Filter Out Filter Words To Improve Your Writing

Here’s one quick tip to instantly tighten your sentences and improve your writing overall. For real.

Get rid of filter words.

I’ve been eyes deep in editing for these last few weeks. With a new Guessing Tales novel and an anthology, my mind has been locked into edit mode, scanning for plot holes, punctuation, passive voice, and poor characterization. And everything else.

One thing occurred to me through editing all of these, very different stories.

I tend to use a lot of filter words in my first drafts.

editing tips filter words

What’s a Filter Word?

A filter word is a word that makes sense, technically, but are unnecessary. Filter words slow down sentences, distance readers from the action, and often create passive voice. They filter the reader’s experience.

 

Some examples I’m particularly guilty of:

That

Had

Felt/feeling

Saw

Heard.

In most cases, these filter words are passive voice and a result in a whole lot of telling instead of showing.

 

Filter words can also be modifiers like

just

a little

perhaps

virtual.

My personal guilty modifier is “almost.”

These words create passive, indirect language and hesitant prose. At best, they act as a barrier between the reader and the story world and at worst, they make for terrible writing.

Writing Excuses touched on this concept in a recent episode, highlighting this as “feminine speech pattern” in linguistic terms. Sexist? Yes! But it stems from our deeply patriarchal society where women were, once (and in some instances, still) not given a social voice, or whose voices were deemed less important than a man’s. While this podcast claims this hesitant prose is more common in women, I’ve seen plenty of male writers guilty of it too.

Filter words are unnecessary. They slow down prose, distance readers, and create passive voice.Click To Tweet

How To Filter Out Filter Words

Make a list of filter words and other modifiers.

Had

Felt

Saw

Heard

Wondered

Feel/feeling/felt

Decided

Like

Perhaps

Maybe

Almost

a little

Virtual/virtually

Any word that modifies a scene somehow.

Any past tense verb.

Search your document for each one.

In every instance, look at how these words function within the sentence. Does the sentence still make sense without it? Delete. Can the word be replaced by a more direct or active word? Replace it. Instead of saying your characters hear something,  for example, can you show the reader the specific sound?

When to Edit for Filter Words

When I write the first draft, I just don’t care about much else but the idea and the characters. Grammar? Punctuation? Purple prose? They’re all problems for later. I even turn the spell check off when I’m in first draft mode.

Filter words don’t matter in first drafts.

In my process, it’s not until around Draft 3 that I start looking for filter words. By that stage, plots and their characters, themes, structures and all the big stuff are sorted out, and I’m ready to fine tune the prose.

Don’t let the fear of filter words slow down getting the story written, particularly the first draft.

But when you’re ready to turn that messy first draft into a fine piece of writing, filter words should be the first stop.

What filter words are you most guilty of using?

Kate Krake
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Kate Krake

Kate Krake writes speculative fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of the urban fantasy series Guessing Tales. Kate blogs about popular culture, health, wellness and creative writing. She lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, daughter and two beagles. Find out more on www.katekrake.com.
Kate Krake
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2 Responses to “Filter Out Filter Words To Improve Your Writing

  • Good post, Kate.
    I’ve got 75 words/expressions on my list. Like yourself, I ignore them during first draft, focusing on the story. Before starting the second draft, I run a macro that ‘bolds’ those words, and am always staggered by how often I use maybe, just, and that.

    • Kate Krake
      7 months ago

      Hi Al,
      A filter word macro is a great idea! I’m going to set one up.
      Kate

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