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Writing Immersive Prose: Remove the Filter

Updated: Apr 19, 2023



On my writing journey, I've come across an issue that many of us may overlook: filtering. This sneaky little problem can create unnecessary distance between readers and the action in our stories, especially in first-person limited and third-person limited narratives. So, let's dive into the world of filtering in fiction writing, explore the downsides, and learn how to remove it to bring our readers closer to the narrative.


Filtering is like that friend who always seems to step in between you and the person you're trying to talk to. It happens when we insert words or phrases that draw attention to our characters' perceptions or thoughts, rather than the events themselves. You might be familiar with some of these filter words, such as "saw," "heard," "thought," "felt," and "realized." While it might seem harmless, filtering can create a sense of detachment in our readers, preventing them from fully engaging with the story.


The major downside of filtering is that it takes our readers out of the story. It's like a barrier between them and the action, making the reading experience feel more passive. But by removing filters, we can create a more immersive experience, allowing our readers to form stronger connections with our characters and their emotions.


Let's look at some examples of filtering in both first-person limited and third-person limited narratives.


First-Person Limited:

Filtered: I saw the sun setting behind the mountains, casting a fiery glow across the sky.

Unfiltered: The sun set behind the mountains, casting a fiery glow across the sky.


Filtered: I heard the distant rumble of thunder, signaling the approach of a storm.

Unfiltered: The distant rumble of thunder signaled the approach of a storm.


Third-Person Limited:

Filtered: She felt a sharp pain in her chest as she struggled to catch her breath.

Unfiltered: A sharp pain pierced her chest as she struggled to catch her breath.


Filtered: He realized that he had left his keys on the kitchen counter when he closed the door.

Unfiltered: The door clicked shut, and the forgotten keys on the kitchen counter flashed in his mind.

As you can see, removing filter words and phrases can help our readers feel more connected to the story. To do this, we can:

Be aware of filter words: Understanding which words and phrases create distance between our readers and the story is the first step in addressing filtering. Keep an eye out for common filter words like "saw," "heard," "thought," "felt," and "realized."

Show, don't tell: This writing adage holds true when it comes to filtering. Instead of telling our readers what our characters perceive or feel, use descriptive language to show them. This will create a more vivid and engaging reading experience.

Use active language: Replacing passive language with active language can help eliminate filtering. For example, rather than saying "the sound of laughter was heard," try "laughter filled the room."

Keep the focus on the action: Make sure that the events of the story are the primary focus, not the characters' perception of them. This will help readers feel more immersed in the narrative.

Filtering can create a barrier between our readers and the action in our stories, ultimately detracting from the overall reading experience. But by recognizing and removing filter words and phrases, we can create more immersive narratives that allow our readers to fully engage with our characters and events. This not only enhances the emotional impact of the story but also leads to more memorable and satisfying reading experiences.


Practice and awareness are key in mastering the art of eliminating filtering from our writing. To help you do that, I've created a handy word macro to highlight your filtering issues:


Sub JITWFilterErasurer()
    Dim FilterWords As Variant
    Dim PassiveIndicators As Variant
    
    FilterWords = Array("saw", "heard", "thought", "felt", "realized", "was", "were", "be", "been", "being", "am", "is", "are")
    PassiveIndicators = Array("by", "had been")

    Call HighlightWordsInArray(FilterWords, wdYellow)
    Call HighlightWordsInArray(PassiveIndicators, wdRed)
End Sub
Sub HighlightWordsInArray(wordsArray As Variant, highlightColor As WdColorIndex)
    
    Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = highlightColor
    Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
    Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
    Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True
    
    For Each Item In wordsArray
       Dim word As String
    word = Item
    Options.DefaultHighlightColorIndex = highlightColor
    Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
    Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
    Selection.Find.Replacement.Highlight = True
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = word
        .Replacement.Text = word
        .Forward = True
        .Wrap = wdFindContinue
        .Format = True
        .MatchCase = False
        .MatchWholeWord = True
        .MatchWildcards = False
        .MatchSoundsLike = False
        .MatchAllWordForms = False
    End With
        Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
    Next
End Sub


Happy writing! And remember, we all get better one word at a time.


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