Getting Rid of Filter Words

I am currently revising “Called to Account“, my novel based on real events in County Clare during the Great Famine. The story is narrated by the main character. He is very much the Victorian gentleman, in his background and his behaviour. I’ve tried to give him an appropriate voice. But I worry that he appears too detached from the horrific conditions he is witness to.

So I am grateful to Chris Graham for sharing this timely article about filter words, how to avoid them and when to use them to advantage. Here’s a passage from quite early in my book as it is at present:

As we departed the building the noise from the crowd seemed louder. It appeared that some manner of dispute had erupted near the entrance to the lane. A number of individuals were engaged in fisticuffs. It was clear to me that, were the situation not dealt with, the contagion could spread.

And here it is without the words rendered in bold:

As we departed the building the noise from the crowd grew louder. Some manner of dispute had erupted near the entrance to the lane. A number of individuals were engaged in fisticuffs. If the situation were not swiftly dealt with the contagion could spread.

Do you agree that increases the feeling of urgency in the situation, without losing the natural restraint of a gentleman with a typical English stiff upper lip?

And, whilst you are pondering that, take a look at the cover I designed in Canva and tell me what you think of it.

24 thoughts on “Getting Rid of Filter Words

  1. I will always be in Chris Graham’s debt for the amount of help he has given me over the years. This latest pôst was very helpful, as you have just demonstrated. Good work with the cover too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did not see CG’s post – so just reading what you settle here – and to me – part of your edit seems to have removed “filler words” or redundant – like

    ” It was clear to me that” was not needed because you can say it directly – ? And by saying it we see that it was clear

    Comment about the tense in the title-
    If the men are “called” to account – should it say “famine ravaged” vs “”ravages
    And then should the words “based on real events” be in title case because it is on the cover ? And not sure I like those words under the author name
    Is frank Parker based on real events?
    Or is this famine story ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As famine ravages the land, two men are called . . . OR
      As famine ravaged the land two men were called . . .
      I prefer the present tense but it’s just a personal thing.
      I agree with your point about the bottom line – should appear above the author name. I will certainly make that change. Thanks for your input.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi – well I am
        Not sure if the tag line should be away from the title – so i was not saying above the author name – it seems so far away from what it is referring to –
        And I also like the vibe of the present tense – and there are times it brings us into the action – and I can see how you are using it to bring us into the current setting – and it does sound good – but I did wonder about tense alignment when I first saw – so that is just one reader’s take –
        Thanks for the reply and best wishes on your book

        Liked by 1 person

  3. There is a book you should buy, immediately. Renowned rhetorician Richard Lanham has a book titled “Revising Prose.” It is indispensable. If you read no more than first 20 pages you will have done yourself a huge favor, as you will have learned to immediately spot the throwaway words and elliptical sentence structure we are prone to. No kidding. Check him out on YouTube nad watch all the of, as, seemed, and introductory qualifier clauses vanish from your work, leaving room for language that goes BAM with a short fuse.

    Here is a minute 26 of Lanham’s paramedic method, just to see exactly what you were told.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Claire. You just introduced an alternative meaning to “filter words”! Certainly, part of the editing process is filtering out unnecessary words. But certain words – seemed, noticed, observed, etc. – are termed “filter words” because they take us out of the action and remind us we are reading the story when we should be living it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I tend to filter a lot of words when i go through first draft…Read a sentence and see how I can make it better. I have noted some authors are long winded with sentences which they don’t need to be. I also use contractions which help with the flow, however, you have to make sure they are used in the correct place.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Frank,

    Yes and no. First, changing “seemed” to “grew” and removing “It appeared” are good changes which do make the passage stronger. These words (seemed and appeared) serve only to distance the narrator from the tension. They would be appropriate perhaps if there was no reason for concern, but I think that, if that were true, you still might have other reasons for avoiding them.

    I don’t agree, however, with adding “swiftly” to the mix. It sticks out like a sore thumb and, IMO, removes the natural emphasis of “dealt with.”

    My other concern is with the word “could.” It’s like “appeared and seemed” – not particularly strong, leaving room for the possibility that the contagion might not spread. How about “would?”

    Sorry, I can’t see the cover, so I can’t comment on that.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Ellen Hawley Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.