This week’s comic addresses something that I sometimes struggle with myself, simply because it’s easy to fall into the trap of using what editors call “filter words.”
In the second panel, you can see how he uses words like “felt myself” and “seemed to be.” I see this in a lot of manuscripts I work on, and so if you find yourself using them, try to break out of that habit by telling yourself that you’re distancing your character from his or her actions and thus pushing your reader out of their perspective.
“I felt myself eat his liver” isn’t as scary as “I ate his liver.” “What seemed to be a nice Chianti” is confusing. Is it nice or not? Does Lecter not know the answer himself? This may not sound like a big deal, but if your writing is littered with filter words, these little instances can build up and drown out your author voice.
That said, there’s no outright ban on using what are labeled filter words. As with anything else in fiction, choosing the right instances to use certain phrases depends a lot on context, the specific sentence, and what you’re trying to do. Sometimes things really do seem to be something. You just need to figure out if the action or detail is ambiguous to the character or if you’re just writing it that way out of (bad) habit. If a character sees a red bird and there’s nothing wrong with their vision, writing “a bird that seemed to be red” is filtering, and “a red bird” is perfectly fine.
And yes, I’m aware “filterer” is not a word, but really, “serial filter” didn’t make much sense either.
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