Calle J. Brookes

Romance Novelist & Freelance Editor

For Writers

Filtering in Fiction

Posted by [email protected] on August 22, 2011 at 2:20 PM

Do you filter? Do you? As a writer, do you even know what this means?

Many don’t.

Filtering refers to the use of words that separate the reader from the action, forcing the reader to look at the events rather than through them. The reader is thrown out of the story briefly. Filtering is a common fault of new writers, and even those who are more experienced.

Another way to describe it—using words to create an extra (unneeded) step between the reader and the story.

Confused? Don’t be. I’ll explain further.

Janet Burroway first coined the term in her book “WritingFiction”—the most widely used creative writing textbook in the US. I used it in all of my fiction classes at Indiana University—and I have three copies floating around my house. Filtering was once my biggest weakness.

 Burroway speaks about filtering as “a common fault and often difficult to recognize—although once theprinciple is grasped, cutting away filters is an easy means to more vivid writing.” Burroway goes on to add that “As a fiction writer you will often be working through ‘some observing consciousness’. Yet when you step back and ask readers  to step back and observe the observer—to look at rather than through the character—you start to tell-not-show and rip us briefly out of the scene.”

Burroway is saying here that when you use filtering words you are doing exactly that—asking the reader to step back and watch the character do something. And who wants to watch something? A reader would much rather be a part of the action than sit back and merely observe it.

Why is filtering bad? Because a reader who loses focus on the story—even for only the time it takes to read the filtered passage—may lose focus on the book and put it down. And not finish; which translates into not buying another of that author’s books.

Take the following two passages from a piece of my writing, a short paragraph from a romantic suspense WIP--both say the same thing, but which do you think is sharper writing?

Paige looked at the behemoth sitting at her desk. She saw her partner’s brother take a pen from the cup holder and click it repeatedly. Paige noticed that it was her favorite pen; she recalled the day that her best friend Carrie had given her the pen as a present. She remembered how she always used that pen for her paperwork and when she wrote lyrics for her band. She hated how Mikhail used it and discarded it without thought. She wondered if he treated his own belongings that carelessly. She studied his face more closely; it seemed to her that something was on his mind. Good; she hoped the Internal Affairs Agent had the worst day possible. A man like him deserved nothing better—every day.

A behemoth sat at her desk. Her partner’s brother took a penfrom the cup holder and clicked it repeatedly. Her favorite pen, a present fromher best friend. That was the pen she used for paperwork and writinglyrics.  It burned her that Mikhail usedit without thought. Did he treat his own belongings so carelessly? She studiedhim--something bothered him. Good; she hoped the IA Agent had the worst daypossible—and man like him deserved nothing else. Every day.

The highlighted words are telling words.  More importantly, they are filtering. These words draw focus to themselves and the words that follow, rather than focusing attention on the story.

So do you filter? Take a look through your manuscript, keeping an eye out for the following types of words (or forms of these words):

To see-hear-think-touch-wonder-realize-watch-recall-look-grin-smile-seam-feel-decide-which-that-because,etc. 

This list is not all inclusive, filtering words can come in many forms. These words are not necessarily bad, but when filter words are removed and sentences tightened appropriately, the writing is vivid, well paced, and strong.




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1 Comment

Reply Jasoninafe
7:33 PM on January 21, 2018 
A massive “potentially hazardous” asteroid spanning more than the length of the world’s tallest building will fly by our planet on Feb. 4.

The roughly .7-mile long asteroid is considered longer than the Burj Khalifa, which at .5 miles high currently stands as the world’s tallest building, and will fly at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour just 2.6 million miles from Earth.

“This is a fairly routine close approach of an object that we have known about for many years,” said Paul Chodas who manages the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Asteroid 2002 AJ192 was discovered in 2002.

“We’ve been tracking it since then so we know its trajectory very accurately and predicted this close approach years ago,” Chodas added. “Close approaches of near-earth objects happen almost daily, and many of them are closer than this.”

Thanks to its reach and size, the asteroid is classified as “potentially hazardous” by NASA, but it’s one of over 1,000 asteroids and comets scientists currently know about that falls under this category.

Technically the asteroid’s current size remains unknown and it has been estimated based on typical reflectivity, said Chodas. That’s part of the reason why the asteroid’s upcoming flyby is gaining attention.

Under NASA’s classifications, any asteroid or comet predicted to travel anywhere within 0.05 Astronomical Units (or reaching under 5 million miles) of Earth’s orbit and that has a size of at least 30 meters or more is deemed “potentially hazardous.”

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“We know that this particular object is not one of the ones that has any chance of hitting the Earth in the next 100 years; there are no asteroids that we know of that have any significant chance of hitting the Earth over the next 100 years, but you never know what we find out in our discoveries,” Chobas said.

Though 2002 AJ129 is far enough from Earth’s orbit to avoid any collisions, scientists plan to continue closely observing the rock and others like it using both the Goldstone Radio Telescope in California and the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico.

They also have even been looking into technology that would allow them to deflect asteroids from a distance. Last year scientists began working on the Double Asteroid Reflection Test (DART), which would allow them to strike the asteroid as its approaching Earth to shift its orbit through a technique known as kinetic impactor. The first test with DART is planned for October of 2022 and again in 2024.